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History of Mahjong

In this section we will try to briefly relate the mysterious history of Mahjong. In this case we have not done a lot of research, nor have we asked the older Chinese of the food stores that populate the neighborhoods of Madrid … We have simply searched for web pages in which they refer to this game, Useful Wikipedia (although we do not know if too accurate), passing anonymous texts in pages referring to Shanghai (yes, that game of solitary type couples) and with this we have made our own history. We hope you like it and serve as a small introduction to this great game.

Old mahjong

The history of Mahjong, according to some legends count, can be traced back to about 4,000 years ago. This could make it one of the first games in history. There are those who realize that at this time the Chinese aristocrats were the only ones on the planet who played it and even kept the rules secret so that the peasants could not learn it. Other legends relate it directly to the Oracle used by the Chinese fortune tellers in their predictions. When astronomers began to record the progression of the Sun, Moon and planets, they used a simple mechanism, a board, to calculate the positions of the celestial bodies.Movement through the heavens was recorded by moving counters around the divisions of the board. This, or another similar, Is possibly also the origin of very widespread games, like the parchís, or the goose. But precisely in the Mahjong are recognizable some remains of this origin, as for example in the fact that the cardinal points are inverted, since it is to represent a celestial, non-terrestrial map, or that thirteen chips are distributed, which are The months of the lunar calendar.

Confucius

Confucius

Another legend dates its creation in a nearer time, around the year 500 aC at the hands of Confucius. According to this legend, the tokens of the three dragons, Red, Green and White (in Chinese, literally center , literally prosperity and literally white) , would represent the Confucian virtues of benevolence, sincerity and filial piety. The Red Dragon would make reference to China (literally Country of the Center ). Also according to this legend, Confucius would have been a lover of the birds, which would explain the name of “sparrow” that also receives the game.

A game, more or less related to the current Mahjong, was invented in the Tang Dynasty, during the years of the reign of Emperor Tai Zong (626-649), for the fun of the imperial house and the nobility. However, there is no evidence of the existence of Mahjong before the time of the Taiping Rebellion, in the mid-nineteenth century. The general consensus is that the game was developed around 1850 based on already existing card games and dominoes. Many historians believe that it was based on a game of cards called literally game of leaves in strips (this is because at the beginning the cards were of cardboard like the present cards) of beginnings of the Ming dynasty. This game was played with forty cards numbered from 1 to 9 in four different suits plus the chips of spring, Similar to the current Mahjong. According to some, the game would have been created by army officers during the Taiping Rebellion to pass the time. According to another theory, it would have been created by a nobleman who lived in the surroundings of Shanghai between 1870 and 1875. Others believe that it was the work of two brothers who lived in the city of Ningpo.

Tai Zong

Tai Zong

But in reality, Mahjong as we know it today has a rather shorter history, dating back to the late nineteenth century, in the last years of Imperial China. In fact, the earliest identifiable object as a Mahjong tile dates back to 1880.

At the beginning of century XX Mahjong was not well-known outside its original region. However, when China became a Republic in 1911 it spread rapidly throughout much of the country and supplanted chess in popularity. The Chinese were gradually selecting the less elegant elements of the game and incorporated some rituals into the game’s methodology that have been maintained ever since. Most of these rituals take place at the beginning of the game and involve the mixing of tiles, the construction of the four walls in a square (the formation of the wall) and the cast. These gradual improvements, which nominally ended between 1910 and 1920, generated a game of great mathematical beauty as well as physically aesthetic.

The first time Mahjong was mentioned in a language other than Chinese was in 1895, in an article by American Stewart Culin. Stewart was an anthropologist who lived in Taiwan and in one of his articles in relating the customs and history of the area, mentioned this unique game as one of the dominant pastimes of the time.

