Mahjong History
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    History and Evolution of Mahjong

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    Mahjong is a game that evolved from two popular Chinese games, a domino game invented during the Bei Song Dynasty (1120 A.D.) and a card game (called Ma Diao) that was very popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644 1911 A.D.).

    The Domino Game

    Domino games are still widely played in China nowadays, thus we will not describe the game nor the rules here. On the right is a picture of a Chinese Domino set.

    The Game of Ma Diao

    The game of Ma Diao on the other hand, was also known as the Paper Tiger game, involving 40 cards. There are four suits, known as Wen Suit (pennies, same as the circle or ball suit in Mahjong), Suo Zi Suit (hundred dollars, same as the bamboo or stick suit in Mahjong), Wan Suit (ten thousand dollars, same as the character suit in Mahjong), and the Shi Suit (hundred thousand dollars).  The names Suo Zi and Wan Zi are still used nowadays for the Bamboo (or stick) Suit and Character Suit in Mahjong.  On the right are two Ma Diao cards, eight hundred thousand and hundred million. 

    The Wen Suit- There are 11 cards in this suit with One Wen to Nine Wens. In addition, there are half a Wen (known as Flower) and No Wen (known as Blank).

    The Suo Zi Suit- There are 9 cards in this suite with One Suo to Nine Suos.

    The Wan Suit- There are 9 cards in this suit with One Wan to Nine Wans.

    The Shi Suit- There are 11 cards in this suit from Two hundred Thousand to Nine Hundred Thousand, One Million, Ten Millions, and Hundred Millions (known as Red Ten Thousand).

    Each card from the last two suits has a famous character drawn on it from the story of the renowned Chinese classic Water Marks or 108 Heroes.

    The game was played as follows. Four players decided who was the banker by rolling dice. Each player then took eight cards, leaving the remaining (8) cards in the center of the table. Each player then took turns in discarding his cards, with cards of higher value winning over that of low value. It was an intriguing game of strategy, often involved the teaming up of three players against the banker.

    The game evolved through history and picked up some rules and nomenclatures of the Domino game and eventually changed its look from that of a card game to a tile game. It was also during this time, that the game adopted the rule that a player can collect tiles discarded by the player ahead of him to form a bigger hand.

    Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 1644 A.D.), the game of Ma Diao became less popular because of instability. However, interest in the game re-ignited during the peaceful time of the early Qing Dynasty (1644 1911 A.D.).

    The Game of Mahjong

    In the two hundred year history of Ma Diao, its rules continued to evolve. During the reign of Kang Xi Emperor (1662-1723 A.D.), the rules of Mahjong took an important turn, by combining two sets of the Ma Diao game. The Shi Suit has been eliminated. The set contained three suits, with Wen (balls or circles), Suo (bamboo or sticks), and Wan (characters). Each suit consisted of two sets of 1s to 9s for a total of 54 cards. The rest of the cards consisted of two each of Flower, Blank and Red Ten Thousand, for a total of 60 cards. Each player took 10 cards with the remaining 20 cards placed in the center of the table to be drawn later. A winning hand consisted of two sets of 4 cards with sequential numbers of the same suit plus a pair of ones (of any suit), Flowers, Blanks, or Red Ten Thousands. If after the cards were exhausted from the center of the table and no one won, each player discarded five cards, which were then shuffled and returned to the table. This continued until someone won.
    The game took another turn by combining yet two more sets of Ma Diao to take the form of the modern Mahjong set. There were then 4 sets each of the three suits, plus 4 each of Flowers, Blanks and Red Ten Thousands, for a total of 120 tiles. With more tiles, the game became more interesting. Also, with 4 of each tile, pungs and kongs were introduced.  Part of an old Mah Jong set is shown in picture on the right.  This set looks like a hybrid set between cards and tiles.

    The Red Ten Thousands, Flower and Blank tiles later became Dragon, Phoenix, and Bai (blank), which then evolved into the dragon tiles of Zhong (center), Fa (prosperity) and Bai (blank). As for the Four Winds, there has been a rumor that they were introduced by the Four 'Kings' of the Taiping Rebellions (1851 A.D.) in the Qing Dynasty, King of East Yang Xiuqing, King of South Feng Yunshan, King of West Xiao Zhaogui, and King of North Wei Changhui.

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