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Ancient History

Go was invented more than 3000 years ago in China, though some think it was nearer 4000 years. In the beginning, the game had a close connection with the laws of nature, politics and economics, strategy and intelligence, and it was also a theocratic tool for the ancient emperors to rule society. The game is mentioned in the Analects of Confucius, the greatest ancient work of Chinese philosophy and ethics, written in the 6th century BC. It came to Japan about 1,500 years ago via the Korean peninsula, and became popular at the Japanese court among the Imperial family, the aristocracy and court ladies. It makes several appearances in the 11th century masterpiece “The Tale of Genji”, often described as the world’s first novel. Later, it spread to the warrior classes and the Buddhist priesthood and eventually flourished throughout the country.

Japan 1600-1868

The game of Go made its most significant development during the Edo period (1603-1868). The central figure was the first head of the Honinbo school, Sansa (1559-1623), who taught the three warlords who ruled Japan during his lifetime, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu. Sansa became the head of the state Go Academy (Godokoro) and established the system of hereditary Go schools. The head of the four Go schools (Honinbo, Yasui, Inoue, Hayashi) would compete for the honor of their schools in games played at Edo Castle in the presence of the Shogun. Many great players, such as Dosaku, Jowa and Shusaku, appeared during the Edo period. State support of Go, in the form of stipends for professional players, made possible great advances in the level of Go skills and theory during the Edo period, and this laid the basis for the modern prosperity of the game.

Japan: the Modern Era

After modernization and westernization began in the Meiji period (1868-1912), various new Go organizations appeared. Stimulated by the advances in Go technique in Japan, the game started to enjoy a revival in China, its original homeland. Also, during the Meiji period, Westerners visiting Japan learnt the game and began to teach it in Europe and America.In 1924, the different Go organizations in Japan combined to form the Nihon Ki-in or the Japan Go Association. This is still the main Go body in Japan; it promotes the playing of professional and amateur Go among people of all ages in Japan and around the world. The game first became strongly established in the 1920s and 1930s in the U.S. and in Europe. One result was the founding of the European Go Championship in 1938, a tournament which remains today the most important European tournament. Today numerous tournaments are held throughout the year in many countries throughout the world, including those held by the Iberoamerican Go Federation, in Canada, Australia or elsewhere. Most prominent are the European Go Congress (held in a different European country each year) and the American Go Congress.

International Events

The history of international tournaments on a worldwide basis begins with the holding of the 1st World Amateur Go Championship in 1979 in Tokyo. Only 15 countries participated in the 1st championship, but the number increased steadily, reaching 29 in 1982. These 29 countries became the initial members of the International Go Federation (IGF), which was officially founded on 18th March 1982. The IGF has now expanded to more than 70 members.

Go in Korea

Go (known in Korea as Baduk) was transmitted to Korea before it came to Japan, but, unlike the latter, Korea did not establish a professional system until after World War II. The founding father of Korean Go is Cho Nam-chul 9-dan (born in 1923). Cho came to Japan in 1937 to become a disciple of Kitani Minoru and he returned home in 1943. Cho founded the Hanguk Kiwon (Korean Go Association) in September 1955. By the turn of the century, the number of professional players who were members had increased to around 170; they competed for prize money in around 15 tournaments sponsored by newspapers and other organizations.By the 1980s, Korean Go had caught up with Japanese Go, so this practice of studying in Japan became rarer. The top Korean player of the 80s was Cho Hun-hyun, who holds the Korean record for most titles won. In the 90s, he yielded the top place to his disciple, Yi Chang-ho, who is one of the greatest players in the history of Go. Korean Go really came into its own in the 90s, with the establishment of a number of international tournaments. Players such as Cho and Yi and also Yu Chang-hyeok began to dominate the international scene, with the result that Korea has taken the lion’s share of international victories. Thanks to their successes, Go has become very popular in Korea, especially among children, and today it is estimated that one in four Koreans knows how to play the game, the highest degree of popularity in the world.

Go in China

The game of Go was invented in China where it is known as Wei Qi. At the beginning of the modern era (beginning of the 20th century), Go was at a low ebb in China because of the state of political disunity. However, the greatest player of the 20th century, Go Seigen, was born in China in 1914; he went to Japan in 1928 and in the middle of the century dominated Japanese Go.After the Communist revolution in 1949, the government promoted Go as an intellectual sport. In the 1960s, a series of Go exchanges with Japan began, with teams from each country touring the other in alternate years. The series was suspended during the Cultural Revolution, but was resumed in 1972. Chinese players improved rapidly and in the 1980s they won a majority of their games with Japanese players in Japan-China international matches, thus confirming that China had become established as one of the top three Go-playing countries. These days Go has become extremely popular in China, which probably has the biggest Go-playing population of any country, and many strong young players are emerging.

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