hist-games: hist-games Digest, Vol 42, Issue 3

M Winther mwi9 at swipnet.se
Sun Mar 15 23:51:49 PDT 2009

Den 2009-03-16 06:20:37 skrev P Shotwell <pshotwell at gmail.com>:

>> >. . . I've never heard of Chinese chess pieces being used this way, though
>> I
>> > suppose it's possible. This is one of the theories about go that I
>> question
>> > heavily in the body of the Origins article (which is repeated in Appendix
>> > III).
>> > Best,
>> > Peter
>> The Chinese used chess pieces for divination, yes. One such variant
>> was called tan-ch'hi chess (cf. Needham, Science and Civilization IV).
>> The lower board was rectangular like earth, and the upper was round
>> like heaven. By throwing pieces, or shaking the board, fate could be
>> determined.
>> I don't know how old Go is. But if it goes back to the Han period or
>> older, then I suspect it was used for divination. We moderns tend to
>> think linearly, i.e. that it first originated as a mantic procedure,
>> then it became a competition, etc. But ancient people tended to view
>> things as multifactorial. They likely viewed it simultaneously as a
>> competition, as a mantic method, and as a religious ritual, etc. So
>> these aspects arouse conjointly. A boardgame diagram provided a
>> topography for playing, but it was also a magical protective design,
>> and a doorway for the spirit in divination.
>> Depending on the age of the game, the ancient Chinese must have tried
>> to predict the future from a game between two Go masters. It was a
>> competition, but also an event of spiritual dimensions. The point is
>> that they couldn't differ between the two.
>> Mats Winther
> Hi Mats,
> Obviously, we will never know for sure what happened, but with all due
> respect, years ago, I pretty much shreded (for the first time) Needham's
> far-too-early speculations about the origins of chess and go in my Origins
> article. (www.usgo.org/bobhighlibrary).
> For the shi board divination theories and their lack of application to go,
> see the Origins article and Appendix III, (which were also original--no
> anthropological look at go or a structural anthropological look at the Yao
> myths had ever been attempted. Ditto for many of the other 'sacred cow'
> theories that had grown up around early go, such as the true roles of the
> Daoists and Confucians, the lack of attention to the sacred role of gambling
> on games, etc.)
> For my commentary on the subject of games and their practical roles
> (emphasis on the plural) in ancient societies, again see the Origins
> article, where the Chinese context is particularly discussed, and Appendix
> II where the similarities of the appearance of mancala and possibly go in
> early social and religious systems are looked at (along with additonal
> posssible intrepretations of the Yao myths).
> I think you will see that I agree with at least part of the second
> paragraph, but not with the third.
> Best,
> Peter

Have you looked at Egyptian Siga, especially the 9x9 version, as a
possible precursor of Go? When studying Siga one is struck by a
curious similarity with Go, at least in an intuitive sense. China had
extensive trading contacts with the outside world during the Tang
dynasty (618-906), and from 1405 onwards mighty Chinese trading
armadas began to visit ports in Arabia and eastern Africa. So it's not
unthinkable that the Chinese imported Siga along with so many other
curious things from the African continent, like giraffes. After all,
Siga is about dropping stones and then "surrounding" the enemy by the
interception capture.

If Needham says that chess and Go are derived from mantic methods,
then I don't think he is right. Like I said, I don't think that
ancient people differed between divination, religious ritual, and game
playing. It was the same thing. Later, however, it diversified. One
example is the peculiar boards that were used solely for divination in
ancient China (see Needham, Science and Civilization in China, III,
p.304). Obviously, these have developed from game patterns, but came
to be used only for divination, by throwing pieces, etc.

Mats Winther

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