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Mah Jong Anyone..

Updated on February 1, 2014

An absorbing traditional chinese game

When Mah Jong became very popular in the 1920's it's great selling point was that it was an ancient game who's origins were shrouded in the mists of time. Legend has it that confucius invented the game, the three dragon tiles picturing the three cardinal virtues of benevolence,sincerity & piety. Also his fondness for birds was given as a reason for the game being known as 'The sparrows', which refers to the noise the tiles make as they are shuffled or 'washed' face down on the table.As intriguing as it sounds it's most likely that Mah jong dates from the 1870s from the Ningpo area of china, although there are also claims for shanghai & Fuchau.

Mah Jong Escapes From China....

The American games historian Stuart culin was the first to mention the game outside of China.Mah Jong is said to be based on the rummy like card game of '108 Brigands', with elements of chinese dominoes & the card game 'hanging horse'. Take your pick! It became popular with chinese boatmen. Originally using cards, these were later pasted onto pieces of bamboo to stop them blowing into the water in the wind.

Beginning The Game....

The game starts with 144 tiles, the basic idea is to pick up a tile to complete a set of three, There are three suits: Bamboos,circles & characters, with additional tiles for winds,dragons,flowers & seasons. The idea is to collect four sets of three or four tiles & a pair to go 'mah jong'. A pung is a set of three identical tiles, a kong is a set of four identical tiles, & a chow is a run of three tiles in the same suit. Thus, you go mah jong with 14 tiles.The game begins with the East wind round. This is the prevailing wind until each player has been East. South then becomes the prevailing wind. A complete game of Mah jong finishes when all four winds have been the wind of the round. This could take about 5 hours, so it's a good idea to have plenty of refreshments to hand!

Mah Jong Goes West......

Joseph Babcock is responsible for popularizing the game in the west.There is evidence of British Mah Jong players in china prior to the first world war with Arabic numerals being added to the tiles to make it easier to identify them in the clubs & foreign settlements in China.However, the game really took off when it was heavily promoted in the USA in the 1920s, with the singer Eddie Cantor releasing the song 'since Ma is playing Mah Jong' in 1924. It was also covered by the original memphis five,featuring Billy jones on vocals. Although the basic game is similar, rules do vary in many countries, so it's best to check up or 'google it' before you start. Prices vary considerably, with 'antique' sets changing hands for a lot of money. These days you can also play online But whatever you decide to do, have fun & enjoy yourself!

My own ancient set!

I bought this set for 7pounds (English) in 1979!
I bought this set for 7pounds (English) in 1979!

The Original Memphis Five Featuring Billy Jones

How To Play Mah Jong


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    • wilbury steve profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Webb 

      7 years ago from Great Wakering, England

      Glad you enjoy the game so much & I really appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by!!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I try to play mah jong each day - just love it! This is such a good hub. I had no idea about the games background and history. Fascinating!

    • wilbury steve profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Webb 

      7 years ago from Great Wakering, England

      many thanks for stopping by RunAbstract, I really appreciate your comments!! Enjoy the game! :>)

    • RunAbstract profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      I play mah jong off and on, online or my downloaded version, and enjoy it.

      I appreciate the info on the game here! An interesting read! Thanks!

    • wilbury steve profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Webb 

      7 years ago from Great Wakering, England

      Hi oliversmum! many thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate your kind & thoughtful comments. cheers!! :>)

    • oliversmum profile image


      7 years ago from australia

      Wilbury steve. Hi. mah jong does sound like a very interesting and enjoyable game to play.

      It seems to have quiet a history.

      My sister in law belongs to a Club, they meet every week to compete against other clubs,she loves it.

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub. Thanks for the great information. Voted up. :) :)

    • wilbury steve profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Webb 

      8 years ago from Great Wakering, England

      Thanks for your comment, 'where the winds blow'. you're right, mah jong is a great game to play!

    • profile image

      Where The Winds Blow 

      8 years ago

      Check out to find teachers or instructors for mah jongg in your city! Great game to play with family or friends. Many libraries and community colleges have classes, too, and most Senior Centers have Beginning Classes.


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