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Go Seigen (Wu) bio by his brother

There was a Chinese father who once said many years ago, “I will pass
my calligraphic skills to my oldest son; my writing skills to my second
oldest son; my go skills to my youngest son.”

His youngest son was Go Seigen.

In this translation, I have used “Wu Qing Yuan” (his name in Chinese pinyin) instead of “Go Seigen” since I feel that’s how his brother would like it to be translated. In particular, Mr Wu Yan, his brother and the author, constantly referred him as “Qing Yuan”, a brotherly calling that cannot be replaced by “Seigen”, I feel. Please get used to one of the greatest names in go history in his mother language: Wu Qing Yuan! I also made some notes for some explanations that I felt necessary. They are enclosed by square brackets (‘[‘ and ‘]’).

Wu Qing Yuan (Go Seigen)

Wu Qing Yuan, also named Wu Quan, was born in a big family of Fuzhou [a city in southestern China] in 1914. Our father once studied abroad in Japan, with a major in laws. After he returned to China, he became a small officer for the government in Beijing [then controlled by warlords]. One day, he suddenly took out board and stones, and he started to teach us go. Quickly we all learned how to play, so we began to match against our father. Not before long, we caught up with him, and soon after, Qing Yuan became the strongest among us. Father then took out some go records, replaying for us game by game.

Qing Yuan became addictive to go records as soon as he touched them. Early in the morning, he started to replay the records right after he got up. Without reminding, he would not go to the dining room. And in the night, he’d forget to go to bed — he just replayed the game records all day long. From then on, he became the center around our go board: He replayed the games, while father, eldest brother and me looked on. At first, all he replayed were some ancient Chinese games, played by such famous ancient players like Huang, Shi, and Fan. Later, father also took out the go records he brought back from Japan, such as Honinbo Dosaku’s games. These were treasures to Qing Yuan, and he started to study them day and night, eagerly hoping to finish them in a few days. Approximately in over half a year, Qing Yuan had mastered almost all the basic go skills.[Wu was not even ten years old by then.]

Among the Fuzhou people in Beijing, there was a famous Fuzhou go player named Lin. At that time, Qing Yuan’s go skills had been known among relatives and friends. To test Qing Yuan’s strength, they made an appointment with Lin and took Qing Yuan to play him. Lin was destroyed in the middle game fight, and Qing Yuan’s name was immediately spreaded out among Fuzhou people. Father saw that Qing Yuan’s go future was bright, so he subscribed some newest published Japanese go games for Qing Yuan. Qing Yuan was a small kid with small hands, while the go record books were big and thick. He held the game books with his left hand and played on the board with his right hand, from morning to evening everyday. After days and nights, the shape of his left index finger changed, bending backwards. At that time, probably no other Chinese player was studying Japanese game records as deeply as he.

There was a tea shop on a big street in the western city of Beijing. In the tea shop, there were go boards and stones available for go players and fans, and here became a meeting place for the players. Famous players like Wang, Gu, and Liu often visited here to meet go friends. In the summer of 1923, one day, our father took three of us to that tea shop to play go. Father was the same age as Liu, and Liu once taught father some go. Father respected him very much. After a few games with Wang, Gu, and Liu in the tea shop, Qing Yuan started to become famous in Beijing.
In 1924, father unfortunately died of tuberculosis. At that time, Qing Yuan was only 11. After funeral affairs, our biggest challenge was how to survive the rest of the way. Eldest brother had just finished one year in high school, and now he had to dropped out. I was only 12 years old, but I already understood that our family had fallen into a serious situation, and miserable days were ahead. Qing Yuan realized the situation too, but he continued to focus on go records, deeply studying the game. One day, my uncle came to visit us, and when he saw that Qing Yuan was concentrating on a go record in front of the table, he shouted harshly, “Don’t play go all the time! Playing go is useless! Will you be able to make a life with go?!” “Yes, I can!” Qing Yuan answered without hesitation. “Yes, I will make a life with go!” My uncle was shocked to speechless by such an determined answer, and he left with a few sarcastic laughs.

At the time, the family was survived by selling some old stuff (mainly books and paintings). 1925 was the year when Duan [a warlord] was in power of the government. Duan liked to play go. A famous go player, Gu, was a protege under Duan, and Gu often played go with Duan to earn an income. Mother saw a road from this. Hoping to get help from Duan, she took Qing Yuan to visit Gu, asking him to recommend Qing Yuan to Duan. Duan had long heard of Qing Yuan’s name, and he had wanted to see him. So Gu generously accepted mother’s request.

Duan was happy to see Qing Yuan, and he started to pay Qing Yuan 100 yuan a month (a high salary at that time). Nice words came from friends and relatives, and my uncle couldn’t even say anything more. Thus our family’s income was insured.

