Go migrants

The mid-May 2008 issue of the main Chinese go magazine, Weiqi Tiandi, contains the results of a rather interesting survey. We refer you that magazine for the details and in-depth articles on some of players mentioned, but we present here some of the highlights from a different, western perspective.

It is a survey of Chinese professionals who are now resident overseas. It seems to be not quite complete, unless temporary students have been deliberately excluded, and it does not cover cases of pros who have spent long periods overseas but who are now back in China. Still, there's plenty to chew on.

Forty pros are listed. They range from 9-dan to 1-dan and they reside in eight countries: Japan (24), Korea (4), Singapore (2), Thailand (1), USA (6), Netherlands (1), France (1) and Canada (1).

There are four 9-dans. Rui Naiwei and husband Jiang Zhujiu, now in Korea, are described as on the active tournament players list. Of the 40 players, only 10 are thus active. All the contingent of four in Korea are active. Rui and Jiang are well known. Huang Yan and Yue Liang are the other two. Huang Yan transferred to the Hanguk Giwon in 1994 as a Chinese 5-dan, but was recognised only as a 2-dan in Korea. She has since clawed her way back up to 4-dan. Yue Liang is a special case as he married the Korean pro Kweon Hyo-chin in 2005. His application to join the Hanguk Giwon was approved only in March 2007. At least his 4-dan Chinese grade was recognised as Korean 4-dan, but there were restrictions on his participation in international events and certain pro-funded events since he also does not receive a Hanguk Giwon allowance.

China's only other female 9-dan, Feng Yun in the USA, is described as a go teacher. As with many other pros, there is obviously a strong element of faute de mieux about this.

The final 9-dan is Chen Jiarui, who will be better known as Chin Kaei, a member of the Kansai Ki-in in Japan. As we know from personal conversation, Chen gets very disgruntled when people call him by his Japanese name. There is a strong trend at present in Japan for foreigners to be given a passable transcription of their real name, rather than the Sino-Japanese rendering (and so we get I Chanho instead of Ri Shoko for Yi Ch'ang-ho, or Nie Ueipin instead of Jo Eihei for Nie Weiping), but in go this still seems to be common only for new, young pros. In any event, Chen's case is not straightforward. He first moved to Cantonese and was known by the Cantonese reading Chan Ka Yui. Confusingly, he likes to use Chien on his business card. Just as well he didn't migrate via Ellis Island!

The other four players who are still able to play in pro tournaments are all in Japan. Li Yang is a 4-dan. Like Chen Jiarui, she is a pupil of Shiraishi Yutaka 9-dan and is likewise in the Kansai Ki-in. She might be better known to you as Ri Yo, the Japanese reading.

So Yokoku is the highest ranked Chinese player in the Nihon Ki-in. He is another one who much prefers to hear his name in Chinese, Su Yaoguo, but that is still a vain hope. He has been in Japan too long - since 1991. Also in the Nihon Ki-in are two ladies: Kin En (Jin Yan), who first went to Japan as an amateur and won the Women's Amateur Honinbo in 1989 (she is now 3-dan), and Fu Kobai (Fu Hongmei), who first went to Japan in 1994 to study economics. She must be a special loss to the Chinese Go Association, as she is a native of the northern province of Heilongjiang. The Chinese authorities have long been concerned that the more remote and under-represented provinces should be encouraged to develop go, and have even tried quota systems. But the stark fact is that in China women's go is very cash-strapped. Fu obviously put her economics degree to good use.

The final tournament pro, as opposed to lesson pro, is Ko Reibun (Kong Lingwen). He perhaps has the most impressive pedigree, being the son of Nie Weiping 9-dan and Kong Xiangming 8-dan. He will certainly remain Ko Reibun as he became a naturalised Japanese while living in Japan with his mother. He eventually married Sayaka, daughter of Kobayashi Satoru (in 2003). Despite that pedigree, and also special invitations to play in some Chinese events, he has not yet set the go world on fire, though he has reached a respectable 6-dan. He is yet another product of Kikuchi Yasuro's Ryokusei Academy, incidentally. His mother moved back to China once she saw her son married and settled down.

