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Mahjong word-play delights language students

( Xinhua ) Updated: 2016-07-22 15:29:00

An adapted version of Mahjong -- a traditional Chinese game similar to rummy but played with tiles instead of cards -- has found many fans since it appeared in an international Chinese language contest.

The contest, known as "Chinese Bridge", is a wide-ranging competition for foreign Chinese language students from all over the world. It tests their linguistic skills with a variety of challenges including impromptu speeches and interviews.

This year's event, being held in Changsha of Central China's Hunan province from July 12 through Aug 10, featured a version of mahjong reminiscent of Scrabble.

Mahjong is a favorite pastime in China. Each of four players take turns to draw tiles from a 144-tile pool to form sets.

At the competition, each tile was printed with a different Chinese character and, rather than simple sets of three or four similar or sequential tiles as in the traditional game, the goal was to form valid Chinese phrases using the tiles under mahjong-like rules.

"To win, the competitors not only need to be masters of the Chinese language, but also skillful mahjong players," said linguist Qi Renjie.

Darrell James, a contestant from the United States, only started to learn mahjong a few days before the competition, but has become quite adept in a short time.

"It is the first time I have played mahjong. It takes some effort to learn, but I've really enjoyed the process," he said.

On stage, he wowed the audience with his vocabulary and mastery of the game, winning widespread praise for his talent.

The innovative competition raised a wave of discussion on the Internet, with many agreeing that is a smart and novel way to spread Chinese culture.

"Foreigners playing mahjong? When will this be on TV?" read a comment on microblog Sina Weibo.

"The contestants know so many words and phrases that I do not even know!" read another comment.

A record 146 contestants from 108 countries took part in this year's "Chinese Bridge." The annual event covers a wide range of elements in Chinese, including Chinese characters, phrases, sentences, poetry, literature, history and geography.

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