ROUNDHOUSE BLOG

Mahjong: A Brief History of the Game

Mah Jong is popular among people of all ages and backgrounds. Photograph by Eric Chan.

Mah Jong is popular among people of all ages and backgrounds. Photograph by Eric Chan.

Even if you have never played Mahjong, chances are you’ve heard the familiar shuffling of tiles at the beginning of the game coming from behind many Vancouver doors. This shuffling is referred to as the ‘twittering of the sparrows’. The name Mahjong loosely translates as “sparrow” but most Vancouverites know the game by its initials: MJ.

Mahjong is a tile game that originated in China. Rumour has it that the game is 2,500 years old. Enthusiasts link the game to Confucius and his love of birds, but the oldest historical record ever found is dated in the 1880s. Researchers say that the game originated in the late 19th century in the provinces of Kiangsu, Anhwei and Chekiang (near Shanghai) and link the traditional rules of Mahjong to the popular game Mah-tiae (“Hanging Horse”) as the game uses a similar tile set.

After 1905, the game spread throughout China overtaking chess as the most popular game among Chinese citizens.

In, 1938, this photograph of four young men playing Mah Jong at the Immigration Centre was taken by the staff photgrapher at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The crowd gathered to observe speaks to the game's popularity.

In, 1938, this photograph of four young men playing Mahjong at the Immigration Centre, was taken by the staff photgrapher at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The crowd gathered to observe speaks to the game’s popularity.

In the traditional rules of the game, the four wind tiles are laid face down and each of the four players draws one to determine where they sit at a square table: north, west, south and east. Each player is then given 14 tiles. To get a Mahjong, a player must arrange their tiles into four sets and a pair. A set can either be a “pung,” a set of three identical tiles, or a “chow,” three tiles in sequence of the same suit. (The rules are similar to Rummy in that you can have either a run of three cards or three of a kind. The trick is to remember the characters! ) Once the tiles have been dealt, the remaining tiles are formed into a wall of 17 tiles long and 2 high in front of each player. These rituals of play are said to guard off cheaters as Mahjong is a gambling game.

At the turn of the 20th century, the game spread beyond China’s borders which led to variants on the traditional Chinese rules.

The expatriate population of Shanghai picked up the game in the cafes that they frequented and brought it back to their home countries. In Japan, Mahjong clubs formed in the early part of the century and the rules in that country remain close to the classical game.

There are 136 tiles in a set which includes 36 characters, 36 circles, 36 bamboos (each of these suits are divided into numbers one to nine), 16 Wind tiles and 12 Dragon tiles. Photograph by Rebecca Siegel.

There are 136 tiles in a set which includes 36 characters, 36 circles, 36 bamboos (each of these suits are divided into numbers one to nine), 16 Wind tiles and 12 Dragon tiles. Photograph by Rebecca Siegel.

Mahjong tiles tend to appeal to collectors because of the incredible artistry shown in their carved designs. The one of bamboo and the four flower tiles often stand out in a set. Traditionally, the tiles were made of ivory, bone and bamboo, but nowadays, the tiles are largely made of wood, plastic and ceramic due to worldwide trade embargoes. There are 136 tiles in a set which includes 36 characters, 36 circles, 36 bamboos (each of these suits are divided into numbers one to nine), 16 Wind tiles and 12 Dragon tiles. Some sets, also, include four flower tiles and four season tiles for a total of 144 tiles.

A red dragon Mah Jong Tile. Photograph by Rebecca Siegel.

A red dragon Mahjong Tile. Photograph by Rebecca Siegel.

In the 1920s, the British and Americans, also, started enjoying the game and as a result the rules evolved, again. Joseph P. Babcock, an American living in Shanghai during the 1920s, began exporting Mahjong sets back to the United States. He published a document called “The Official American Rules” in 1935 that simplified traditional rules for the foreign market and set the standard for American players. Babcock eventually sold the copyright to the game to Parkers Brother and the rules changed in order to satisfy the market. In the British Empire, the rules remained close to the Chinese traditional game.

Today, many purists believe that the perfect game of Mahjong is played with the 1920s rules.

In the 1940s, Mahjong was banned in China after the Communist Revolution as it encouraged gambling and was seen as a pastime of the bourgeoisie. During these years, players were arrested if seen in a MJ match. In 1985, the ban was lifted and the game regained popularity as people no longer feared persecution. Today, Mahjong is a favourite game around the world as evidenced by the chorus of clacking tiles in our city.

Want to play? The Roundhouse hosts a free drop-in Mahjong meet-up on Monday and Tuesday mornings for ages 20 and up. Beginners and seasoned players are welcome. For more information, check out the program guide.


By Lindsay Glauser Kwan, Roundhouse Blog Team. Lindsay is a creative writer and blogger specializing in arts, culture, fashion and lifestyle. She has written for Vancouver Is Awesome, emerge, The Liar, The Blind Hem and various blogs. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU and active in Pandora’s Collective, she features regularly at local literary events.

 

 

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Beerlesque IV: A Night of Seductive Drinking

Beerlesque burlesque dancer

Saucy routines, from some of Vancouver’s finest burlesque dancers, spice up the evening. Photo by Carman Kwan, 2013.

Are you interested in intimately experiencing quintessential pieces of Vancouver’s culture? This October, the Roundhouse presents a fundraiser that is a unique mix of two of the city’s most popular pastimes: beer and burlesque. Billed as an “adult carnival for the senses”, Beerlesque IV brings together BC’s best burlesque performers and craft beer breweries for one special night of old-time fun. It will be the perfect introduction to an integral and consistently changing aspect of the city, and a night definitely not to be missed.

