We have seen fit to scan and reproduce here a considerable portion of this important book by one of the most significant mah-jongg authorities of the 1920s.



RELYING on the general ignorance of China and its affairs, those interested in the importation or manufacture and sale of sets have put forward through their press agents some most original and romantic stories about the origin of Mah Jong, throwing it hack into the mists of antiquity, explaining its seclusion from the rest of the world by saying it was a sort of State secret, known only to members of the royal family and the highest officials. Any one of lower class attempting to learn the game did so at the risk of his head. These press agents forget that the Chinese have well-authenticated records of official acts that go back much further than those of any other nation, and that heads cannot be lopped off, even in China, without due process of law, except by bandits.

All we know about the game itself has been written for us by foreigners, resident in China, whose sphere of observation has been very limited, and most of their descriptions have been censored for us by the trade in sets. Each importer likes to have his own rules. They go with the sets.

But when it comes to the origin of the game, accuracy is no longer required and the imagina-


tion of the press agent has free play. Some of the alleged legends as to the history of Mah Jong make interesting reading. It is to be regretted that none of them is backed up by authentic reference to any Chinese work, in a country that has a world-wide reputation for its literature. It may be interesting to glance at a few of the more popular tales which have found their way into print, and are copied in the text books of various authors.

The writer who goes furthest back into the past for the origin of Mah Jong insists that it was played to pass the time in the Ark, and points to the fact that during the forty days and nights which that vessel spent in an unprecedented rain storm, East was the Prevailing Wind, and has held the premier position in the game ever since. Unfortunately for this version, circumstantial evidence goes to show that it would have been impossible to play Mah Jong in the ark, as there was not light enough on that vessel to see the discards, there being only one window, which we are told (Gen. VI, 16), was only eighteen inches square, although the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and three stories high. Besides, the door was shut fast and the ventilation must have been very unsatisfactory. We all know the mental torpidity of a stuffy card room.

The game has frequently been attributed to Confucius, which led the Spanish writer, C. de Oteyza, whose work on the game is published in


Manila, to investigate the matter while in China. He tells us that he has, with the assistance of a good Chinese interpreter, searched through innumerable Chinese documents for data that would permit him to name the inventor of Mah Jong. He finds the game was first played in China about 500 B.C. He does not say how it took 1,848 years to get there from Mount Ararat, as the ark landed there in 2348 B.C. He goes on to say that this date of the appearance of the game in various Chinese Provinces coincides with the travels of the great Chinese philosopher and teacher, Confucius, who at that time was preaching his new doctrines. If we analyze the game we find its most valuable pieces are the three "cardinal" cards or tiles, which are to-day known as Dragons. These are Chung (middle) the Red. Fa (prosperity) the Green. Po (white) the White. These correspond to the three cardinal virtues taught by Confucius; Benevolence, Sincerity, and Filial Piety.

In the life of Confucius, as set forth in the Chinese edition of his works, it is clearly shown that he was very fond of birds, which accounts for his giving to this game the name it still bears, Sparrow, or Hemp Bird. Those who consider the game too perfect to have been the work of any one man are reminded of the great philosopher's favorite motto: "It is important to do well what is done." There is no doubt that the game has always looked very complicated and confusing to


foreigners. Mr. Oteyza asks, Why not? It is a Confucian game.

Among the technical terms still extant in the game the most familiar are "pung," "chee," and "kong." Confucius was of the Kong family, his full name being Kong-Fu-Tze. He married a girl of the Ki-Koan family, whose name was Che, and he accordingly adopted the term "chee," to connect, by Americans corrupted into "chow," for a sequence. It is most unfortunate that Mr. Oteyza was not allowed to take photographs of the original documents that he consulted.

Bringing history down to later dates, we find a sudden descent in the mental and social scale from the intellectual genius of a great philosopher to the matter-of-fact mind of a common fisherman. This man's name, we are told, was Sze, and he lived on the shores of the East Chien Lake, near Ningpo. There were many fishermen in that locality, but Sze was more enterprising and studied the details of his business with greater care and attention.

