Tibetan go - the mists are lifting

I first wrote about Tibetan go in "Go on The Roof of the World," writes John Fairbairn, in Go World 58 (Winter 1989). The first extensive piece on the game in English, it inspired American anthropologist Peter Shotwell to make a field trip to Tibet. The result of his researches appeared in Go World 69 ("Go in the Snow").

The rules are substantially different from ordinary go in a couple of important respects but we have never been able to be confident that we have complete knowledge of them. Peter reported some new rules, but with uncertainties. His findings also raised some more doubts - which may well be explained by local variations. It certainly would not be a surprise if there is a difference between traditions of the Kham Tibetans, who are of Qiang stock, and the northern Tibetans who are of Mongolian origin.

Now, however, it seems we can get close to a reliable set of rules. The Chinese drive to turn Shangri-la into a tourist haven has led to renewed interest in the ethnic minorities there, and they in turn have found a renewed passion for the local traditions. Shangri-la is essentially Zhongdian Prefecture in Yunnan Province. It has a large Kham Tibetan population, and it appears that old Tibetan go has grown in popularity there over the past three or four years.

In late June 2005, the 1st Shangri-la Tibetan Board Games Educational and Cultural Festival was held. Given impetus by the prefectural governer Qi Zala, it was able to attract some Chinese pros, who gave special exhibition games. They played one game out, which is why we can be fairly sure now about the rules.

The reason the festival title said "board games", by the way, is that it also included juu, also played with black and white stones but on a 13x13 board. Tibetan go is mig-mang in the local language.

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