Thereafter, Qing Yuan went to Duan’s private house in the eastern city every morning. Duan’s go was pretty strong, and so was his desire to win. So his proteges usually let him win. An exception was his eldest son, who almost beat his father every time. And each time after losing to his son, Duan would angrily shout, “Only *you* know how to play!” After Qing Yuan was invited to the house, Duan at first only asked him to play with other go players, and he watched on from the side. Later, he became interested, so he asked the others to yield him the seat. Qing Yuan was only a kid, and he did’t know to care if his opponent was happy or not — if he could win, he would. After losing to Qing Yuan a few times, Duan didn’t play him again. But the 100 yuan monthly salary was still paid as usual.

After Qing Yuan gained fame, he started to have contacts with other famous people like the government officers. At that time, mentioning a person’s full name in social intercourse was considered impolite, and wasthus a kind of taboo. Although Qing Yuan was still a kid, the others hadstarted to treat him like an adult. [Notice by far his full name was actually Wu Quan, although the author has called him Qing Yuan.] A friend of Gu, therefore, created a new name, “Qing Yuan”, for him based on his old name “Quan”. [“Quan” means spring, fountain; “Qing Yuan” literally means clear and pure source of water.] From then on, the two characters of “Wu Quan” were replaced by the three characters of “Wu Qing Yuan”. [What did this have to do with name calling taboo? Well, habitually, Chinese people are not comfortable to call a person by one character unless they are referring themselves or someone in love. So, with “Wu Quan”, one would either call him “Wu Quan”, his full name, a “taboo”, or call him “Quan”, which was just one character — neither was very good. With “Wu Qing Yuan”, however, it was not a problem since everyone could call him “Qing Yuan”, which was not his full name, yet it contained two characters.]

After Duan left the government [either resigned or forced to resign], Qing Yuan no longer had that 100 yuan monthly salary. Our family once again fell into financial trouble. By this time, Qing Yuan had got to know a Japanese antiques merchant named Yamasaki through playing go. This man recognized Qing Yuan’s go talent, and he intended to ask Qing Yuan to go to Japan, so he encouraged Qing Yuan to learn Japanese from his wife. As a result, Qing Yuan went to Yamasaki’s home to learn japanese everyday.

In 1926, Japanese 6-dan player Iwamoto Kaoru came to Beijing. He played two games with Qing Yuan: first game was a 3-stone game, and Qing Yuan won it; second game was a 2-stone game, and Qing Yuan lost by one stone [2 points]. After Iwamoto Kaoru went back to Japan, he started to
mention Qing Yuan’s talent in the go world. Soon after, a famous player Inoue Kohei 5-dan came to Beijing to test Qing Yuan’s strength. He played three games with Qing Yuan, and Qing Yuan won them all. [The number of games mentioned here, against either Iwamoto or Inoue, are somewhat different from the history record.] Inoue Kohei then returned to Japan and reported Qing Yuan’s strength to Nihon Ki-in. Later, the famed Segoe Kensaku 7-dan started to have correspondings with Yamasaki, discussing a possible trip to Japan by Qing Yuan.

In October, 1928, Qing Yuan arrived at Japan. Okura Kishichiro, director of Nihon Ki-in of that time, had promised to support Qing Yuan 200 yen a month, and since our mother and our eldest brother when to Japan with Qing Yuan as well, another 100 yen was added, and the term was two years. After two years, whether or not Qing Yuan would be able to hold his position in Japan, that is, whether or not he would be accepted as a Nihon Ki-in member, would be decided by the progress in his go.

Qing Yuan seldom talked much and he did not incline to play around. His life was simple, quiet, and he did not care about money. He simply concentrated on go. He sat in meditation every day, and I asked him, “What is good of meditation?” He answered, “The top Japanese players are as strong as I am. To beat them, I have to be able to have a clear mind at the key moments. Meditation is an exercise to train such a clear mind.”

Nihon Ki-in sent out a committee to decided Qing Yuan’s rank. The committee consisted of seven members: Honinbo Shusai (9-dan), Iwaasa Kei (7-dan), Segoe Kensaku (7-dan), Suzuki Tamejiro (7-dan), Kato Shin (6-dan), Iwamoto Kaoru (6-dan), and Onoda Chiyotaro (6-dan). The committee then chose Shinohara Masami (4-dan), Murashima Yoshikatsu (4-dan), Maeda Nobuaki (4-dan), Hashimoto Utaro (4-dan), Onoda Chiyotaro (6-dan), Kitani Minoru (4-dan), and Honinbo Shusai seven players to play against Qing Yuan. Qing Yuan first beat Shinohara Masami, Honinbo Shusai, and Murashima Yoshikatsu in the first three games, and the committee awarded him a 3-dan diploma.
The ranking system was more strict at that time than now, and a 3-dan of that time was equivalent to a 5-dan nowadays. After being awarded a 3-dan rank, Qing Yuan continued to play against the other four chosen players. At the end, he won all but the game against Kitani Minoru. Qing Yuan
believed that Kitani Minoru was the first tough opponent he met.

