Just as the Japanese comic book series Slam Dunk (灌籃高手) grabbed the hearts of Taiwan's basketball fans, another popular series, Hikaru No Go (棋靈王) has now become a craze with local youngsters, turning the traditional Chinese game of "go" into a profitable business.
"The widespread popularity that Japanese comics and cartoons have gained here over the past years has attracted an increasing number of people, mostly school children, to learn to play go," said Chin Shih-min (秦世敏), secretary general of the World Chinese Wei Qi Federation (
Go, known as wei qi in Mandarin, has traditionally been viewed as a pastime for the elderly.
"But now parents are sending their kids to after-school classes to acquire skills and at the same time improve their patience and concentration on schoolwork," said Chin, whose passion for the game began in 1969 when the Taiwanese go master Lin Hai-feng (林海峰) gained fame in Japan.
Early last year, an annual go tournament held in Taipei attracted 3,600 young players -- an astonishing sixfold increase from the first tournament in 1998, when just 600 people participated.
Within less than three years, go students nationwide have mushroomed to an estimated two million, said Kevin Zang (臧聲遠), chief editor of the local monthly magazine Career (就業情報), published by Career Consulting Co (就業情報資訊公司), at an event it held yesterday to give tips for success to small businesses.
"The effect created by the comic book fever will only snowball to attract more novice players," Zang said. "The situation will not be affected if one day Hikaru No Go fades from the market."
Zang cited United Microelectronics Corp (UMC, 聯電) chairman Robert Tsao (曹興誠) and CMC Magnetics Corp (中環) chairman Bob Wong (翁明顯) as prominent go lovers, to illustrate that go has become popular among executives in the high-tech sector -- another indication of how the game is becoming a lucrative business.
But the nation's qualified go teachers number fewer than 1,000, Chin said, pushing up these experts' salary levels.
"Some senior instructors in the so-called cram schools can earn up to NT$1.2 million (US$37,000) a year with bonuses delivered in both summer and winter," he added.
The fever has also driven up sales in go-related products, including comic books, animation, books and Web sites offering online tournaments.
"Setting aside how much money one can make by learning go, its spirit and the skills one can gain through learning it, should be key elements in revitalizing the traditional game," said Christina Ongg (翁靜玉), the magazine's chairwoman.