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International Mahjong Day 2021: How the Chinese Game Became an International Export, Know its History and Significance

·2 min read

August 1 is celebrated as International Mahjong Day to honour and remember one of the widely popular games exported from China around the world. The game has been popularised by Hollywood movies like Crazy Rich Asians, The Joy Luck Club and the television show Fresh Off the Boat.

History and Significance:

Mahjong is a rummy-style game of skill played by four people with domino-like tiles. The four players attempt to form sets of three or four matching or sequenced tiles. August 1 is celebrated as International Mahjong Day by communities like Riichi Mahjong Central who describe their mission as to help make the world a better place through this game with love and peace. Last year, the community rebranded the National Mahjong Say to International status as the game represents a multicultural amalgamation.

According to Annelise Heinz, a doctoral candidate in Stanford’s Department of History, both Jewish American and Chinese American communities were built around mahjong during the 20th century. Although the game originated in China, it has evolved into several versions as it travelled across the world. The Chinese immigrant community in the United States popularised the game in the west.

In her research, Heinz found that culturally, mahjong was important in American Chinatown in the 1920s and ’30s, as it gave Chinese Americans an opportunity to bond at a time when many other Americans saw them as outsiders. Her study also mentioned that mahjong also became an important way of navigating the internal, gendered, and generational divides within Chinatown. American, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japanese styles of mahjong are some of the well-known games.

To celebrate the day, mahjong enthusiasts come together to participate in their favourite versions of the game. It is believed that the game is more than just an interesting game and contains within itself several life lessons. Playing mahjong involves skills like communication, negotiation, strategy-making, and even cooperation. With these critical skills, the four players, who sit according to the four directions of East, West, North, and South, carry out the aim of winning the game.

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