It occurred to him that instead of wading in from the shore with a net, which is still the common method, he could do better by fishing from boats, but the boats were expensive. His family of nine brothers got together and loaned him the cash to invest in a number of boats, and he employed a number of helpers from other villages. He had excellent luck until some stormy days overtook his little fleet, and his fishermen, who


had never been on the water in rough, weather before, were all taken seasick, and had to come ashore.

The family finances being involved, a council was held and it was decided that this strange sickness must be a matter of the mind, as the fishermen were otherwise in perfect health. Therefore the thing to do was to devise something that would take their minds off the rolling motion of the boats, which the men imagined made them sick. Accordingly, Fisherman Sze and his nine brothers put their heads together and after mature thought and deliberation devised the game of Mah Jong, which so completely absorbed the interest of the men that they no longer thought anything about seasickness.

The only thing about this legend that comes anywhere near the truth is the location of the origin of the game as having been near Ningpo. Those who have ever been seasick know only too well that there is very little imagination connected with it. If it would cure seasickness, every Atlantic steamer would carry about a thousand sets.

Another story is to the effect that the game originated at the court of King Wu. Woo, it should be observed, is the Chinese term for winning, or going Mah Jong. This potentate picked the year 472 B.C. to introduce the game to his consort and her court ladies, so that they might amuse themselves with it while he devoted his attention to


the Geisha girls. We are told that he was afterward accused of having stolen the idea from some of the disciples of Confucius. This caused him to issue an edict that the game should be restricted to the Emperors and their friends for 200 years, and that it should be known by the name of Pê-ling, or the bird of a hundred intelligencies, a lark-like creature, or legendary bird, sacred in the Chinese faith, which may now be seen reproduced on many Chinese tapestries and embroideries. The penalty to be paid by one of any other class of society playing the game during those 200 years was the loss of his head. Ladies' heads were, apparently, immune.

When this writer gave the game the name of Pê-ling he spilled the beans. He tells us later that he was first shown the game in China about 1902, by Li Hung Chang, "who called it Pê-ling," which is very curious for two reasons. In the first place, no one in China ever heard the game called by that name, which was invented by a press agent in New York less than two years ago, as a substitute for "Sparrow," under the mistaken impression that the ideograph represented a hundred "intelligencies" and also a bird. In the second place, Li Hung Chang was dead when he showed this writer the game and called it by that name.

I have spent a good deal of time and labor in looking up the history and antecedents of various games, especially cards' and have usually been.


rewarded by getting at some substantial facts; but I have never run across such an amount of pure bunk as is to be found in the alleged history of Mah Jong.

On every hand I find persons who insist that they were the first to introduce the game to foreigners, or the first to put English numerals on the tiles, or the first to call the suits by their English names, Bamboos, Characters, and Circles, or Dots; but none of their claims will stand up under investigation, as will presently be shown.

In the first place, Mah Jong is comparatively a new game, and we are not upsetting any ancient rules or traditions in adapting it to American ideas. Because we got the game from China is no reason why we should not change it to suit American ideas, especially as it is not impossible that the Chinese got the game in the first place from us, as will appear presently, and changed it to suit their ideas. We got Rounders from England, but we play Baseball, which is nothing but an improvement on Rounders. We got Poker from Persia, but we improved it by playing it with the full pack, and adding the draw. Skat was the national game of Germany; but we improved it by cutting out the blind solo. We got Bridge from England, but we have changed it a dozen times to suit American ideas. Now they are changing their game to agree with ours. We got Whist from England, and at once proceeded


to cut out the honors, and the "single-double-and-the-rub."

Several writers have called attention to the resemblance of Mah Jong to our game of Coon Can, Rum, or Rummy. These games again, are taken from the Mexican national game of Conquian, which is undoubtedly a very old game. It was well known in the west at least sixty years ago, and probably earlier. I myself played it in Texas in the early 70's. The game has the same elements, striving to get sequences of three cards, or three or four of a kind; requiring every card taken from the discard to be left face up on the table and used to form a combination of some kind, in which it differs from Bum, where a card can be put into the hand and saved for future possibilities. The two games, