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Image source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/01/27/464566551/forget-chess-ai-masters-wickedly-complex-chinese-game-of-go
21 January 2023

Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 1: Chinese Strategy and ‘Go’ is not like Western (Clausewitzian) Warfare and ‘Chess’

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Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-1-chinese-strategy-and-go-is-not-like-western-f8fdc5dd72f3

Today’s recommended article is actually a monograph published through the United States Army War College Press and one I have enjoyed and referenced for over a decade in my own work. It is titled “Learning from the Stones: A ‘Go’ Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept ‘Shi’ by Dr. David Lai. The PDF can be downloaded without paywall here on the AWC official site:

https://press.armywarcollege.edu/monographs/771/

David Lai authored “Learning from the Stones: A GO approach to mastering China’s strategic concept, SHI.” This is a fantastic primer on how Chinese culture and their warfighting frame is significantly different from the western, democratic and industrialized western one, particularly the American frame. The metaphoric device used in this paper is that of Chess versus the Chinese game GO. The games are wildly different, despite toy stores stacking them side-by-side on the games shelf.

We in the West conceptualize war as a chess game; this is in keeping with western war theorists such as Jomini, Machiavelli, and of course Clausewitz (war is a duel but upon a grander scale). We begin with many pieces, but as we continue to outwit our opponents, we gain greater prediction and control as the board becomes more ordered, stable- as fewer pieces remain and through destruction of the enemy’s power (if thinking pieces- capturing his queen… if thinking maneuver or territory- putting the King in check). War ends in clear victory, and it is decisive.

China does not view conflict this way, and over thousands of years Chinese culture and war theory illustrates a different frame; that of Sun Tsu, as well as Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and more. The game of GO is quite different from Chess, almost running in a reverse. Deception is key (Sun Tzu), and the game is non-linear, emergent, and often victory is just a few pieces against the opponent… strategies abound in GO that would be catastrophic in Chess. And chess players that launch into a game of GO often find their chess instincts as detrimental to what happens.

Something to use for thinking about how we consider competition, warfare, ‘the grey zone’, and for those looking to the heavens, space deterrence. Enjoy the monograph, and continue to follow this series for more article recommendations on innovation, strategy, military design, defense affairs and war philosophy.

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