Legendary Go grandmaster Wu Qingyuan dies at 100

The greatest player of the 20th century is credited with turning the game into a symbol of Sino-Japanese friendship

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 December, 2014, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 December, 2014, 4:51am


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Wu Qingyuan, the Chinese-Japanese Go grandmaster, died on Sunday at a hospital in Odawara, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. He was 100 years old.

Wu, known in Japan as Go Seigen, was widely considered the greatest Go player of the 20th century for his domination of the professional game for more than 25 years.

While his life reflected the tumultuous Sino-Japanese relationship of the past century, his legend is credited with helping to turn the game into a symbol of the countries’ friendship and cultural ties.

Peking University professor Wang Xinsheng described Wu’s life as having “reflected the war and peace between China and Japan in the past [century]”.

Wang, an expert in modern Japanese history, said that the grandmaster’s life showed the need to promote understanding and communication between the two Asian neighbours.

Born on June 12, 1914 in Fuzhou in Fujian province, Wu emerged as a prodigy at the age of seven. He moved to Japan in 1928 aged 14 at the invitation of Tsuyoshi Inukai, who later became prime minister of Japan.

Wu gained both fans and enemies as he rose to prominence as the top Go player in the world, partly by overturning the established traditions and strategies of the game.

With the breakout of the Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s, Wu and his family were thrown into an uncomfortable and dangerous position as Chinese nationals residing in Japan.

While Wu’s family returned to China, he chose to stay behind in his adopted country to pursue the game. He acquired Japanese nationality in 1936, lost it after Japan’s defeat in the war, then acquired it again in 1979.

After naturalisation as a Japanese citizen, he used the name Go Izumi, though he later reverted to his Chinese name.

Even in the most turbulent years of the Sino-Japanese War, Wu declined to take sides, saying his loyalty lay with the game, which he regarded as his true faith.

One of his most famous games was with Japanese master Honinbo Shusai in 1933, a match politicised by the media as reflecting the hostilities between Japan and China.

Wu withdrew from playing professionally in the 1960s due to poor health, and formally retired in 1984.

Most Chinese know of Wu through two award-winning films about his life – Chinese director Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Go Master (2006) and the Chinese-Japanese production, An Unfinished Chess Game (1982).

The 1982 production marked the 10th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic ties between China and Japan. The role of Wu was acted by Japanese star Ken Takakura, who also died recently – on November 10 at the age of 83.

Go is an ancient board game that originated in China and is described as “a worthy pastime for a gentleman” in the Analects of Confucius. The game was exported to Japan and its uptake was seen as evidence of the ties between the two Asian giants – an idea burnished by Wu’s legacy.