Paduk looks simple, consisting of flat black and white pawns, called “rocks” in English, and a board as a playing mat, which can consist of 19 by 19 rows for a full game, or more easily, 13 by 13 rows, or it could be 9 by 9 rows commonly used for children’s practice in kindergarten.
In his book “On China,” veteran American diplomat Henry Kissinger once used the game as an analogy to China’s strategy towards the outside world.
The game is known as ‘Go’ in Japan, ‘Weqi’ in China and ‘Baduk’ in South Korea. The game is considered challenging due to the almost unlimited number of possible positions, requiring intuition and flexibility.
North Korea wants to promote paduk as a local culture, while helping children learn and develop. In the context of education, this is interesting because it has nothing to do with the forced praise of the country’s leader, which is an important part of the curriculum from an early age for everyone.
Paduk is taught at a kindergarten in the relatively affluent district of Pyongyang. TK “Mirae” which means “Future” is located near the city center.
The district on the banks of the Taedong River was reorganized and completed in 2016, to accommodate scientists and technicians. The district’s new main street is also dubbed Future Scientist Street.
Like children in general, children in North Korea are allowed to play, but class etiquette is very strict. As soon as the teacher enters the class, the children bow and greet him. The aim of the game is to win by surrounding and controlling the opponent’s pieces. It is difficult because there are various strategies and ways to win.
Paduk for kindergarten children is kept short, only one hour each afternoon, and each contest is limited to 15 to 45 minutes.
At Mirae Kindergarten, Choe So Yon, aged five, has demonstrated what her teacher, Hong Jong Mi, describes as extraordinary skill. “This child is five years old and has only been learning Paduk for six months, but he has already reached a much better level than children aged six, who have been learning Paduk for more than a year. He has a very great interest in Paduk,” explained Hong Jong Mi.
In North Korea, such abilities are quickly recognized, and students will be encouraged to develop them further. Choe So Yon said, “I played with my father, mother, and grandfather. I always beat my father.”
North Korea may want to promote paduk as a game from its country, but China and Japan have claimed it as a hereditary game in those countries.
What is important for children at the much better-equipped schools in Pyongyang is the opportunity to play and enjoy the intellectual challenge of the game.
Paduk Teacher Hong Jong Mi said, “Everyone knows that five and six year olds are very naughty. At that age, children are very happy to play. So we teach Paduk as a fun thing to play. At home, parents can play with children in the early stages of learning. Once children reach a higher level of play, parents are no longer able to compete. At this stage, parents should continue to be in close contact with the kindergarten, and actively encourage and praise children to continue to be interested in the nursery. This is how we teach children.”
The UN World Food Program confirms that malnutrition continues to be a major problem for a large part of the Korean population
North. The country is now increasingly isolated due to implementing an international lockdown to protect itself from the corona virus.
Bright kindergarten students in Pyongyang may enjoy testing their minds with Paduk, but it’s unclear what their future holds.[ka/lt]