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22nd June 2006, 09:08

History Tells Baduk Passion

Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi, right, better known as Western Empress Dowager (1835-1908) of the Qing Dynasty, plays baduk with a eunuch. Source: National Palace Museum, Taiwan

The 4,000 years of baduk has left ample anecdotes and lessons surrounding the most creative game invented by humans in the world. The following stories provide us with a quick glance at how Chinese have traditionally looked and enjoyed the board game. The next series is on the Korean ancient stories.

Cao Recovers Depression

Cao Cao (155 - 220), China's ancient prime minister, became deeply impressed after his 800,000-strong army was badly defeated in a battle called Chibi.

Fleeing back to the kingdom's capital Hebei, Cao secluded himself from outer world, depressed, and refused to see anyone. One day, an old friend of the politician, Shan Zi Dao, visited him with a ``medicine for Cao's sickness.'' a baduk set.

Shan Zi Dao was renowned baduk player at that time and Cao allowed him in. On meeting, Shan told the premier that he came to say goodbye before he became a Buddhist monk. Surprised, Cao asked why the baduk player suddenly entered into a priesthood, Shan answered, ``I lost a baduk game and feel greatly down.'' Cao instantly comforted his friend by saying ``Losing in baduk is common. You had better not take it seriously.''

Then Shan relied ``Playing baduk is much like battle. Losing a battle can not be reason for not seeing visitors.'' Coming to the advice on the spot, Cao played a baduk game with Shan. After then, Cao tided over the depression and went back to his post with success.

Fei Wei Simulates War on Board

Fei Wei (?-253) was prime minister of Shu Kingdom during the Three ingdom's period in China.

In 244, a neighboring Wei kingdom invaded Fei's nation. Shu's emperor was deadly worried and sent his vassal Lai Ming to ask if the premier has any defensive plan. Meeting the king's messenger, Fei said, ``You come at the right time. Let's play a baduk game.'' While Lai thought Fei must make a joke, but the baduk game was set up.

While playing the board game, the premier said ``The development of the war is like this game. If we can occupy three key mountains, we can surround the invaders.''

Then the king's messenger found that his black stones surrounded by Fei's whites. He also discover the master showcased his strategy on the board. After the game, Fei picked up his arms and proceeded to surround the enemy and destroyed them.

Guan Yu Plays Baduk During Arm Operation

Guan Yu, a general of Shu Kingdom, is one of the most popular ancient heroes both in China and Korea. Once he was wounded by a poisonous arrow shot during a confrontation with an enemy force. The poison reached the bone and his right arm was badly swollen.

While his staffers insist on the army's retreat, Guan refused to back off. Instead, he let a famous physician operate on himself without any narcotherapy, as the vigilant general feared the enemy's attack during the operation. When the physician suggested Guan have his arms tied to a pillar lest he should move due to pain during the operation.

Guan laughed off the suggestion, saying ``This is such a simple procedure. No need to do that.'' Then the general began to play baduk game with his staff while the doctor cut open his arm with a surgical knife and scrape out the poison from the contaminated bone.

Throughout the bone-scratching operation, surrounding soldiers could not bear the bloody scene and sound of scratching bones. Meanwhile, Guan talked, drank and played the board game until the physician finally sewed up the wound.

Trading Hundred Years for Baduk

An ancient document ``Shu Yi Zhi,'' written by Ren Fong of the Nan Dynaty (420-589), recorded a legend of a woodcutter who spent hundred years watching baduk for hundred years.

According to the record, a woodcutter called Wang Zhi went up a mountain for work and found a few fairies gathering around a rock and playing a game. Curious, Wang got closer to them and was mesmerized by the board game. Finding the game extremely interesting, he totally forgot about woodcutting.

After a while, before the game was ended, one of the fairies lifted up his head and said to Wang, ``Why don't you go home? How long are you planning to stay here?''

Startled, Wang tried to pick up his axe to leave, and to his surprise found that the handle of his axe had rotten. When he returned to his village, he was surprised that there were no familiar faces and found out that a hundreds years had passed. This story is known as the story of the '`Ranka Mountain,'' named after the name of the mountain.

First International Baduk Match

Guo Shiyan was the best baduk player in Tang Dynasty (618-907). One day, a Japanese prince traveled to the Chinese capital to pay tribute to China. As the price was also the best baduk player in Japan, there was a naturally match between the two masters.

In presumably the first international top-on-top game, the Chinese vassal could very well lose his life if he lost. Guo played the game cautiously, like walking on thin ice. He was sweating furiously and made every play after careful considerations.

When the prince played move number 42, Guo was in a terrible position, with two of his groups trapped by the prince's stones. Staring at the board, Guo discovered an exquisite play, which could break out of the traps.

The Japanese prince was stunned and soon resigned. The prince asked the translator how did Guo rank among Chinese Weiqi players. The translator boasted that Guo was only ranked number three.

The Japanese prince thus requested that he would like to meet the best player in China. The translator replied, ``One must beat the third best to meet the second best, and beat the second best before meeting the best.'' The prince sighed, ``The best in a small kingdom (Japan) is no match for the third best in a big kingdom (China). I truly believe now''

Source: www.yutopian.com