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Mahjong dragon tiles: their role in the game

Mahjong dragon tiles form one of the honor tile sets in the game, and thus their role can be a bit trickier to understand than others. Nonetheless they are just as important to understand in the game if you want to get anywhere playing it, so today we’re going to look at a complete guide to Mahjong dragon tiles and their cultural significance. Let’s jump into it.

Author: Jianyu Wang Li
Checked by: Felix Martins

Mahjong Dragon Tiles

Three dragon tiles: overview

Let’s start by looking at each of the three Mahjong dragon tiles in the set.

1. Red dragon

The first of the Mahjong dragon tiles is the red dragon. There are four copies of the red dragon tile in the set. The dragon tiles in general form what are called the honors tiles, which also includes the winds tiles.

2. Green dragon

Next is the green dragon, which functions the same as the red dragon. There are four copies of this Mahjong dragon tile.

3. White dragon

Finally, there is the white dragon. Again, there are four of these in a set and they can form special hands as part of the honors tiles.

Let’s look next at the broader cultural importance of Mahjong dragons in China.

Historical and cultural significance

Dragons in Mahjong are an important motif in China just as they are in many other areas of life in Asia more broadly.

Cultural symbolism of dragons in China

Dragons in China are symbolic of a huge range of things. The Mahjong dragon tiles naturally reflect this. In general, they are symbols of strength, good fortune, and health. Red dragons in particular are extremely common motifs, symbolizing good luck.

Green dragons are embodiments of the east and the spring. This also has connection to the wind tiles, then, the other honors tiles.

Finally, white dragons are symbols of purity and virtue in Chinese culture.

Let’s see how the Mahjong dragon tiles originated, then.

Origin of dragon tiles

Mahjong sets as we know them today evolved in the 19th Century, and we can see that compared to the rest of the set, the Mahjong dragon tiles are simply a very significant cultural motif. All the tiles in a set depict some form of common Chinese motif, such as the naturalistic image of the bamboo.

Dragons, then, made perfect sense in the set and as far as we can see, some sets had the three dragons from the very start. Mahjong dragon tiles were firmly cemented as part of the set in the 1890s.

Dragon colorCultural significance

Red dragon

Good luck and prosperity

Green dragon

Embodiment of the east and of the coming spring

White dragon

Symbol of purity and rebirth

Now let’s look at their role in the gameplay itself.

Role in gameplay

Mahjong dragon tiles play a very important role in gameplay. They can be used to form many different hands.

When Mahjong dragon tiles come into play

Mahjong dragon tiles can be used to form many different hands. They form part of your normal hand, and not a special hand like the bonus tiles. They can be used to form pongs or as part of special hands when for example you get a pair of two.

Scoring opportunities

Mahjong dragon tiles offer a lot of unique scoring opportunities. This can vary depending on the rules and variation you are playing, but many special hands do not allow dragons or winds, like knitting or triple knitting. They can be used to form rare hands like the “buried treasure” with a concealed pong and a pair.


Mahjong dragon tiles are a fascinating blend of culture, strategy, and Chinese and Asian artistry. Mahjong dragon tiles play a really important and unique role in the game and they offer some very interesting and unique ways to score and play the game.

Appreciation and deeper understanding

Mahjong dragon tiles and their role in the game is vital to understanding and improving your ability to play the game. The more deeply you understand and appreciate the role of Mahjong dragon tiles, the better you will get at the game and the rarer and more difficult to achieve hands in the game of Mahjong.

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