All the other pros have had to settle for life mostly outside the tournament hall. Although players such as Guo Juan in the Netherlands and He Xiaoren in Canada have had invitations to represent their area of residence in a few international events, their ordinary go life (much to our benefit, it must be said) is as teachers. But that is not really so different from living in China or Japan, especially for female pros. In passing, it might be of interest to note that of the 40 overseas pros, 21 are female. 17 of the 40 pros are given as go teachers. Of the rest, the activities of some were unknown to the survey team, but they include Niu Lili 5-dan with the enviable job of assistant to Go Seigen (her sister, Niu Xianxian, Michael Redmond's wife, was not included in the list despite reaching 3-dan), and Wu Qi 4-dan, who has become a PhD student at prestigious Waseda University. A few others are now in the private sector in Japan, and not all are in the major towns. Sun Zhigang 3-dan, for example, is in the relative backwoods of Kochi City. We mention all this mainly to make the point that not all overseas Chinese pros have left China as go ambassadors. In fact, very few have, though in saying that we imply no criticism.

One case that may resonate with those European amateurs who currently are objecting to the way Oriental players are snapping up the money prizes in western go is that of Yang Qiao. Yang, from Shanghai, is a Chinese professional 4-dan who moved to Tokyo in 1992 and made a name for himself as an amateur in Japan. He once won the Amateur Saikyo title, for example (though he has also lost in the final a couple of times, which says something about the level of the top Japanese amateurs). But nobody seems to bleat in Japan, and Yang, after initially earning a living through teaching games, was eventually able, together with his wife Shang Hong, a 3-dan Chinese pro, to become the first Chinese player to set up his own go club in Japan.

As a final point, it is noteworthy that the list (as a footnote there also indicates) is restricted to mainland Chinese, and so excludes anyone from Taiwan. Perhaps by an oversight, the list also excludes Go Seigen (Wu Qingyuan), and it also omits Rin Kaiho (Lin Haifeng), whose introduction to go was certainly via Taiwan but who was born in Shanghai (in the days when it was under Japanese occupation). His parents moved to Taiwan with the Nationalist government, but the break was not as clean as you might think. Grandfather stayed in Shanghai and he was especially fond of Rin's elder brother Haida and asked for him to be allowed to stay in Shanghai. Haida died at the age of 20, so Haifeng never saw him again. Even after spending almost his entire life in Japan, Rin has never given up his Chinese heritage. Originally his children were sent to a Chinese school in Japan, but later went to international school. He then sent his son Toshihiro to spend a year in Xi'an after graduating from university, and his daughters went to Beijing to brush up their Chinese. Wang Yi and various other pros in Beijing helped these daughters - our point being that the survey should not be allowed to imply that all the traffic in go travel is one way (and let us not forget the many Korean and Japanese pros who currently play in the China Cities League).

As hinted at in the last two paragraphs, politics and diplomacy have sometimes interfered with the lives of go players, but it is easy to exaggerate that. The politicians and the diplomats themselves may well be culpable of frequent posturing and even strife, but the ordinary people of the countries they are supposed to represent often take a much more prosaic view. Rin Kaiho, for example, can claim to be one of two Chinese players to have the stories of their lives serialised for go fans in Japanese daily newspapers (Yomiuri Shinbun for Go Seigen and Nihon Keizai Shinbun for Rin). The back sections of the various go yearbooks are probably ignored by most western players, being full of amateur games (though, more often than not, amateurs who eventually become pros), but the catalogue of events they represent is, at times, a stark contrast to the front pages of the newspapers. For every diplomatic protest about the Yasukuni shrine or a disputed rock in mid-ocean, you can find in the yearbooks a dozen happy events such as an international go exchange between children, university students, writers, women's groups, teachers, etc. etc.

In its own way, and even if we have to burrow a little below the surface to see the fuller story, the Weiqi Tiandi is another excellent example of go as a game of harmony and co-existence among us ordinary folk.