When I was in my 20s, I often played Mahjong on my Nintendo DS. It actually was my favorite game. But until recently, I had never seen or touched the real game.
Last year, I came across a box the father of a friend's had left in my house. Upon opening it, I discovered a beautiful array of tiles and sticks. And I experienced a moment of pure, childish joy.
I grabbed my camera and spent an hour or two photographing the box, tiles, dice, and sticks.
The origins of Mahjong are not fully known. Some say that it was invented by Confucius (551 – 479 BC), while others talk about devisement during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) or the Qing dynasty (1644 -1912).
A game of Mahjong is usually played by four people and with a set of 144 tiles featuring Chinese characters and symbols. The goal is to build winning combinations.
"In most variations, each player begins by receiving 13 tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the 14th drawn tile to form 4 melds (or sets) and a pair (eye). A player can also win with a small class of special hands. There are fairly standard rules about how a piece is drawn, how a piece is robbed from another player, the use of simples (numbered tiles) and honors (winds and dragons), the kinds of melds allowed, how to deal the tiles and the order of play. Despite these similarities, there are many regional variations to the rules including rather different scoring systems, criteria for legal winning hands and even private table rules which distinguish some variations as notably different styles of mahjong."
Mahjong made its way into the United States and Great Britain in the 1920s. People loved it so much that they even played it in the British outposts in India!
Apparently, Mahjong was outlawed in China for a couple of decades after 1949. The government considered it to be a representation of capitalist corruption. The Cultural Revolution helped change things.