Qing Yuan then officially became Nihon Ki-in’s player, and since 1930, when he was 16 years old, he started to participate the twice-a-year Oteai tournament of Nihon Ki-in. In this year’s spring session, Qing Yuan went 7-1, losing only to Kitani Minoru, and he earned 100 yen and a gold medal for his 3rd place finish. 100 yen at that time was about equivalent to today’s [1980s] 200,000 yen. In the autumn session of the same year, he went undefeated, gaining the highest total points and thus a 1st place. This time, the prize was 300 yen, and he was promoted to 4-dan. In 1931, Qing Yuan went 6-2 and a 4th-place finish in the spring session, and went undefeated and a 1st-place finish in the autumn session. By this time, Qing Yuan’s life had become financially insured, so he helped his three younger sisters in Beijing to go to Tokyo.

To have a settled life was the condition for him to be concentrated on go, and to have strong opponents constantly for years was the condition for him to improve. With both conditions satisfied, he was able to study go hard all day long. Segoe Kensaku said, “I was a neighbor of Wu family for 10 years, and I knew he deeply studied go at home anytime. He was a genius, but he worked harder than the others too.” Segoe then added, “Although he was my student, I seldom gave him advices. His go skills were mostly developed by himself.” At this time, Qing Yuan’s fame had spread all over Japan, and from time to time there were many invitations from various parties to ask him to teach go.

In 1931, Qing Yuan participated the Tokyo Times newspaper sponsered tournament. This was a single elimination tournament. Qing Yuan triumphed consecutively, defeating 18 opponents in a row. Times Newspaper posted his games consecutively for about half a year, and his winning streak drew a great attention from the go world in Japan. During this tournament, every game’s winner earned 180 yen, and since Qing Yuan won every game of his, money flowed in like water. He, however, turned all his income to mother, and he never spent much on himself. He was then 18 years old, and Tokyo happened to be a place full of sexual attractions. Right across the street from Ki-in, for example, there was a big dancing theater. There were many Japanese players who often drank, gambled, and played with women, and many Japanese were proud of these behaviors, believing that this showed men’s real look. In such an environment, Qing Yuan was able to keep himself away from miscellaneous thoughts. He only had go in his mind, studying go with diligence. This was indeed rare and admirable.

During the 1932 spring session of the Oteai tournament, he again won all of his games, gaining the 1st place; during the autumn session of the same year, he lost only to Kojima and won the 2nd place. In 1933, then 19 years old, Qing Yuan was promoted to 5-dan. In the spring session of the
same year, he won 2nd place, then in the autumn session, he shared the 1st place with Kitani Minoru. In the same year, the Yomiuri Newspaper sponsored a Japanese Go Championship tournament. Qing Yuan defeated rivals Kitani Minoru and Hashimoto Utaro, winning the tournament and the bonus to play Meijin Shusai. In this game, Qing Yuan of course held black, and he played the first move at the 3-3 point of upper right corner. This kind of move was a taboo in the Honinbo family. The second black stone was played at the hoshi [star] point at lower left, and black’s third move was at tengen [10-10]. This new style of playing shocked the go world. Howerver, Honinbo Shusai himself knew well about Qing Yuan’s strength, and he played carefully. A few times Qing Yuan delivered moves that were difficult to handle, and Shusai adjourned the game frequently. As a result, the game lasted until January of the next year, a total of 3 months. During this period, Qing Yuan also participated the Oteai autumn session and other newspaper sponsored games of total of 11 games. At the end, Shusai won the game by 2 points. Rumors said, Shusai won because his student Maeda Nobuaki discovered a myoshu, i.e. white 160. Many people thought, it was unfair that Shusai frequently requested adjournment [it was white player’s right at that time] and studied it later with his students. Consequently, Nihon Ki-in set a rule that each game should be finished on the same day without any delay. [The author failed to mention “sealing moves.”]

In 1934, Qing Yuan was promoted to 6-dan. After winning all his games in 1935 spring session of Oteai, however, he suddenly became ill, and he was unable to participate the autumn session. In 1936, he played in the spring session after newly recovered from his illness, winning 2nd place.
Then he participated in a newspaper sponsored tournament. To round 14, his body could not hold up anymore, and he forfeited the remaining games under doctor’s advice. He skipped the autumn session as well. In April of the same year [1936], he officially naturalized to become a Japanese citizen, changing name to Go Izumi. [“Go Izumi” are the two characters for “Wu Quan”, his old name. In Japanese, Kanji (Chinese characters) have two ways of reading: one is based on its (original) Chinese sound, another is based on its Japanese sound. In this case, “Go” is based on Chinese sound while “Izumi” is a Japanese word. He chose so to show that he was semi-Chinese
and semi-Japanese. Later, however, people returned to call him Go Seigen (Wu Qing Yuan) since that was the way they were used to.]

