Chess vs. Weiqi

The battle of empire is a battle of memes.


Even Henry Kissinger in his latest book, On China, seems to have grasped something that America has yet to understand – the battle of empire is a battle of memes.

Ideologies. Strategies. Fundamentals of organization in war, economy and peace are weaved into the fabric of culture. In China, the game of weiqi is telling of a broader civilizational strategy. Rooted in Confucian ideals of collectivity and Sun Tzu’s ideals of combat, the basic premise of weiqi is to encircle the enemy. By placing identical stones on the board, one piece at a time, the winning strategy is to avoid open strikes and to frustrate the enemy, leaving no option other than surrender … all without ever throwing a stone.

America has long approached the world from an opposing ideal, the philosophy of chess, Kissinger says. This game of rank and class is based on the idea of an iconic singular battle, foreshadowed by scrappy exchanges and incisive strikes.

The American Revolution was a decisive event, a declaration, a roused militia and a singular victory conceived in the mind of Washington. China’s myth, however, is rooted in Mao’s Long March ndash; a 12,000 km grueling trek across the country in the midst of a three-decade civil war culminating in total surrender of the enemy in 1949.

America has been so obsessed with conflict that they’ve failed to realize the multitude of encirclement around them. The noose is tightening but still they seek to destroy the Gordian Knot rather than maneuver a way out. “The disregard of Master Sun’s precepts was importantly responsible for America’s frustration in its recent Asian Wars…” Kissinger writes. And what is the core of those precepts?

“Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.” – Sun Tzu