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Welcome to the MAH JONG Food Blog Last modified 2017-10-07


MAH JONG, Last Modified, 2017-10-07

The Traditional Chinese Game of MAH-JONG

Mah-jong means "The Sparrows" and refers to the clinking of the tiles as they are shuffled face downwards on the table. The game is also called pung chow,mah-cheuk and pe-ling in different parts of China. There are considerable variations in play in different parts of the country, causing wide variations in rules in English books. Should a disagreement arise between players it is customary to abide by the "rules of the house" those in the hosts book.

History of Mah-jong

Estimates of the age of Mah-jong vary from the time of Confucius, 551-479 B.C. to about a hundred and fifty years ago. The latter is more likely as it only became popular in China about 1900. Stewart Cullin, the American games historian, writing in 1895, was unable to discover how mah-jong was played but described in some detail, curious "dominos" from Fuchau, Shanghai and Ningpo. These sets varied in the number of the tiles, and the inscriptions on them. They were all used for games related to the now well known mah-jong

The game appears to have originated among boatmen living on the great rivers of China and was played with cards. As these were liable to be blown into the water in a breeze, the paper was pasted onto pieces of bamboo, later the paper was replaced by thin sheets of bone or ivory.

An alternative theory of origin postulates that mah-jong was developed from Chinese dominos, the chu sz ydm kau , or Investigation into the Traditions of all things compiled in the early part of the nineteenth century states that dominos were invented in A.D. 1120 by a states-man who presented them to Emperor Hwui Tsung and that the game with its rules was locked away in the Imperial Treasury first coming into use in the reign of Hwui Tsung's son, Kao Tsung (1127-63 A.D.).

In the games section of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 the British consul-general at Seoul in Korea exhibited a set from Ningpo and another from Wenchow. He stated that the colour of the tiles was purely ornamental and had nothing to do with the playing of the game. This suggests that at that time the special colour hands, a feature of the American mah-jong, had not been invented.

mah-jong and Gambling

Mah-jong is designed for gambling and a quick exchange of money, a hand lasting between five and six minutes, and four whole rounds can be completed in two to two and a half hours when played by experienced players.

When the game was introduced into the clubs of the foreign settlements in China, Arabic numerals were added to the tiles to help in identification, a practice continued on this set.

Mah-jong reached Japan in 1907 , and was widely played by 1929, with clubs in most of the major cities, and a series of tournaments was held between Japanese and Chinese players. During the Sino-Japanese War mah-jong was suppressed in Japan, but at its conclusion emerged with increased popularity. The rules were standardised by the Japanese Mai-jong Association, Flower and Season tiles being abandoned.

Mah-jong introduction to America

The game of mah-jong was introduced into America shortly after the First World War. A cynic remarked that in the United States there were as many ways of playing mah-jong as there were players.


The basic mah-jong set

The basic mah-jong set consists of 136 tiles, arranged in three suits of Characters, Circles and Bamboos; each suit consisting of four tiles of each number from One to Nine.

The Ones and Nines of the suits are major tiles and sets of these are worth twice the value of the minor tiles from Two to Eight of the suits. There are also three sets of Honour tiles; Red Dragons, White Dragons and Green Dragons; and four sets of Cardinal tiles consisting of four similar tiles of East Wind, South Wind, West Wind and North Wind. Sets of Honour and Cardinal tiles score twice as much as sets of minor tiles of the suits.

In addition to the 136 basic tiles, there are four Flower tiles, numbered One to Four. The designs on the Flower and Season tiles vary from set to set, the colour of the numbering alone being important.

Playing the Game

The Standard mah-jong rules

Mah-jong is typically played on a 3 feet square cloth covered table. For simplicity sake the older Chinese method of choosing the order of play using the tongs and wind discs is not used in this set. The standard method in current use is as follows:

One each of the wind tiles is placed face down on the table. They are then shuffled and placed in a line. The players take seats at random and one throws the dice. The sum of the pips of the two dice corresponds to the position around the table.

  • The caster counts as 5 and 9.
  • The position opposite him counts as 7 and 11.
  • The position to his right counts as 6 and 10.
  • The position to his left counts as 8 and 12.
  • 2,3 and 4 do not count and call for a rethrow.

Thus be continued...

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