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Mahjong History

The history and evolution of Mahjong – from origins in China to modern-day online solitaire

Mahjong is a widely known game for four, in which everyone plays for themselves. This game has fascinated players for centuries, as it involves a combination of skill, strategy, calculation, and luck. Over the years, this thrilling game has become popular among people from all over the world, giving rise to numerous regional variations and adaptations. Here we will have a look at the fascinating history of Mahjong, which started in China, its journey from China to the West, and the inception of Mahjong Solitaire – an online version of the game.

The origins of the game

The exact origins of the game are covered with mystery, though there are numerous theories about its inception. Some historians believe that Mahjong evolved from ancient card games, like Madiao, Pai, and various tile games. Others say that Mahjong is connected to the Chinese game of dominoes, which dates back to the 13th century. Another version is that Mahjong has evolved from Pènghú which was played with 120 or 150 cards. The precise date of the game’s origination is unknown, but most likely, Mahjong came to its present form in the middle of the 19th century. The earliest tiles that were found in Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Ningbo date back to 1870.

Mahjong’s spread across China and East Asia

In the 19th century, Mahjong was gaining more and more popularity in China, especially in coastal regions and big cities. It was a popular pastime for social gatherings, as it brought the players together with a sense of community and friendly competition. At that time, the rules of the game and the scoring system were modified a lot from place to place, and new regional variations appeared every now and then.

While the popularity of Mahjong in China grew, the game began to spread across East Asia. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was brought to Japan, where it became popular fairly soon, and even developed into a new version of the game. Similarly, Mahjong also found popularity in Korea, where the game is well-known up to this day.

Introduction to the Western World

Once Mahjong was established in China, it quickly gained popularity even beyond Asia. The Westerners first started playing this game around the beginning of the 20th century in British clubs in Shanghai. Mahjong was brought into the United States in the early 1920s. An American businessman, Joseph Park Babcock, brought Mahjong sets and rules to the U.S. after spending a lot of time in China. Later he published a simplified version of the rules, known as the "Rules of Mah-Jongg," which made the game more accessible to Americans. Later the rules transformed many times, with different versions existing at the same time, and were standardized only after the formation of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937.

After the introduction of Mahjong to the United States, people from all over the world were willing to learn the intricacies of this exotic new game. So, the demand for Mahjong sets increased, and Mahjong clubs and societies were created in many cities. In the 1920s and 1930s, this game had also become popular in Great Britain and other European countries.

Suppression and Revival

Though Mahjong was becoming more and more popular worldwide, in China the game faced challenges. The Chinese government discouraged the game among the general populace, as it was often associated with gambling. Following the Communist Revolution in the late 1940s, Chairman Mao outlawed Mahjong, deeming it a capitalist game. It wasn't until 1985 that the prohibition was lifted, allowing Mahjong to regain its popularity in China.

The evolution of modern Mahjong

Over time, as Mahjong has developed and evolved, a great number of variations of the game came into existence. Only in China, there are over thirty different versions of the game. Some of the most well-known ones include:

  • Changsha mahjong
  • Chinese classical mahjong
  • Competition mahjong
  • Fujian mahjong
  • Harbin mahjong
  • Hong Kong mahjong or Cantonese mahjong
  • Shenyang mahjong
  • Sichuan mahjong
  • Taiyuan Lisi mahjong
  • Tianjin mahjong
  • Wuhan mahjong
  • Xiangyang mahjong

In addition to the existing variations, there is always room for creativity – many players enjoy customizing the game rules or even creating a completely new game experience.

The advances of information technology have also had a huge impact on the game, both on the way it is played and on the game experience.

The Development of Mahjong Solitaire

In the 1980s, Mahjong took a new form – a computer game known as Mahjong Solitaire. This game requires players to remove matching pairs of free tiles from a set pattern until no tiles remain. The first known computer version of Mahjong Solitaire was created in 1981 and released on the PLATO computer system. The game gained wide popularity in 1986 – when it was reimagined and released by Activision under the name ‘Shanghai’. This was a huge success, Activision had sold over 10 million copies of the game. After that, lots of new versions and variations of the game have been developed. Some of the most notable examples include:

  • Mahjongg
  • Mah-jongg
  • Taipei
  • Kyodai
  • Shanghai Solitaire
  • Mahjong Solitaire

Mahjong Solitaire, in particular, is slightly different from traditional Mahjong. The computer version of the ancient game keeps the main concept of matching Mahjong tiles, but the user is not competing against other players. This is a single-player game focused on removing all tiles from the board by matching pairs.

Thanks to the growth of the internet and the availability of computers, Mahjong Solitaire quickly gained popularity as an online game. Various Mahjong platforms online gave the players the opportunity to connect and compete against one another, regardless of their location. Now there are many versions of this game online that offer different layouts, tile designs, and difficulty levels for all categories of players. Some of the versions also include additional features, like hints, shuffle options, and time limits, to make the player experience even better.

The game variations that are mostly played online include:

  • Mahjong Dimensions
  • Mahjong Connect
  • Mahjong Classic
  • Deluxe Mahjong

Final word

The history of Mahjong is a fascinating journey that goes from its Chinese origins to the modern online adaptation, across centuries, continents, and countless variations of the game. Over the years of its existence, Mahjong has become not just a game, but a global phenomenon, a pastime that can help people bond and go beyond cultural barriers. The game is continuing to grow and evolve, and, hopefully, will keep building communities and entertaining people for years to come.

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