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Ethical Investing: What it means and why it’s important

Photo Source: Matthew Black, Flickr

Simon Fraser University is currently debating the implications of ethical investing initiatives such as the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investing and Fossil Free Funds. Photo Source: Matthew Black, Flickr

In this age of digital media, information is shared at a lightning pace. Individuals and companies alike are more aware than ever about the environment, human rights, diversity and other issues concerning citizens around the world.

More than simply aligning their own practices with their beliefs, people are turning to their investments to return more than just a dollar value. Simply put, we are looking to put our money where our values are.

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A Window on Vancouver Artists: Pierre Leichner

Artist Pierre Leichner is exhibiting his altered books in the Window in Seotember.

Artist Pierre Leichner is exhibiting his altered books in the Window in September.

During the months of September and October, you can see Pierre Leichner‘s artworks on display in the Window, an exhibition space at the Roundhouse where Vancouver artists are asked to explore the link between community and creativity.

How long have you been a practicing artist?

I was a psychiatrist and I stopped working in 2010. I went to Emily Carr to get my bachelor’s degree then I went to Concordia University in Montreal to get my master’s degree in Fine Arts. Since 2011 essentially, I’ve switched to full-time art practice.

What is your artistic medium?

I am an interdisciplinary artist. I use a variety of media depending on the topic of research. For the exhibition in the window, the medium is altered books.

 

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Bringing the Vancouver Hip Hop Community Together

Tarik Tune aka DJ Drop Jaw shows off his amazing talent on the turntables. Photograph by Carm Kwan. Roundhouse Documentation Team.

Tarik Tune aka DJ Drop Jaw shows off his amazing talent on the turntables. Photograph by Carm Kwan, Roundhouse Documentation Team.

What does a Hip Hop community look like? According to the Universal Zulu Nation, a hip hop community is based on the sharing of ideas and resources, while providing service to the broader community through outreach programs. The aim of the organization is to promote peace, equality and humanitarianism through the four elements of hip hop: aerosol art (graffiti), MCing, turntablism, and bboying. At a public forum at the Roundhouse on June 14th, Vancouver Hip Hop artists came together to discuss the formation of a local chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation.
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Explosion of Talent at the Queer Arts Festival

Dare being challenged. Risk being changed at this year’s Queer Arts Festival at the Roundhouse. From July 23 to August 9, the festival will highlight cutting-edge performance art, music, visual arts, literature and more by artists of all ages at this year’s festival under the theme “ReGenerations.”

RH14_eventslide_QueerArtsFestival1

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Be in Step with Dance Walking

NBC reporter Ben Aaron with Joe (previously known as The Nameless Dance Walk Guru Master)

NBC reporter Ben Aaron doing the shimmy shake with The Nameless Dance Walk Guru Master (later revealed to be a man named Joseph)

Workload, hectic schedules, deadlines, busy times…when it comes to life, we’re used to dancing to its tune! Now you can ‘dance walk’ your way into staying in great shape too.

Back in 2012, Emmy award-winning NBC reporter Ben Aaron introduced a workout routine called Dance Walking. It was an idea inspired during one of Aaron’s usual hilarious reports from the streets when he saw a man taking a rhythmic stroll as he cruised down 5th Avenue in New York City. Surprised yet intrigued, Aaron joined him for a minute in the dancing and then watched the man continue on his way – still ‘dance walking’.

Aaron realized that this was the right workout for him, combining his love for three things: interacting with people, seeing the city and dancing. Taking inspiration from what he saw, Aaron created an entire segment on dance walking in which New Yorkers danced down the sidewalks in the Big Apple with him. Thereafter, people around the world responded. Mass hysteria for dance walking swept across the globe, including in Canada (namely in Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler).

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Sounds of Summer at the Roundhouse

Summer in Vancouver is awesome! One of my favorite activities is outdoor concerts.

symphony

Music from the big screen on the Roundhouse Plaza Turntable. Photo by Karen Clare, 2014


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Express Yourself: Freestyle Painting

Ming believes passing on the tradition of free style Chinese painting as her duty. Photo by Ming Yeung.

Ming believes passing on the tradition of free style Chinese painting as her duty. Photo by Ming Yeung.

Imagine telling your young ones about one ultimate rule: that there is no rule. Then watch, as their minds do wonders. Create the unimagined, go beyond the standard. What you need is Chinese freestyle painting.

Let them paint it red! Or even blue, or orange, because it’s free style and it’s colourful. They can forget tools and techniques, this is all about driving the passion to draw.

Chinese free style painting doesn’t need any prior experience or groundwork. It is done with a brush dipped in black or coloured ink. No drawn pictures or landscapes. It is one of the oldest artistic traditions in the world, and continues to inspire artists to be involved in painting by pouring out their mind.

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Finding Inspiration in Open Spaces: Creating Theatre in Hadden Park

Creating Theatre

How do we relate to public outdoor spaces? Photo Source: kitsilano.ca

On a recent Sunday visit to Hadden Park, you may have sighted performers transforming the open space of the park into a site of theatrical creation. Here, performers are finding inspiration in sounds, sights, and places around them; perhaps a shaded spot beneath a tree, a choir of barking dogs, or an abandoned sailboat resting on the beach.

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© 2014 Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. The Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre is jointly operated by the Vancouver Board of Parks & Recreation and the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Society. Website by Hey Shauna
181 Roundhouse Mews (Davie & Pacific), Vancouver, V6Z 2W3
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