The Protracted Game

The Protracted Game
By: Scott Boorman
Publisher: Oxford University Press?, 1969
242 pp.

The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch'i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy by Scott A. Boorman, Oxford University Press 1969

Boorman proposes that the methods of warfare chosen by the Communist Chinese during campaigns against the Nationalist Chinese and Japan, particularly after the rise of Mao Zedong and the Long March, are based upon the same concepts as wei-ch'i. Boorman enumerates seventeen specific structural characteristcs of Maoist revolutionary war, among these are:

  • the struggle is a protracted one covering many years
  • the most valuable areas in the early stages are the periphery (corners and then sides)
  • victory is determined by controlling the majority of the territory rather than specific locations
  • areas of comparable size/value are interchangeable
  • many simultaneous deployments in which larger number of smaller units are more effective that a smaller number of larger, more powerful units.

These characteristics are applied to at least two coexistent boards: the geographical and the social. Of these the social is significantly more important and ensures inevitable victory on the geographical board.

From pages 5 and 6:

...It is safe to assume that, historically, there has probably been considerable interaction between the strategy of wei-ch'i and the strategy used in Chinese warfare. If indeed wei-ch'i and Chinese Communist Strategy are products of the same strategic tradition, wei-ch'i may be more realistically used as an analogic model of that strategy than any purely theoretical structure generated by a Western social scientist....
A more direct and positive factor contributing to the potential value of wei-ch'i as a strategic decision model of Chinese Communist insurgent strategy is to be found in the presence of significant comparisons between the strategy of the game and that of the revolution in the writings of Mao Tse-tung. In May 1938, in his important essay Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War against Japan, Mao wrote:

Thus there are two forms of encirclement by the enemy forces and two forms of encirclement by our own--rather like the game of wei-ch'i. Campaigns and battles fought by the two sides resemble the capturing of each other's pieces, and the establishment of strongholds by the enemy and of guerrilla base areas by us resembles moves to dominate spaces on the board. It is in the matter of "dominating the spaces" that the great strategic role of guerrilla base areas in the rear of the enemy is revealed.

Communist Chinese doctrine may vary from wei-ch'i in its insistence upon encirclement leading to the annihilation of the encircled units. Boorman contends that this may reflect the comtempt of the Communist Chinese for their Japanese and Nationalist Chinese opponents. Just as an expert go player may reasonably expect to kill many, perhaps all, of a novice's groups, so the Communist Chinese expected to kill off the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese units before the end of the wars. Boorman states that this attitude may hold a promising method of dealing with Maoist military methods: allowing the encirclement of carefully selected units, forcing the concentration of Maoist elements against those units, allows the deployment of superior technological weapons against the encircling elements and inflicts unacceptable casualty levels upon them. Both the battles of Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh conform to this methodology.

Yet as a counterpoise to Communist Chinese warfare, the Western strategy which concieved Dienbienphu, if not that tactics and the logistics which implemtented that strategy, may have been correct. Wei-ch'i analysis would so indicate.
The argument rests upon two axioms: first, a desire or demand by the Maoist side's high command for complete victory, second, the extremely close almost axiomatic connection in the Maoist model between encirclement on one hand and annihilation on the other. According to the second of these axioms, Maoist theory hypothosizes that, if encirclement is realized, annihilation must be only a small distance removed in strategic space; but encirclement is the only creative strategic mechanism recognized by the theory and consequenlty, when no further encirlement is possible, the model provides no directive, and technique will be reduced to direct, frontal attack. The corollaries of axiom two seem well documented in the case histories of the Chinese civil war, and of the Korean and Indochina conflicts. (page 180, emphasis in the original text).

The Protracted Game is referenced and quoted by [ext] Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China's Concept, Shi , an article by Dr David Lai on the relationship between weiqi and the foreign policy of The People's Republic of China.

The Protracted Game is used as inspiration for the analysis in The Go'ing Insurrection and [ext] Go: For a Winning Anarchist Strategy

Review on /Discussion.

See Also: Geo-Strategic Lessons from Go.


[ext] Review in RFG 94 by Maitre LÓm (roughly translated) summarizes the work as a work of convenience, a fawning piece of crap manufactured in the age of the popularisition of maoist propaganda. [ext] Review in RFG 94 by [ext] Nicolas Barotte also trashes the work, saying any comparison between Communist Strategy and Go, is only possible through simplifications, and that Tchang Kai-Chek must have been a mediocre player.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Game of Wei-ch'i
  • Wei-ch'i and Insurgency: A Formal Analogy
  • The Kiangsi Period
  • The Sino-Japanese War
  • Civil War, 1945-1949
  • Retrospect and Preview

Sample Material

Distance from the edge of the board
In weiqi, the number of intersections intervening between a given intersection and the edge. By political analogy, the socio-economic status of an individual or a group. The more marginal the status, the nearer it is to the edge. By military analogy, the degree of military mobility permitted by the terrain of a given (small) geographic area.

See also:

The Protracted Game last edited by on May 23, 2021 - 03:52
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