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 Post subject: Museum of Go Theory now open to the public
Post #1 Posted: Thu Jun 10, 2021 11:40 am 

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My lockdown project was to build a "museum" of old books that would show the evolution of go theory over the last millennium. Since the Japanese masters gave us game records but no words of wisdom, we can hardly known what they thought about the game. In contrast, the old Chinese masters wrote dozens of books, mostly commentaries, and so we can see these games through their own eyes. My initial museum focus has therefore been on China. Furthermore, the art of commentary had to be discovered, and only really began in the mid 17th century - though it blossomed quickly. The main period being examined therefore spans late Ming to late Qing, that is roughly 1600 to 1900. And since it is the words of the masters themselves that matter, the focus is naturally on their commentaries.

I have a half-dozen of these books already in their final stages, with display cabinets being prepared. Two are being proofread at present, and one - ta da! has been issued via Kindle/Amazon this week. This launch volume is Cheng Lanru's "Game Records from Evening Fragrance Palace (1754)." The ISBN is 9798739088215 (A4 paperback only, 137 pages, colour).

Cheng Lanru was one of the Four Great Go Masters in 18th century China, along with Fan Xiping, Shi Xiangxia and Liang Weijin, having first come to fame by defeating the reigning champion Xu Xingyou. Late in life, in 1754, he visited a sick patron with two of his protégés, and to help the invalid pass the time, they played a series of 15 games among themselves, with Cheng supplying commentaries.

These were compiled into the book 晚香亭弈谱 "Game Records from the Evening Fragrance Pavilion," named after the templet where the games where the players stayed and played.

These commentaries have become famous, not least because Shi Xiangxia regretted they were so terse and the games so few. By the standards of the time the comments were, in fact, far from terse and they are certainly more than enough to reveal why Cheng was such a master. The Museum version is a complete translation of the commentaries, but an appendix of additional commented games and notes has been added to round out the background and also to show Cheng's play when he was in his younger prime.

Every book in the Museum of Go Theory project will be a stand-alone work, but in line with the ethos behind the series (and with modern curating practice!), the books will also offer something of an interactive 'medieval tour'. Each book will therefore be presented in a different style, presenting not just the games but bringing the various masters and their milieu to life, using above all their own words.

That last phrase is crucial. You will need to be open to new experiences. If you need your fix of bamboo joints and Japlish jargon, you will end up in cold turkey here. The Chinese masters invented their own words and names. These are what are used in this new book. Tiger lilies compensate for the lack of bamboo, tigers become verbal and feng shui is called into action. But above all the Chinese masters had to invent go theory. Since group tax applied, these theories will seem refreshingly novel to a modern reader. Yet far from weird. AI appears, for example, to back the old masters' wisdom that the Direct 3-3 is not optimal with group tax. Rather than the limited (and often sterile) focus on corners, sides and centre of Japanese theory, the Chinese masters focused on prudence, barriers, connectivity and the 9-3 points. But theory went far beyond the opening, and so we get a focus on encroachments rather than invasions, call-and-response moves, walling off boundaries, and the application of noose-like pressure rather than surrounding. All the while with a sharp eye to good technique. Amongst other things. Not every feature appears in EFP - partly because it's short - but later books will offer a truly kaleidoscopic display of new ideas.

These ideas were naturally not often explained when they were mentioned (though separate books explaining the ideas do exist), and so the approach taken in this project is to include an extensive appendix on go vocabulary, which explains the English rendering for each term and which offers a guide also to the nuances and frequency of each Chinese term. Concepts are also indexed by game examples in Go Wisdom fashion, for the more serious reader. The entries in this appendix also explain how group tax permeates more parts of the game than you might expect, and why it is foolish to view old Chinese games as mad fights.

If you wonder whether the old Chinese masters were as good as the old Japanese masters, well, we have Go Seigen's word for it that Huang Longshi was as good as Dosaku. But we have an array of purely Japanese masters themselves admitting to their admiration for later Chinese masters, too. They knew about Cheng Lanru and other Chinese masters just before the Golden Age of Japanese go began, thanks to a large consignment of books. Coincidence? Probably not, though I imagine the main factor would be the urge to copy publication of go books rather than what they saw on the board. Hayashi Genbi, himself of Meijin stature, was a leading light in the Japanese publishing boom. He was also an admirer of Chinese masters, including Cheng (he first learnt about him through a Japanese "spy"), and the story of this Japanese engagement with the Chinese go world is part of the notes in the present book.

The next book on the way is "Evergreen Go Records (1682)," which has 66 commented games. One significance of this book is that it was the first to introduce Huang Longshi to the wider world. But it also marks a watershed in the advancement of both the art of commentary and the main underpinnings of go theory. As acknowledgement of that, the "medieval tour" element of this books is that it will present the original Chinese as well.

Next in the queue is "Wizardry from the Stone Chamber (1590)." This is actually an anthology, but it does also present the first stirrings of go commentary (and thus explicit theory). As an anthology, it offers references to various old Chinese josekis, and has an excellent life & death section. It can be regarded as a "Go theory 101" book, representing the state of the art just before Chinese go took off in the early Qing. For me, though, the tastiest portion of this book is one with very old games which bear a startling similarity to sunjang baduk. It was always likely that sunjang baduk would have Chinese antecedents. Stone Chamber offers a penetrating glimpse into the past, as all good museums should do.

After that, the likeliest new "display" will be a book on the 19th century master Chen Zixian.

A Genjo-Chitoku type book on all of Huang Longshi's games (130) is already past the halfway stage but I want his games to be offered for enjoyment only when palates have been trained enough, with earlier books, to appreciate why he was so special.

This post by John Fairbairn was liked by 12 people: Akura, Bill Spight, Bonobo, dfan, ez4u, Farodin, gowan, schrody, Shenoute, sorin, swannod, Theo van Ees
 Post subject: Re: Museum of Go Theory now open to the public
Post #2 Posted: Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:35 pm 
Dies in gote
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As someone who studies Mandarin and is very interested in how the old Chinese masters viewed the game, I'm very much looking forward to all these books.

The Genjo-Chitoku type book on all Huang LongShi's games sounds particularly mouth-watering. I'm a big fan of Go Seigen, so traversing the study-trajectory that he went through is something I would like to undertake at some point.

 Post subject: Re: Museum of Go Theory now open to the public
Post #3 Posted: Fri Jun 11, 2021 1:09 am 
Lives with ko

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Great news ^^ I don't know much about old chinese masters so it is interesting ^^ I was expecting a new go seigen book but your new series is totally cool too ^^
On amazon I didn't see the kindle option or the sample pages. Maybe need to wait a bit I guess.
Thank you for your hard work.

 Post subject: Re: Museum of Go Theory now open to the public
Post #4 Posted: Sat Jun 12, 2021 6:07 pm 
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Here's mine, hot off the machine at Amazon Japan! It looks and feels great. Unfortunately I am too busy this weekend to read it or play any of the games. That will have to wait a couple of days.
EFP cover 800.jpg
EFP cover 800.jpg [ 111.85 KiB | Viewed 396 times ]

Dave Sigaty
"Short-lived are both the praiser and the praised, and rememberer and the remembered..."
- Marcus Aurelius; Meditations, VIII 21

 Post subject: Re: Museum of Go Theory now open to the public
Post #5 Posted: Fri Jun 18, 2021 1:40 pm 

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My copy arrived five days ago. Very nice production. I wish elegant production such as that of the hardcover Kiseido production of the original Invincible book of Shusaku's games were feasible but I'm grateful for what we have here. It allows us fans to get this material and the author to publish it. Thank you to John Fairbairn.

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