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Traditional Chinese culture in Mah-Jongg

By Feng Hui | | Updated: 2009-03-30 11:12

Wisdom in Numbers

There are three suits to the tiles: Dot, Bamboo, and Characters. In ancient ideas, 3 is the cardinal number and 9 is the extreme number, so the three suits respectively have 9 tiles. And the number 5 has close relation to people’s daily life involving five elements, five flavors, five internal organs and five colors. Besides 3, 9 and 5, 12 is also an important number in ancient Chinese culture, such as twelve Chinese Zodiac animals, twelve earthly branches, traditional twelve two-hour periods and twelve months. These philosophic ideas of number have been expressed in Mah-Jongg. As we know, 144 is the square of 12 and 108 is a multiple of 12, therefore, a set of Mah-Jongg has 144 tiles in total, among which cardinal tiles is 108. Furthermore, it is ruled that there is 4 players in the game, each one with 13 tiles in a round. 4 multiply 13 is 52, which coincides with the natural law of one year having 52 weeks.

Traditional Chinese culture in Mah-Jongg

 Students in the United States learning how to play Mahjong

Meaningful illustrations

Each illustration on the tiles has its own meaning. Taking the flower tiles as an example, ancient people took plum, orchid, chrysanthemum, and bamboo the four noble plants of Confucian reckoning as illustrations because their blossoms respectively spanning four seasons with people comparing them to four virtuous men. Plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum respectively symbolize nobleness, elegance, modesty and chastity. Ancient Chinese people borrowed these plants to express their pursuits for virtue. While the dragon tiles: red (中), green(发) and white(白) were used for the meanings of fairness, prosperity and purity.

Traditional Chinese culture in Mah-Jongg Traditional Chinese culture in Mah-Jongg

These illustrations not only mirror the wisdom of Chinese people but also express their unique aesthetic ideas.

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