Mah-Jong (pronounced with a soft “J” and variously known as Mah-Jongg or Mahjong) is a charming Chinese game played with engraved tiles. Traditionally, the tiles have been made from ivory or bone dove-tailed into bamboo. But a variety of other materials has also been used including wood, Bakelite, resin and modern plastic.
Examples of the different types of Mah-Jong tiles. Some are made from bone and bamboo, some are made from Bakelite, and others are made from modern plastic. The tiles here are all Flower or Season tiles.
The exotic tiles, the oriental associations and the rituals which surround the game lend it a certain mystique and perhaps make it somewhat forbidding. However, although the rules are quite intricate, the rudiments of play are surprisingly easy to master and it is not unusual for a beginner to do quite well.
Origins of the Game
Although there have been claims for its antiquity, it seems most likely that the game originated in the Nongpo area of China in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It quickly spread to other countries in the early part of the twentieth century, becoming popular in the West in the 1920’s.
Forms of the Game
Along the way the rules mutated into a variety of national forms; Hong Kong, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Western Classical, American, etc. Even within one country there are home grown variations. This lack of standardisation is reflected in the many books which have been written on the subject. And it’s shared by the, often obscure, rule books that accompany Mah-Jong sets. It’s a confusion that can be quite frustrating for the newcomer trying to learn the game.
The Rules Explained Here
It was written in collaboration with the British Mah-Jong Association (BMJA) in an attempt to curtail the confusion over how to play and to allow the beginner an easier passage into the game.
Unlike certain other versions, the British game is quite close to the original Chinese gambling game, but it is played differently and with only notional money.