Mahjong:from the old to the young

For this Chinese popular culture blog, I decided to write and research a little about the infamous Chinese game: Mahjong. The amount of players who engage in this game is staggering and it is widely known as a very popular gambling game. However, one should remember to fear the skill of these Chinese players as they can consist of old Chinese women who play the games for hours on end.

Just kidding. While it is true that a majority of the elder folk in China often participate in a casual game of mahjong, this game is very well known and played by all age ranges. I will admit that I had a very difficult time choosing a topic that was considered “popular” in China. My suitemate found it very humorous that I considered Shaolin martial arts and kung fu as popular culture when it is in fact not at all. However, I decided that a topic focusing on the game mahjong, its history, and its affect on current society as very applicable for this Games for the Web class.

Mahjong dates back two thousand years ago and is believed to have originated in the Wu Dynasty. There is no exact answer to who may have created this game. Some have believed that it was Confucius who created game. However, most legends say that within the court of the Wu, there existed a woman who suffered from boredom, and invented the game to have something to do for leisure.  She carved 34 rectangular tiles out of ivory and bamboo and then invited her 3 maids to play with her.

Regardless of the creation of the game, for centuries mahjong remained a game that was played exclusively the royal class. The penalty for commoners who played the game was decapitation. However, around 500 A.D., the penalty was lifted and with the flux of commoners who were now allowed to play the game came the spread of mahjong all over the world, including England, Australia, and the United States. While it has lost some popularity in other countries, it remains a very popular game in Japan and is still deeply ingrained in the Chinese community, such as Mahjong being the focus of Cantonese songs and movies focusing around mahjong gambling.

4 Players playing mahjong

The game consists of a total of four players. Each player is dealt 13 or 16 tiles. There are actually many versions of mahjong where the number of tiles varies. A “turn” involves a player drawing a tile from the wall of tiles and then deciding whether he or she wants to keep it in their hand or to discard it. This signals the end of the player’s turn, and the next player repeats. If the player decides to discard the new card, then the card is placed in the middle. If the player decides that they want to keep the card, then they must throw out a card that was previously in their hand. There are other rules that allow players to retrieve a thrown card by another player by utilizing particular strategies. The game is over when one of the players has a particular hand (3, 3, 3, 3, 2). However, there are many different hands that one can have, some counting for more than the others. Furthermore, the amount of money received at the end of each game is dependent on the difficulty of the card strategy that you decide to utilize. Therefore, just because you might have won the “battle” in the game, doesn’t mean you have won the “war” in getting the most money. The types of hands include:

  • 10 Honor tile based scoring hands
  • 16 Chow based scoring hands
  • 19 Pung based scoring hands (including 5 concealed hands)
  • 2 seven Pairs scoring hands
  • 7 Suit based scoring hands
  • 8 Terminal based scoring hands
  • 2 Knitted tiles scoring hands
  • 12 Types of Wait scoring hands (including 2 concealed hands)
  • 5 Special hands

While this game is often played in the leisure of one’s home in china, one can also participate in various tournaments across the world.

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