Mah Jong Anyone..
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!
Mah Jong sites
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