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Let’s play Mahjong!

September 24, 2010
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The intangible heritage means the culture of a place involving arts and persons, festivals and everyday life. There is a more exact definition, which is, “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” (Intangible Cultural Heritage, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intangible_cultural_heritage)

In Hong Kong, we inherit lots of Chinese culture, among many of the intangible culture heritages, I would like to specially introduce “Majong” with all of you. In Cantonese, the pronunciation of Majong is same as a very common kind of bird which can be seen everywhere outside, but they are not really related. Majong is a game, most of time for gambling, involves 4 players sitting at each edge of a square table. There is a set of 152 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, when playing the Guangdong version (There is Guangdong and Taiwan version), each round basically need to throw 3 dices to determine who is the host, like western gambling’s banker, but this host only makes the alternation for final scores’ counting. In each round, the host picks 14 tiles and the other 13, the host must throw one unusable at the very beginning of the game. Then, until all of 4 players draw one tile and discard one tile, a cycle completed. During the cycle, players are able to pick necessary tile from other people for melding but sometimes, in certain restriction, you can only utilize the tile from the one who is discarding tile just before you. Every time a player wins, the host passed to next one who receiving tiles from host. The combination of tiles mainly contains basic (numbered tiles) and honours (winds and dragons), and by modifying the combination, more scores earned.

The beginning of Majong is still debating around historian, one of the myths of the origin of mahjong suggests that Confucius,the Chinese philosopher, developed the game in about 500 BC. Meanwhile many historians believe it was based on a Chinese card game called Mǎdiào (also known as Ma Tiae, hanging horse; or Yèzí , leaf) in the early Ming dynasty. (Mahjong, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majong) No matter which one is the correct history of Majong, it is the most common and unique tiles’ playing or gambling skill that most of us learnt.

I think it is the most complex game in the world as the variation inside the game is so large. Fortunately, unlike other traditional custom in Hong Kong, I believe this is still a kind of famous even in younger generation. I love this game as the win or lost of Majong not only determined by whether the person is lucky or not, also the technique of composing your own set of tiles and predicting the trend of others. Moreover, playing majong is said to be a way to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease! Let’s keep our tradition by learning and enjoying it!

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