CHENGDU: The people of Sichuan are well known for their love of mahjong.
In fact, a common joke says that airline passengers bound for Chengdu can usually sleep throughout the flight, but are woken up before landing by the sound of clicking mahjong tiles.
And like many a love affair, this one led to the firing of five officials.
When local police in Jiange county conducted a routine check on a teahouse the evening of Sept 9, they found 13 people gambling around mahjong tables with more than 120,000 yuan ($17,000).
Among them were five leading officials - deputy secretary of the county discipline inspection committee, chief of the county labor and social security bureau, chief of the county supply and marketing cooperative, chief of the county safety supervision bureau and deputy chief of the county education bureau.
The five have been removed from their posts for violating a regulation that ban officials from gambling, the county discipline inspection committee said on Wednesday.
This is not the first time officials in Sichuan have been fired for gambling on mahjong.
On June 17, police found Li Chunlin, deputy chief of the Guangyuan labor and social security bureau, gambling on mahjong with three officials. Two days later, the four were removed from their posts.
In December 2007, Yang Shuiyuan, deputy mayor of Qionglai, was fired after he invited people to gamble with mahjong following a meeting in Chengdu.
In February 2005, four officials in a town in Shuangliu county were fired after playing mahjong in the town's letters-and-visits office while on duty.
The joke about the airline passenger, while a little exaggerated, does provide a glimpse into Sichuan people's approach to life. Leisurely strolls through any city in the province reveal locals playing mahjong in the streets, at outdoor teahouses and in parks.
Every summer in the Longxi-Hongkou Nature Reserve in Dujiangyan, scores of tables are placed in the shallow river water as more than 10,000 people play mahjong under the shade of umbrellas.
The popularity of mahjong in the province prompted surfers of www.sina.com to choose it as the symbol of Sichuan when the portal website invited netizens to choose what best represented the province in the year 2000.
The government does not shun mahjong among officials, as long as they do not play it while on duty in offices or if they do not gamble with it in public places, said Li Chuncheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Sichuan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China.
(China Daily 09/18/2009 page5)