The history of Yunzi ("Go" in the U.S.) game pieces is rich and complex. While only a 500 year history going back to the Tang dynasty can be verified, Yunzi is rumored to date back 2500 years to the time of Confucious.
Traditional Yunzi stones are black and white, yet the luster can vary. Older white pieces are opaque with a tint of yellow or green when held to the light. The black pieces were dark, and when held to the light have a translucent green hue. Newer Yunzi pieces are pure in color without the luster of secondary colors.
Yunzi pieces are traditionally made from sintered stones. Historically, the exact composition was a closely guarded secret. Yunzi stones are occasionally made from other materials such as jade, when Yunzi is played by emperors and royal courts. The traditional art of making Yunzi was lost during the first few years of the 20th century because of war in the region. The Yunnan Sports Commission rediscovered the art by reverse engineering a few original Yunzi pieces.
In 1974, the state-run Yunnan Weiqi Factory began manufacturing yunzi stones. According to Chinese law, the yunzi stones can only be produced by the state run Yunzi company. The company creates the Yunzi in an old factory that was used by the American Flying Tigers as barracks during World War II. The formula could be ground Yunnan mountain stones and agate.
There is an interesting though unverified story regarding the compositional history of Yunzi stones. The most celebrated Yunzi stones were created by Yongchang Fu in the city of Baoshan, Yunnan, during the Ming dynasty. Yongchang Fu was allegedly inspired by a fire that melted together pearls and jade, creating a mesmerizing luster. He then fashioned yunzi out of the agate and amber. These Yunzi stones went on to be prized by the literati and were offered to the Emperor.
Antique Yunzi stones from the Ming Dynasty are still in existence, and highly treaured. Yunzi stones have been bestowed as gifts to international dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II.
TLS living is offering a beautiful set of Yunzi stones. Check them out here: