It was Joseph Babcock, the man credited with introducing the game to the West, who apparently called these tiles ‘Dragons’. The Chinese think of them differently, and this may be a better explanation of the designs…
- The Green Dragon tile shows the Chinese character ‘Fa’, meaning ‘wealth’, which also represents an archer releasing his draw and the Confucian virtue of sincerity.
- The Red Dragon tile shows the character ‘Chung’, meaning ‘centre’, which represents a hit in archery, passing the imperial exam and the Confucian virtue of benevolence.
- The White Dragon tile is simply a blank tile which represents a white board. A white board means freedom from corruption, a miss in archery, or the Confucian virtue of filial piety.
… though one needs to be wary, as the game seems to attract mythology like a magnet.
The East, South, West and North Wind tiles are associated with each player, East being the most important. The order dictates the names and positions of players around the table. These are not quite what you would expect from a compass, South Wind sitting on the right of East and to the left of North.
The rationale for this is not entirely clear, but the order can be seen in most of the play and is a rich source of confusion.