Traditional craft-making techniques for producing Yongzi go pieces undergo revival in Yunnan
Yongzi is the name for the exquisite pieces used in the go board game made in Yongchang (present-day Baoshan city) in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. In the records written by Xu Xiake, a Chinese geologist from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Yunnan was described as the most important place for producing go pieces and those produced in Yongchang were considered the best.
Li Guowei is a provincial-level inheritor of the craft for producing Yongzi go pieces in Baoshan city. According to Li, the raw materials used for making the Yongzi go pieces are derived from locally sourced stones, including red agate, Huanglong jade, and jadeite, among others, while the process for making Yongzi go pieces includes selecting stones, crushing the stones and grinding them into powder, then adding other materials into the resulting powder to form a compound mixture that is melted together into a base material. Finally, a mold is used to turn the melted base material into fully-formed go pieces, that undergo further polishing, washing, and drying, among other steps.
According to historical records, the craft for making Yongzi go pieces was first developed by Li Dezhang, one of the family ancestors of Li Guowei.
However, production of the Go pieces stalled due to the outbreak of wars in the locality during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Unfortunately, some of the craft’s techniques were lost during this tumultuous period. In the 1980s, the local government decided to organize efforts to resume the production of Yongzi go pieces, but due to the high cost and the fact that there was no market yet available where the products could be sold, production was suspended at the end of the 1980s. It was not until the beginning of the 21st century when Li Guowei was invited to contribute to a revival of the craft. After practicing the key techniques nonstop over a long period of time, Li finally managed to restore the traditional craft that had long been lost in the city.
In June 2021, the traditional craft for making Yongzi go pieces was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage item in China. Nowadays, the Yongzi go pieces have become a valuable resource in the hobbies and sports field in addition to becoming a cultural brand in the country, having also been selected for use at national and international go competitions.