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Let's Play Mahjong

 

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Mahjong in English is ma que in pinyin (meaning sparrow), usually known now as ma jiang. Originating in China, this is a four person table game. However, there are variations involving fewer players in other countries and even a solitaire version with remote resemblance to the ancient rules.


The contestants receive thirteen random tiles (typically cards in modern times) from a set containing 136, each of which have on them Chinese characters indicating winds (north, south, east, and west) plus those with numbers, guns, and a sparrow. Taking turns, players attempt to form melds (groups), and then, using a fourteenth tile, try to make a head (pair). Those are just the bare basics—as actually learning to play requires spending time with a patient teacher. It does seem to share dynamics to the western card games stemming from rummy.


In Taiwan, Fujian and Guangdong there are 144 tiles—the other eight representing the seasons—winter, spring, summer and autumn in addition to the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum.


How mahjong came into existence is a tricky question to answer. People have suggested different theories, including Confucius inventing it, evolving from Hanging Horse- a previous game, to soldiers finding ways to kill time during the Taiping Rebellion. It was made illegal in 1949 by the CPC for its association with gambling—a specifically capitalistic behaviour (people were told), until 1985. Making a grand come-back, it’s a fantastically popular on-line past-time and nowadays is often involves betting.


The American standard mahjong is a favourite amongst older Jewish women. Evidence for its dominance in Chinese culture is the sub-genre in Hong Kong made movies it inspires. Doctors recommend playing it to treat dementia by building memory skills.


 Another mahjong experience is using the cards in a particular way to read fortunes. The person doing this must have an understanding about what is being told by the cards, after a shuffling, and then set them out in a circular order in such a way that they change meanings in relation to each other. As with the I Ching, the person wanting the oracle has a question in mind which the result addresses.
Welcome to the entertaining world that is mahjong!

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