Photos: Chinese obsession with mahjong
Not long ago, the city of Chengdu held a mahjong competition, which drew more than 300,000 participants from different parts of Sichuan province. As the top choice of pastime for people in the Chinese-speaking world, mahjong enjoys an unimaginably large fan base. Even though Hu Shi (胡适), the renowned Chinese historian and philosopher, once lumped mahjong together with opium, foot-binding and eight-legged essay, as the four devils of the Old China, mahjong has survived multiple wars and revolutions and even prospered, whereas the other three were outlawed. Even an earthquake or torrential rain cannot deter Chinese from wallowing in the fun of the game.
On August 18, the 2012 Sichuan Mahjong Competition, organized by the Chengdu Chess and Card Association, entered its final in Chengdu. The competition spanned three months and drew more than 300,000 participants. 132 of them contested in the final for the champion title and a prize package worth 800,000 yuan (US$125,500).
Mahjong is a four-player game involving tiles that evolved from its original paper form back in the Ming Dynasty. It soon caught on nationwide, and now is being played by ethnic Chinese all over the world.
July 26, 2008, tourists at a beach resort in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province play mahjong in the “Man-made Dead Sea,” then the latest attraction developed by the resort to boost traffic.
October 3, 2007, a mahjong house in an old town in Dazhu county, Sichuan province, with Mao’s portrait and propaganda slogans plastered back in the 70s and 80s still screaming on the wall. Mao Zedong, the dictator and cult-figure of red China, once said that the biggest three contributions the Chinese civilization has offered to the world culture are Chinese medicine, the classic novel Dream of Red Chamber, and mahjong. He believed that there is philosophical significance to mahjong, which reflects the relations between the accidental and the inevitable.
In Huaxi, Guiyang, a bunch of school children play mahjong. In the 1990s, efforts were made to formulate a specific set of rules at the national level to standardize the game. However, pressure of the disgruntled public, most of whom are only comfortable with their own regional variation of the game, led to the abortion of such efforts.
July 9, 2011, passengers on a double-decker sightseeing bus in Chengdu start to play mahjong in the scorching sun. As the common joke says, flights bound for Chengdu do not even need any help from the air traffic control during landing; they know they are arriving just from the clickety-clack sound of mahjong tiles clashing against each other while being reshuffled. In Sichuan province and Chongqing, playing mahjong becomes the daily ritual of a leisurely lifestyle.
June 24, 2006, miles after miles of beach umbrellas and mahjong tables along one bank of a river in Chengdu, Sichuan province, which is a tourist hot spot for rafting.
October 7, 2011, the first mahjong competition of the region was held in the city Changsha in Hunan province. More than 200 participated. The top three winners could not only take home mahjong machines (which shuffle and deal tiles automatically) that were, respectively, worth 8,800, 5,980 and 3,480 yuan (US$1,380, 940 and 545), but also compete in the national final representing Changsha.
July 3, 2012, next to a flower market in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, four florists hole up in a minivan and play mahjong to both stay away from direct sunlight and take a break when foot traffic is the lowest at noon.
May 18, 2008, Hanwang county, Sichuan province: a couple dug out their mahjong machine from rubbles after the area was hit by a 8.0-Magnitude earthquake.
March 14, 2011, Yingjiang, Yunnan province, a few residents play mahjong in a temporary shelter after a major earthquake struck the area.
July 4, 2012, Zhengzhou, Henan province, a rainstorm caused the city to be flooded with water. A few people kept playing mahjong in order not to waste the money they had put in the kitty.
July 4, 2010, a net user revealed on an Internet forum that an old man who died a sudden death at the mahjong table was ignored by players around him. The old man, in his 70s, was playing mahjong in a community rec-room, when he felt a rush of dizziness and soon fell unconscious. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had already passed away. During the entire process, which was caught on surveillance tape, players at a neighboring table were absorbed in their own game as if nothing happened.
April 3, 2011, Hefei, Anhui province, people sweep tombs of deceased family members and pay respect as a tradition of the Chinese Tomb-sweeping day. In front of one gravestone lays a table of mahjong titles arranged in a way that suggests the deceased person is slated to win.
October 31, 2011, Shenyang, Liaoning province, a shopping center came up with the idea of ‘playing mahjong with Michael Jackson, Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung’ as its Halloween event.
September 25, 2011. In Beijing’s Heavenly Temple Park, people gathered to play “English mahjong,” an invention of 57-year-old Xue Shengli, who was inspired by the English learning spree in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The spin-off was created to help people learn basic English words.
September 9, 2008, Zhao county, Hebei province, street lamps resembling mahjong tiles are erected outside a property development project. According to the developer, the lamps are also used as house number signs.
July 18, 2012, a new store of luxury brand Louis Vuitton in Shanghai launched a new product – a package of mahjong tiles – to celebrate its opening.
January 22, 2010, Beijing, a table of chocolate mahjong tiles at a chocolate exhibition.
March 7, 2008, Nanjing, people who play mahjong at the corner of the street to kill time. Hu Shi (胡适), the renowned Chinese historian and philosopher, once lumped mahjong together with opium, foot-binding and eight-legged essay, as the four devils of the Old China. He said mahjong is “an addictive, time-wasting nonsense that lured people away from a healthy, hardworking lifestyle,” that “not a single motivated person or nation would find it worthwhile”, and that “It will lead the nation to perdition.”