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:: Some people believe that the game of mahjong was invented in ancient times by a lonely Chinese princess who was not allowed to leave the emperor's court. Others claim that the philosopher Confucius played mahjong over two thousand years ago. However, mahjong as it is played today dates back only two hundred years ago to a set-forming card game that was popular on the eastern coast of China.

:: The word mahjong (often spelled mah-jongg) means "hempbird" or "sparrow," perhaps because the clicking of the tiles resembles the twittering of a sparrow, or because getting the winning tile is as difficult as catching a sparrow, the Chinese bird of cleverness. The delicate sparrow pattern is carved on four tiles in every mahjong set.

:: Mahjong is a four-person game, similar to gin rummy but played with tiles instead of cards. Altogether there are 136 or 144 tiles and each player tries to develop a winning hand of 14 to 16 tiles. There are many possible winning patterns of tiles, some worth a lot of points, others worth only one or tw o points. Because it is very hard to win with a high-scoring hand, mahjong has been called "the game of one hundred intelligences."

:: Mahjong was brought over to the United States from Shanghai in the 1920s by an American businessman. During the following decade, it became wildly popular. Sets made of bone, ivory, bamboo, wood and paper were imported in huge numbers from China. Soon American companies began manufacturing mahjong sets, some working twenty-four hours a day to keep up with the demand. After the 1930s the popularity of mahjong declined, but it has always had loyal fans from all cultures and of all ages. Recently, perhaps because many people have traveled to China, a new wave of interest in mahjong has arisen.

Mahjong Links

National Mahjong League

Online Mahjong Museum

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