Because of the illness, he rested in the hospital for a year and three months. During this recovering period, he wrote a collection of his thoughts entitled “Mo Chou Collection” [“Mo Chou” literally means “not to worry”], and it was published in 1940. In this collection, there were experiences on go skills. For example, “Go should improve day by day; if no progress, there is retreat [like sailing against current].” Also, there were thoughts which flowed out when he was quietly resting. For instance, he believed that reading ancient poetry was a good way to improve one’s mind.

During the time when Qing Yuan was in the hospital, Honinbo Shusai announced his retirement, and he played Kitani Minoru a “retirement match.” At the end, Kitani won the game. A natural consequece of this result might be that Kitani Minoru would be regarded as the No.1 in the go world after Honinbo Shusai retired. However, people knew that there was still Wu Qing Yuan. The real No.1 title had to be decided between the two on the board. Thus, Yomuri Newspaper staged a Kitani-Wu 10-game series. This series started at the end of September of this year [1939], and it lasted till June of 1941, with Qing Yuan winning the series by a score of 6-4. During this 10-game series, there were times when people threw stones to Qing Yuan’s house, and there were threatening letters, saying if Qing Yuan defeated Kitani, he would have to be careful about his life. Qing Yuan showed the letter to Segoe Kensaku. Mr Segoe thought that Qing Yuan should take it seriously; if he was to win the series, he might well be in danger. Nevertheless, Qing Yuan regarded go as his second life, and he did not give in. He won the series at last.

In February 1942, Qing Yuan got married with a college student Nagahara, and he moved in Nagahara’s house. In this year’s Nihon Ki-in high-dan competition, he won the 1st prize with a 5-1 score. In August 1946, he started the 10-game series with Hashimoto Utaro. The series lasted only 8 games, when Hashimoto resigned after trailing 6-2. In 1948, he started another 10-game series with Iwamoto Kaoru. This time, it lasted only 6 games, when Iwamoto resigned after Qing Yuan led the series 5-1.

In 1950, when he was 36, Qing Yuan was promoted to 9-dan. The 50’s were Qing Yuan’s golden years, when he defeated all the top rivals in a series of spectacular 10-game series. And he stood alone at the top of other big matches. That era was called Wu Qing Yuan Era, and until today, people in the go world are still admiring Qing Yuan’s glorious record of that time.

In 1951, Qing Yuan couple was invited by the Taipei Go Association and they visited Taiwan. Lin Hai Feng (Rin Kaiho) was then only a 10-year-old boy, but he was already a famous player in Taipei. Qing Yuan gave him 6 stones in a game and won by 1 point. After the game, some asked Qing Yuan, how was the kid’s future? Qing Yuan answered, “Based on a professional player’s standard, he can reach 6 to 7 dan. Whether or not he can go further is determined by how hard he works by himself. If he wants to go to Japan to learn go, the earlier the better.” Therefore, Lin’s family decided to ask Lin Hai Feng to go to Japan, and they asked Qing Yuan to be his teacher. Later Lin Hai Feng became a top player in Japan. There was an era called Lin Hai Feng Era. [Again, Lin is Rin Kaiho.]

In 1961, Qing Yuan was 47 years old. He displayed once again his prime form, winning the 3rd Japan’s Strongest Deciding Matches. [Shared the title with Sakata Eio.] This was the last glorious victory in his magnificant career. One afternoon in August of this year, he was hit by a motorcycle when he walked across a street. Several bones were broken, and his brain was damaged. After emergency rescue, his life was saved. After that, he stayed in hospital for over a year. Having experienced such a hit, he no longer had the energy to recover to his top form. The next year, he suffered nervous disorder caused by the brain concussion, and for that he had to stay in hospital for another long period of time. Even so, he managed to win 2nd places in the Meijin matches in 1963 and again in 1964 [league plays]. In 1965 the 4th Meijin matches, he finally showed sign of falling, and he could no longer compete with the new comers. This year’s Meijin title was grabbed by his student Lin Hai Feng. The Wu Qing Yuan Era in the go history finally left for good. What followed were a new generation of players such as Lin Hai Feng (Rin Kaiho), Otake Hideo, Ishida
Yoshio, and Cho Chikun.

[Translated and notes by Jim Yu]


Go isn’t everything. Go is the only thing. — zhuge

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