Exploring the Rich Tapestry of Mahjong: History, Symbolism, and Culture

For generations of Chinese and Chinese diaspora, Mahjong transcends mere entertainment; it embodies a sense of home, family, belonging, and the joyous banter that spans generations. As enthusiasts at Pearl River, we recognize Mahjong as more than just a game. Its profound history, symbolic richness, and cultural significance are aspects that anyone claiming to love it should delve into and appreciate.

The Origins of Mahjong: Unraveling Its History near Shanghai

Did you know that Mahjong likely originated near Shanghai in the 19th century? Originally named “sparrow,” it derived its moniker from the clacking noises reminiscent of birds made by the tiles. Moreover, the symbols adorning these tiles carry deep historical and cultural meanings.

Symbolism in Mahjong Tiles: Decoding Ancient Chinese Currency

Take, for example, the circles and bamboo tiles, which symbolize ancient Chinese currency. The circle represents a tong, a coin with a square hole in the middle, while the bamboo tiles depict strings of such coins.

“Wan”: Exploring the Significance of 10,000 in Mahjong

Ever noticed the character beneath the numbers? That’s “wan,” meaning 10,000 in Chinese. In Chinese culture, “wan” signifies the greatest possible number, often expressed as “10,000 years!” to wish someone a long life.

Honor Tiles: Winds and Dragons in Mahjong

Then there are the honor tiles, comprising the winds and dragons. The “winds” denote the four cardinal directions: east, west, north, and south.

The Meaning Behind Mahjong Dragons: Archery and Confucian Virtues

On the other hand, the “dragons” embody aspects of archery, considered a noble art in ancient China, as well as virtues of Confucianism, the philosophical bedrock of traditional Chinese society.

The Red Dragon: A Symbol of Imperial Success and Benevolence

The red dragon tile, known as “hong zhong,” symbolizes passing the imperial exam, a successful hit in archery, and benevolence.

The Green Dragon: From Fortune to Sincerity in Mahjong

The green dragon, “fa,” derived from “fa cai” meaning “striking it rich,” represents an archer releasing their draw and sincerity.

Unlocking Symbolism: The White Door in Mahjong

Lastly, the door-like symbol, “bai ban” or white door, signifies freedom from corruption, a missed shot in archery, and filial piety.

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