The CC Theory

About the debate
Definitions
References
Map of the debate web pages
Log of updates

Arguments FOR the CC Theory


A significant part of the debate centers on whether or not Chinese Classical mah-jongg (CC) preceded the Cantonese, or Hong Kong Old Style mah-jongg (HKOS). Sloper presents an argument referencing writings of the 1920s, and Kwan presents an argument comparing the rules of CC to those of other forms, especially HKOS.


ARGUMENT 1

The classic game was the only game played in China during the 1920s. The style we now refer to as "Hong Kong Old Style" (skipping the base points, and only counting the doubles) had not yet evolved or been invented.

A. Every English-language mah-jongg book we have collected from the 1920s describes the classic game, and the classic game alone.

Tom has collected over thirty books and pamphlets on mah-jongg from the 1920s. The game described by each and every one is the game we now call "classical" (first count base points, then apply doubles for special characteristics of the hand; there is only a short list of those special characteristics).

[Click here to see a list of the 30+ books and pamphlets, with pictures of their covers.]

B. Three of these 1920s books specifically mention Hong Kong and the mah-jongg rules used there. And one book ("Sparrow," by Ly Yu Sang, the 32nd book shown here), was written by someone from the Hong Kong area - and it describes the rules that we now call "classical."

C. These books state that the classic Chinese rules were played in Hong Kong in the 1920s, and do not mention any variants such as what we now call HKOS.

The following books specifically discuss the mah-jongg rules used in Hong Kong in the 1920s:

    1. HOW TO PLAY MAH-JONG, by A. J. Israel, 1923 (issued by John Samuels, 950 Broadway, New York, N.Y.). Subtitle: "Rules Which Govern The Play In The Principal American, European And Chinese Clubs In Shanghai, Hongkong And Peking, As Well As In The American And British Fleets In The Far East."

    The game described in this pamphlet is the classic game (calculate base points, then apply doubles for special characteristics of the hand).

    [Click here to see a few detailed scans of this pamphlet.]

    2. HOW TO PLAY MAH-JONGG IN THE CHINESE MANNER by Olga Racster, 1924 (David McKay Company, Philadelphia). Subtitle: "The Official Rules of the Mah-Jongg League."

    In the Author's Note, Racster specifically says that the main difference between the rules used in Shanghai and the rules used in Hong Kong is that in Hong Kong, the basic score for going mah-jongg is 10 points, as opposed to the 20 points awarded in Shanghai.

    [Click here to see a few detailed scans of this little book.]

    3. THE LAWS OF MAH JONG (PUNG CHOW, etc.) for 1924 by R. F. Foster, 1924 (Vanity Fair)

    From the cover of this Vanity Fair pamphlet:

      a. "In the preparation of this pamphlet, more than forty books on Mah Jongg (Pung Chow, Mah Cheuk, etc.), by various Chinese and American authors, have been codified and analyzed, and numerous teachers and expert players have been consulted, in order to arrive at a Complete, Simplified, and Standardized Code of Laws for the American System of Playing and Scoring, as now practiced by the majority of good players."

    Inside the pamphlet, Foster describes his research for his magazine articles (I posted this quote on the mahjong newsgroup during the course of the debate (Dec. 10, 2000):

      b. "I have before me twenty-seven textbooks and translations from Chinese manuscripts, which seem to be worthy of consideration. After carefully tabulating their rules and comparing them in parallel columns, I find that all twenty-seven agree upon what might be called the cardinal points of the scoring. They differ only in the limitation of certain scores to certain hands, and in the bonuses or doubles. These differences, which are chiefly confined to American writers, are easily traceable to one cause; the alteration of certain parts of the original game, and the introduction of new elements, without making the rest of the game conform to them."

    [Click here to see scans and excerpts of this important Foster work.]

And another significant work by Foster:

4. FOSTER ON MAH JONG by R. F. Foster, 1924 (Dodd, Mead and Company, New York). Subtitle: "Mah Cheuk - Mah Chang - Pung Chow."

a. In a lengthy chapter on "Legend and History in Mah Jong," Foster describes various legends and gives much useful information about the introduction of the game to the West in the early twentieth century. Another important chapter is "Variations in Scoring Rules." And in yet another chapter he describes specific differences between the way the game is played in China and in America.

And in the "Legend" chapter of his book, he wrote:

    b. "Contemporary with the demand for sets naturally came the call for text books on the game, and in less than a year I was able to collect more than thirty of these."

    c. "Upon a comparison of all the text books on the purely Chinese game, I find they are practically in agreement, both as to the fundamentals and the frills."

[Click here to see scans and excerpts of this important Foster work.]

