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Mahjong 101

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

In light of the utterly insensitive 'redesign' of mahjong tiles by three white women, I wanted to share the game in its true classic form. This classic game has been played for generations by Chinese and Chinese Americans. Today, the game today is played around the world by people of every ethnicity, and for everyone who claims to love the game, they should acknowledge and learn its history and symbolism of the designs.

Here's what the symbols mean (ref from my friends at Pearl River Mart, who summed it up so nicely)

🎋 Both the circles and bamboo represent ancient Chinese currency, the former a “tong,” a coin with a square hole in the middle, and the latter, strings of such coins.

💯 That character under the numbers? That’s “wan” or 10,000, used in Chinese to express “the biggest number possible” (hence, uttering “10,000 years!” to wish someone long life).

💨 The honor tiles are made up of the “winds” (represented by the four directions: east, west, north, and south) and the “dragons,” represented by three symbols:

🀄️ A red “zhong,” representing passing the imperial exam, a hit in archery, and benevolence

🐲 A green “fa,” which comes from “fa cai,” meaning “strike it rich,” and symbolizes an archer releasing their draw and sincerity

🔲 A door-like symbol representing “bai ban,” or white door, which means freedom from corruption, a miss in archery, and filial piety

I've taught my high school friends, my kids, work colleagues, and dozens of friends (mainly Australian) when I was living in Hong Kong. They loved the game so much, we would get together regularly to play, even at some restaurants, where the waitstaff would have a field day seeing 3-4 tables of Western ladies (and me!) playing. They were impressed that my friends played so well.

So 20+ years later, I'm sharing this same handout "MJ Survival Guide" (download below) that I created back then to teach my friends, please note that obviously daiquiris are not a requirement, but drinks and snacks are always a good idea since the game can last for hours :) And not to encourage gambling, but it's fun to play with coins for a more competitive game.

Here's a Mushroom Bao recipe to enjoy while you play. I also talk about the basics in this IGTV @conscious_cooking!

Download PDF • 151KB

The recipe for Mushroom Bao can be found here

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