Stewart Culin

Stewart Culin

The game began to spread first among Westerners living in Asia. Some British citizens living at that time in China played it in the most cosmopolitan cafes in Shanghai. A few years later, in the first decade of the 20th century, Mahjong was exported to Japan, where the first Mahjong clubs were created . In the United States the game was introduced from 1920, gaining popularity quickly and spreading throughout the country. Because the rules came from the other side of the ocean and had to be translated from the Chinese, most Americans played by the rules that they managed to understand and invented the rest. As a result, several types of rules were created, and it was not until 1925 that the rules were standardized. Joseph Park Babcock, A representative of the Standard Oil Company, wrote a book called Rules of Mahjong which was known as the “red book.” The game from that moment had a great success in England and the United States, where it was announced with commercial names like ” Pung Chow” or ” Game of Thousand Intelligences “, being part of the fashion by all the Eastern. It was mostly played by women. In the thirties, in the United States, several revisions of the rules were made until was created in 1937 “National League Mahjong” (National Mahjong League, NMJL) and the regulations are standardized with the book ” Maajh: The American Version Of the Ancient Chinese Game ( Maajh: the American version of the ancient Chinese game ). Although in the twenties had been a game accepted by people of all races, from this formalization was considered as a Jewish game, because many of its players were; And even the NMJL was considered as a Jewish organization. The western version of the game is called “new style”, although it seems that the origin of these modifications comes from Beijing and Shanghai, so sometimes this new style is called “Shanghai style.”

Stewart Culin

Stewart Culin

The game began to spread first among Westerners living in Asia. Some British citizens living at that time in China played it in the most cosmopolitan cafes in Shanghai. A few years later, in the first decade of the 20th century, Mahjong was exported to Japan, where the first Mahjong clubs were created . In the United States the game was introduced from 1920, gaining popularity quickly and spreading throughout the country. Because the rules came from the other side of the ocean and had to be translated from the Chinese, most Americans played by the rules that they managed to understand and invented the rest. As a result, several types of rules were created, and it was not until 1925 that the rules were standardized. Joseph Park Babcock, A representative of the Standard Oil Company, wrote a book called Rules of Mahjong which was known as the “red book.” The game from that moment had a great success in England and the United States, where it was announced with commercial names like ” Pung Chow” or ” Game of Thousand Intelligences “, being part of the fashion by all the Eastern. It was mostly played by women. In the thirties, in the United States, several revisions of the rules were made until was created in 1937 “National League Mahjong” (National Mahjong League, NMJL) and the regulations are standardized with the book ” Maajh: The American Version Of the Ancient Chinese Game ( Maajh: the American version of the ancient Chinese game ). Although in the twenties had been a game accepted by people of all races, from this formalization was considered as a Jewish game, because many of its players were; And even the NMJL was considered as a Jewish organization. The western version of the game is called “new style”, although it seems that the origin of these modifications comes from Beijing and Shanghai, so sometimes this new style is called “Shanghai style.”

Joseph Babcock

Joseph Babcock

Today, the game is very popular all over the world, playing in clubs and online platforms. Despite the madness that occurred in the first quarter of the 20th century and its subsequent fall into oblivion in various parts of the world, it never lost its fans. During the twentieth century, the game has spread throughout the world, with particular rules according to the geographical area in which it was, but never losing its essence.

In China itself, Mahjong was banned after the communist revolution of the late 1940s, as it was regarded as a capitalist pastime that incited gambling. Until the Cultural Revolution almost 20 years later it was not allowed to play again.

Be that as it may, the undoubted fact is that currently most players are in Taiwan and the United States, due to the decades that was banned in communist China. However, with the political reforms undertaken in the early 1990s, Mahjong has come to be regarded as official sport since 1998 in mainland China and, although it has never stopped playing at home, now the pattern of Mahjong players on the streets of Chinese towns. Along with the decriminalization of its practice, the Chinese government issued an official regulation that governs the official world championships, the first of which was held in Tokyo in 2002. In this way, it has been sought to recover a cultural heritage of China that was being usurped by other Asian nations.

Mahjong_calle

Mahjong enjoys enormous popularity throughout Asia, so many countries consider it their national game. There are many variants adapted to each country, such as Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese or Filipino, and it is normal that any holiday, celebration, food, or even business, end with a game of Mahjong.

In Europe the game enjoys little popularity, being more known the solitary type variant that is played by Internet, the Shanghai. Even so, both in France and in Holland the game is very popular, and even has created the European Mahjong Association that every day has more Federated.

In Spain little by little the game is gaining fans, although we still can consider it like a game of associations and backstory. On the one hand the few existing associations in the national territory try to make known this great game fighting against other table games very fashionable as Poker, and against the great rival that are video games. On the other hand, we consider it backsliding by the number of Chinese citizens we have in Spain, and who throw clandestine games in food stores, which as we said at the beginning of the article, populate the Spanish neighborhoods.

I hope this little tour of the history of Mahjong has been to your liking, and serve to continue to deepen it if you still do not know him.

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