Whether its called
Ma Jong, Mah Jong, Mah Jongg, Ma Diao, Ma Cheuk, Mah Cheuck, Baak
Ling, or Pung Chow the history of this game is as intriguing as the
many theories have been presented regarding the origin of the game.
One suggests that it had been played on Noah's Ark during the 40 days
and nights of rain. East had been the prevailing wind during the storm
thus becoming the dominant seat in playing the game. This theory would
suggest that the game would date back to around 2350 BC.
interesting story suggests that Confucius the great Chinese philosopher
had developed the game about 500 BC. The appearance of the game in
various Chinese provinces coincides with Confucius' travels at the
time he was teaching his new doctrines. The three "Cardinal"
tiles also coincide with the three Cardinal virtues taught by Confucius.
Chung (middle) the Red, Fa (prosperity) the Green, Po (white) the
white, Benevolence, Sincerity, and Filial Piety. Confucius was said
to be fond of birds, which would explain the name Mah Jong (Hemp Bird).
Terms used in
the play of the game "Pung," "Chee," and "Kong"
also add support to this theory. Confucius was of the Kong family
his full name being Kong-Fu-Tze, he married a girl named Che and adopted
the term "Chee" meaning 'to connect' which occidentals corrupted
as well as various other stories lend themselves to a very interesting
background to the game, the most logical theory suggests that the
game had been developed from various Chinese games. During the Sung
Dynasty (960-1279 AD) a game called "Ya Pei" which is played
with 32 cards made of either wood or ivory, and are oblong in shape
similar to the present day Ma Jong tiles. During the Ming Dynasty
(1368-1644 AD) a game called "Ma Tiae" (Hanging Horse) was
invented. This game was played with 40 paper cards similar in appearance
to the cards used in the game Ya Pei. These forty cards were numbered
1 to 9 in four different suits along with four additional flower cards
are quite similar to the numbering of mah jong cards today. It is
thought that roughly around 1850 AD in the city of Ningpo two brothers
had created mah jong from the earlier game of ma tiae.
Ma Tiae Cards
to the western world is thought to have begun with two brothers named
White, which in the early 1900's introduced mah jong to the English
clubs of Shanghai, where it quickly gained popularity among the foreign
residents. Importation of mah jong tiles began with Joseph P. Babcock,
who at that time was the Soochow representative of the Standard Oil
Company. He simplified the game eliminating most of the limit hand
scoring, and retained only the essential basic scores. Mr. Babcock
is also credited with starting the practice of putting English numerals
on the tiles, and in September of 1920 he copyrighted and put his
rules into print for the first time. It wasn't however until two years
later a lumber merchant from San Francisco named W. A. Hammond formed
the Mah Jongg Sales Company of San Francisco and began importing large
quantities of sets.
1923 marked the
height of the mah jong craze in the United States, mah jong sets numbered
6th in exports from Shanghai totaling in excess of $1.5 million. During
this period cow bone was actually shipped from Kansas City and Chicago
to Shanghai to meet the demand for production of new sets. Companies
formed across the United States to meet the demand of the growing
craze. New sets where manufactured in every imaginable style, from
the traditional bone and bamboo housed in a rosewood cases, box wood
tiles with painted paper faces housed in cardboard boxes, to paper
playing cards. A number of American companies also began production
of mah jong sets, Parker Brothers, United States Playing Card, and
Milton Bradley to name a few. It's said that mah jong rescued the
ailing Milton Bradley Company from the brink of bankruptcy and had
its factories working 24 hours a day to help meet the demand for new
retailers provided in-store demonstrations and lessons to help prospective
players gain interest. Unrelated companies such as banks, and even
funeral homes used mah jong to advertise their services by providing
complimentary scoring cards, tablets and rulebooks.
Before long mah
jong was being played across the country, games where demonstrated
in retailer's shops, street corners, and clubs. Mah Jong became the
new national past time being played everywhere by everyone, and served
as a great diversion during the hard times of the great depression.
By the end of 1923 just about everyone playing the game had adopted
their own unique set of rules. Country clubs, banks, hotels, steamship
lines, and specialized mah jong clubs all published their own sets
of rules for play at their clubs.
A number of books
where published attempting to standardize the rules, and in 1924 the
Standardization Committee of the American Official Laws of Mah-Jongg
was formed to write a standardized set of rules. The committee consisted
of M.C. Work, Robert Foster, Joseph Babcock, Lee Hartman, and J.H.
