According to new sources, this very popular museum will celebrate its first anniversary in March of this year. Although there is a mah-jong museum in Chiba, Japan, and another in Hazelwood, Missouri, there is none in the world that combines the game of mah-jong with tea culture. Museum visitors are confronted with many colorful displays, including teapots, a floor and the mosaic of a human face both of which are composed of mah-jong tiles.
The origins of mah-jong are obscure and there are several theories. One presupposes that the game was played on Noah’s Ark during the flood that is said to have lasted forty days and nights. Another theory suggests that the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, developed the game about 500 BC. Although no one can say for sure, this theory seems the most plausible because the three ‘Cardinal’ tiles also coincide with the three Cardinal virtues taught by Confucius; namely, Benevolence, Sincerity, and Filial Piety. The appearance of the game in various Chinese provinces coincides with the philosopher’s travels at the time he was teaching his new doctrines.
It is also said that the great philosopher was fond of birds, which might explain the name Mah-jong, which translates into Hemp Bird.
It is no coincidence that this new museum is located in Chengdu, which is one of the most important economic centers and transportation and communication hubs in Southwestern China. Last year, it marked the spot of the second Mah-jong World Championship. The city is the matrix for the Chinese mah-jong culture. More than any other place in China, the people of Chengdu play the game in the parks and the streets. The local variant of the game is played without “honor” tiles (winds or dragons) and eating (taking chi’s) is not allowed.
Happy mah-jong everyone and if you are ever nearby and have a “yen” for tea and culture, visit this unique museum.