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Mahjong, the National Treasure

Mahjong game has been popular for several centuries in China. The game is so wide-spread especially in Sichuan that almost everybody is playing anywhere you can think of. Mahjong has become part of social life. Since Sichuan is located in the seismic zone where an earthquake is not uncommon, there is a well-known joke:

Four guys were playing Mahjong for a while. Then the table became trembling. One felt very annoyed and complain to the others.

“What’s wrong with you guys, stop shaking your bloody legs and concentrate on the game!!”
The others looked very innocently and shout back:
“No, it’s an earthquake!!”
“Oh, really?? Never mind.”
And the game just went on.

It’s a joke but it defines so accurately how Sichuan people love Mahjong. People are very creative about it too, they play the game in the rivers or lakes in the hot summer or even in an outdoor concert. No matter how far they travel and how beautiful the sceneries are, the first thing people look for is a set of Mahjong. If you are an owner of a hotel or guesthouse, I strongly recommend you facilitate your property with space and Mahjong sets – you will win the hearts of many Chinese people.

The origin of Mahjong is unsure. There are different stories. Among them, I find one that is the most interesting.

Back to Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD), Jiangsu Province was one of the most prosperous regions in China. There were several national granaries, where sparrows became repeated visitors. To fight against these little thieves of rice, birds, the government encourage people to join the campaign of hunting or scaring them away.  Bamboo tiles with numbers and pattern on them were created as tokens of rewards so that local can cash in once in a while. Thus bamboo tile is the origin of Mahjong. It is also called Quepai (Sparrow Cards).

Let’s have a look at how a bird is related to this game. There are four major kinds of pattern.

First of all, there are sparrows, from one to nine.

Secondly, there are guns shots. When you are making a unit, what you would say is “Pong”, doesn’t it sound like a gun, when you are shooting. When there are four identical tiles, you say “Kong”, that’s sound of a bigger gun.

Thirdly, there are story-telling tiles. Here are wind directions – West, East, North and South. The red character tells you that the bird is hit, and the whiteboard miss. The last green character means you make a fortune out of hunting sparrows.

Then it comes to reward tiles, from ten grand (Wan) to ninety grand.

To play Mahjong we need a dice and a complete set of 144 tiles and three or four players. But you can choose to play with fewer tiles, for instance, in Sichuan, we usually use 72 ones. Each tile has four identical ones. Each one is given 13 tiles, by which you are going to make four units and one pair, one unit could be three identical ones, four identical ones or three in sequence. To make a unit, you can “Peng”, which means when someone else throws the one you’ve already had two, say “Peng” to get this one like yours and expose them near your hand, then throw one, always keep your tiles thirteen. You can also “Kong”, when this happens when you’ve already had three, only in this situation, you have fourteen in your hand. Someone will ask if you get three identical ones, do you expose them to others? No, but if you get four, you have to expose and get a new one from the opposite side of the tile wall and throw one.

When you only need one tile to successfully make four units and one pair, it means you are ready to win. At this moment, someone throws the tile you need, you win, expose all your tiles, plus the one that makes you win, you have fourteen tiles in total. The guy who makes you win is the looser. Or you get the winning tile from the wall by yourself, you win more, and all others are losers. Counting the result varies in different regions, generally speaking, if you have a Kong, you win doubles; if all your tiles are the same pattern, you win doubles; if you make all pairs, seven pairs altogether, you win doubles.

Mahjong is like a mirror for China and its people.

To concentrate on your own tiles, regardless of other players can only make you lose the game, so first you need to observe the whole table, to see what tiles the former player throw, if you feel what you throw will make others win, follow the former player, because rules are against choosing someone to be the loser.

To follow others is becoming habitual in this country. What will make you win? Luck plays an essential role. It is nature that creates us, so it will not act as what we are expecting. I’ve seen a TV show about how actress Zhang Ziyi (the female leading role in movie Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon) goes so far in this business. She is not most talented, nor most beautiful, but she is the luckiest. Older you get, more firmly you will believe in a word called fate.

Collectiveness is dominating ideology in this country rather than individualism. At least three can play this game, sometimes, seven is possible to play. All Chinese classical novels or books were finished by group wisdom. Such as the great Book of Changes, or I Ching was said to be the works of at least three persons: Fuxi (Early Tribal King of Chinese civilization), Wen Emperor of Zhou Dynasty and Confucius. The monk Tripitaka should have been married to an Empress, if the monkey, the pig and the water monster didn’t keep his company.

A round of this game is your life, first of all, set goals, if your hand is good enough, set the goal as soon as possible, if not, trying to make a unit, goals will be clear one day. If longing for a better result, you have to spend more time and care making units. And obviously, the risk is bigger. Secondly, you have to earn money, which is to get new tiles and then spend money, which is to throw tiles. When earning money, you might need bits of help from others, that is to Peng.

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