One of the myths of the origin of Mahjong suggests that Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, developed the game in about 500 BC. The three dragon (cardinal) tiles also agree with the three cardinal virtues bequeathed by Confucius. Hóng Zhōng (紅中, red middle), Fā Cái (发财, prosperity), and Bái Bǎn” (白板, white board) represent benevolence, sincerity, and filial piety, respectively. The myth also claims that Confucius was fond of birds, which would explain the name “Mahjong” (Máquè 麻雀, sparrow).
Many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mǎ diào (马吊) (also known as Ma Tiae, hanging horse; or Yèzi [叶子], leaf) in the early Ming dynasty. This game was played with 40 paper cards similar in appearance to the cards used in the game Ya Pei. These 40 cards are numbered 1 to 9 in four different suits, along with four extra flower cards. This is quite similar to the numbering of mahjong tiles today, although mahjong only has three suits and, in effect, uses four packs of Ya Pei cards.
There is still some debate about who created the game. Another theory is that a nobleman living in the Shanghai area created the game between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that two brothers from Níngbō created Mahjong around 1850, from the earlier game of Mǎ diào.
This game was banned by the government of People’s Republic of China when it took power in 1949. The new Communist government forbade any gambling activities, which were regarded as symbols of capitalist corruption. After the Cultural Revolution, the game was revived, without gambling elements, and the prohibition was revoked in 1985. Today, it is a favorite pastime in China and other Chinese-speaking communities.
Learn Chinese Culture by playing Mahjong. Don’t know how to play? Come join us on Wednesday, July 15th. Our Miracle Mandarin teacher, Darlene Wang, will give a step by step class on Mahjong. Introducing the tiles, rules of the game and tips on strategy. After that, you will be able to practice what you have learnt. You will also go home with classnotes and a mini mahjong set!
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21F, 319 Changde Road (corner of West Beijing Road)
Closest metro: Line 2/7 Jing’an Temple, Exit 3/10, A 5 minute walk away
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