Board games history: the Chinese game of Mahjong
Posted September 17, 2009on:
The Mahjong (麻雀麻将), is a board game for four players, born in China at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and now worldwide popular, especially in United States and Japan.
Its name means “bird of hemp” or “hemp sparrow”.
There are different versions about the birth of this board game, but the most legendary one tells that Mahjong board game was invented by a fisherman in China about 2500 years ago.
The story goes that a fisherman was on his boat and, during a storm, seeing his men worried and scared, he invented something to entertain them. It is said that the gods favoured the poor fisherman and inspired him the invention of a game with few pieces of wood. In a meantime, the fisherman carved the pieces with different symbols, and taught his men how to play this new board game. The crew was so interested in the game that soon forgot the storm.
The fisherman called the game Mah-Jong (hemp bird), remembering the little bird that always followed him during the fishing.
Another legend attributes the invention of the Mahjong game to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius, around 500 BC.
This story (considered false by historians) has some curious correspondence with the reality: infact the pieces of the game called the “three dragons” represent the three cardinal virtues professed by Confucius: the red Chung (Benevolence), the green Fa (Sincerity ) and the White Po (love). It is said that Confucius had a great love for birds, and for this reason called the game Mah-Jong (bird of hemp).
Many of the terms used in this board game, such as Chee and Kong, are explained with the Confucian origin of the game.
However, for historians, the Mahjong game was invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Some researchers sad that this game could come from the Madia (马吊) , another popular board game played in China at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty.
There are only hypothesis around the real inventor of this board game. Someone say that it was created by Chinese army officers, to pass the time during the Tai Ping Rebellion (1851-1864), others that the inventor was a noble of Shanghai between 1870 and 1875.
But we like to think that the game of Mahjong was invented either by the fisherman or by Confucius, because we’re so fascinated by old stories.