From the above, it is clear that the classic game was played throughout China (including Hong Kong) during the 1920s. The style we now refer to as 'Hong Kong Old Style' (skipping the base points, and only counting the doubles) is not described or mentioned in any sources from the 1920s.

Documented evidence isn't the only proof, however. There's also the evidence inherent in the rules of the games in discussion.

ARGUMENT 2

An analysis of the scoring systems of the classical and HKOS games logically shows that the HKOS system is a simplification of the CC system (and not the other way around; CC could not logically be a more-complicated derivative of HKOS).

a. The main difference between CC and HKOS is, of course, the scoring system. ALL [non-American] variants of mah-jongg are basically the same, the main differences being in (1) which patterns are recognized, (2) which scoring system is used, and (recently) (3) how many tiles are held in the hand. In CC one first calculates the base points, then doubles appropriately. In HKOS the base points are ignored; one merely counts the doubles (and applies them to the base number, which is 2). Compare our opponent's conjectures with Alan's (below), and think about which are more plausible:

    1. Chinese Classical (something the same or very similar to the form described in Millington) was the predominant form of mahjong played all over China (including Canton and Hong Kong) in the 20's.

    2. All later styles most likely evolved directly or indirectly from Chinese Classical.

    3. In particular, HKOS evolved directly from Chinese Classical by dropping the triplet-point counting element, with the purpose of simplifying the rules and scoring. (The simplification might have been inspired by the house rule of raising the bonus for going out to a large amount of 50 or 100 points, which has the effect of making most scoring elements other than the number of faan in the winning hand insignificant. According to Millington p.118, such house rule was common in Hong Kong, among other places.) In order to reduce illegal collaboration in gambling situations and/or to punish "ruthless" discarding, the East's doubling of the payment was changed to the discarder's doubling. And then, in order to encourage/reward "pattern-building", the value of "Mixed One-Suit" and "All Pong" were raised from 1 faan to 2 faan, and later to 3 faan.

    Both the original East doubling rule and the 2-faan (for Mixed One-Suit etc.) system are described in Perlmen and Chan (Chapter 8).

b. Why eliminate the triplet-point counting in CC?
A: For the sake of rules simplicity, and hence better propagation.

c. Why the increased faan values in HKOS?
A: With triplet-points eliminated, the system quickly becomes monotonous (all hands are of one of a few possible values) and also somewhat unbalanced (if Mixed One-Suit is 1 faan and No-Point hand is 1 faan, Mixed One-Suit seems much more difficult in comparison), so the faan values are increased to bring in more excitement and variation.

(Note: P&C p.56 has documented that, in HKOS the 3-faan patterns were once 2 faan.)

d. Why has HKOS got the self-draw bonus?
A: This has been elaborated in another earlier posting of mine. I can re-post it if requested.

e. This is why HKOS (and not some other style) could have born: all the "so many apparent differences" originated as just two changes.

f. The likely situation was that CC was well-established among the more learned classes of society, while its complexity left it out of grasp of the less sophisticated masses. Thus when HKOS was introduced, it was able to propagate among those people with little resistance, because CC was too complex for them to learn, to begin with.

g. When exposed to a new version of mahjong, most people will tend to defend whatever version they already know against the new version. But one can't do that when coming across the first version /accessible/ to him.

h. Alan's reasoning is backed by Millington. Page 121, 2nd paragraph:

    "From the historical point of view, it would be interesting to know whether the Shanghai form of Mah-Jongg is, like the popular Cantonese form, to be regarded as a simplification of the classical game, or whether on the other hand it constitutes an independent survival from the pre-classical era of the game, a direct descendant of 'proto-Mah-Jongg'. The latter view is quite probably the correct one. The systematization and development of the scoring system which characterizes classical Mah-Jongg as we know it, and in particular the working-out and elaboration of the hierarchy of doubles, must have taken some time: the Shanghai form of Mah-Jongg may well represent a point before the process of evolution had been completed. It is observable that although the development of Mah-Jongg began in the region of Ningpo, it reached its logical conclusion and perfection in Southern China.
    "In other respects, the popular game has diverged from the classical as a result of ignoring the symbolical reasons for certain of its features, or in some cases, because of the acceptance of alternative incorrect explanations."

So, here we have presented our arguments for the classic Chinese game being the original game. We think our arguments carry more weight than those of our opponent. We leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusion.


Use your browser's "back button" to return to the debate main page, or click on any link shown, to see other information about the debate.

Arguments AGAINST the CC Theory

Rebuttal to arguments for the CC Theory

(Rebuttal written by opponents of the CC Theory)

Rebuttal to arguments against the CC Theory

(Rebuttal written by proponents of the CC Theory)