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Play a big game of chess

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下一盘很大的棋 (xià yī pán hěn dà de qí): play a big game of chess

A big game of chess.

This comes from the 2008 article “Understanding China’s Strategy: Playing a Big Game of Chess” (解读中国战略:下一盘很大的棋!). (Here, the word “chess” {棋 qí} refers generally to any chess-like game, including chess, checkers, 象棋 xiàngqí and go {围棋 wéiqí}.) The article likens U.S. strategy abroad to international chess, while Chinese strategy is more akin to weiqi. The author contends that strategy in the Chinese game involves more cooperation between opposing players; weiqi is more about spreading influence over a certain territory than annihilating one’s opponent. The author asserts, for example, that while Taiwan is extremely important for China to eventually reclaim, the government lets its “pawns”--the Kuomintang and pro-Taiwan parties--alone. The article concludes, “It would be a great blessing to the world if competition followed the manner of weiqi and not the manner of international chess” (以围棋而不是国际象棋的方式进行竞争,才是人类的大幸). The article has been used to justify inaction or poor decisions by the Chinese government as part of some larger strategy.

Skeptical netizens use the phrase “play a big game of chess” to mock the categorical justification of any government action. For example, see this exchange on Weibo:

   Aestheticism&Micronovels: CCTV sent reporters into the storm to cover Hurricane Sandy. One netizen doesn’t understand: “I didn’t see them putting in that much effort to report on Ningbo!” Another netizen explains, “Actually, they’re broadcasting this for the leaders, because their kids are all over there!”                                                                                                                                                                            唯美丶微小説:央视派出多路记者前往现场报道美国飓风。有网友不解:宁波的事也没见他们这么下功夫!另有网友解释:其实是播给领导们看的,因为他们的孩子都在那里!                                                                                                                                                                                    FPC-Tian: Playing a big game of chess, I see.