Smith. All of these gentlemen had previously written their own book
of rules, and the American Official Laws of Mah-Jongg were published
Through the next
fifteen or twenty years mah jong under went various changes to the
basic game as described in Mr. Babcock's Red book of Rules. Mah Jong
instructors sprang up as quickly as clubs during this period each
incorporating a little different strategy and rules to coincide with
their strategy despite the existence of the standardize set of rules.
Some groups added additional flower and joker tiles to the sets, and
adopted standard hands for scoring and winning while others just added
colorful limit hands to the basic set of rules.
popularity of mah jong slowly faded from the mainstream, the game
has maintained a steady and devout following that continues today.
Two organizations that incorporated adaptations of the traditional
rules have also maintained a strong following, The National Mah Jongg
League, and The Wright-Patterson Officers Club.
Mah Jongg League originated in New York City in 1937 when a group
of interested players met, standardized their rules and scoring, and
formed the league. The league publishes instruction books, annual
newsletters, and revises their standard hand cards yearly. They also
organize annual tournaments, and specialty cruses and trips.
The Wives Club
of the Wright-Patterson Officers Club also created their own version
of the traditional rules. The Wright-Patterson rules follow the traditional
rules closer than the National Mah Jongg League's, and do not incorporate
any additional joker or flower tiles like the National Mah Jongg League
does. They do however incorporate a "Charleston" (a kind
of passing of unwanted tiles between players prior to the actual game
play), and a set of standardized limit hands. They first copyrighted
their set of rules in 1963, and have updated them regularly.
years since Joseph Babcock first thought of importing this intriguing
and addictive game, mah jong has become an intricate part of the American
history. The sound of the tiles clicking together will stir many memories
of the weekly mah jong games, more than just games, a time that family
and friends gathered sharing their lives centered on the game.
Now, nearly 80
years after the game's introduction to the western world a whole new
generation is discovering "the game of a hundred intelligence's".
Through the popular computer solitaire games that utilize mah jong
tiles that began appearing in the early 1980's, and now through the
subsequent introduction of versions incorporating the traditional
four-player game, a resurgence of the game is beginning in the United
States. Player's of the computer versions are becoming intrigued with
the beauty and detail of the hand crafted sets of the 1920's and 1930's
and are searching antique shops and flea markets for sets of their
own. Many new players' are being introduced to the game solely through
the solitaire versions and are slowly realizing the intrigue and challenge
that the traditional game offers.
The well known,
worldwide Domino Game was invented during the Bei Song Dynasty (1120
A.D.) it is well known and is still played widely around the world
Game of Ma Diao very popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644
The game of Ma Diao on the other hand, was also known as the Paper
Tiger game, involving 40 cards. There are four suits, known
as Wen Suit (pennies, same as the circle or ball suit in Mahjong),
Suo Zi Suit (hundred dollars, same as the bamboo or stick suit in
Mahjong), Wan Suit (ten thousand dollars, same as the character suit
in Mahjong), and the Shi Suit (hundred thousand dollars).
The names Suo
Zi and Wan Zi are still used nowadays for the Bamboo (or stick) Suit
and Character Suit in Mahjong.
The Wen Suit
11 cards in this suit with One Wen to Nine Wens. In addition, there
are half a Wen (known as Flower) and No Wen (known as Blank).
The Suo Zi
9 cards in this suite with One Suo to Nine Suos.
The Wan Suit
9 cards in this suit with One Wan to Nine Wans.
The Shi Suit
11 cards in this suit from Two hundred Thousand to Nine Hundred
Thousand, One Million, Ten Millions, and Hundred Millions (known
as Red Ten Thousand).
Each card from
the last two suits has a famous character drawn on it from the story
of the renowned Chinese classic Water Marks or 108 Heroes.
The game was played
as follows. Four players decided who was the banker by rolling dice.
Each player then took eight cards, leaving the remaining (8) cards
in the center of the table. Each player then took turns in discarding
his cards, with cards of higher value winning over that of low value.
It was an intriguing game of strategy, often involved the teaming
up of three players against the banker.
The game evolved
through history and picked up some rules and nomenclatures of the
Domino game and eventually changed its look from that of a card game
to a tile game. It was also during this time, that the game adopted
the rule that a player can collect tiles discarded by the player ahead
of him to form a bigger hand.
Towards the end
of the Ming Dynasty (1368 1644 A.D.), the game of Ma Diao became
less popular because of instability. However, interest in the game
re-ignited during the peaceful time of the early Qing Dynasty (1644
Now this was all
fine until Pussers got hold of the game and corrupted it to a point
that would make a grown Chinaman cry!
Recognition - Tile Names & Pictures
Bones - Royal Australian Navy Version
Rules For Pussers Mah Jongg