Lesson 154: Baduk in Modern China 2
Baduk is officially recognized as a sport in China, so the Chinese Baduk Association has been under the purview of the Sports Ministry from its inception. As a result, a person who is selected as a player of the association, namely a professional, has many privileges guaranteed by the government, such as entering university through a special process. Of course, as you may guess, the competition to become a professional is quite intense.
The official qualification process for professional Baduk players in China began in 1988, just 20 years ago. Until 1999, there was only one annual qualification tournament, and no settled number for those qualifying each year. In the first year, 16 players passed the test; only 7 succeeded in 1995. As the competition got harder, the association felt the need to fix the number to make the process clearer, and decided on 20 players a year starting in 2000, 18 males and 2 females.
There is a very strict age limit to become a professional in China, 17 for the male players and 20 for the female players. The logic behind having an age limit is that the younger a player, the more potential he or she has of becoming an even better player. Thanks to this policy, the Chinese rookies have been getting stronger each year. However, there is also a negative side effect, where the young applicants do not have time for a regular school education, the same as Korean players of a similar age. Nevertheless, the number of applicants is increasing every year, and nowadays, more than 500 strong youngsters apply for the qualification tournament. Concerned about older applicants lying about their age, the association has even started measuring the growth plates in the applicants' bones to verify their accurate age.
It is also difficult to be promoted to a higher level. For example, a player has to win 75% out of more than 20 games in the promotion tournament which is held once a year in order to be promoted to 9-dan from 8-dan, and no one has succeeded since 2003. Of course, that is not only because winning 75% of the games is difficult, but also because there is no monetary compensation for the games played in the promotion tournament. In short, high dan players, who are usually famous and paid well, don't want to participate in the tournament. For this reason, this kind of tournament was abolished in Korea about 10 years ago, and now we have a different system. Although rare, it is possible to advance 2 dans at once when a player wins an international tournament.
Because making money is the key factor for professional players, perhaps being a national team member is more important than just being a higher dan player. Only about 50 players can be national team members at a time, and the rewards are quite substantial. The Chinese Baduk League, big enough to make Korean top players such as Lee Changho and Lee Sedol join, is another lucrative chance for the top players. The League was started in 2000, and has gotten bigger every year. About 70 players are now playing in the major league.
The writer is a baduk professor at Myongji University and a professional player of the game.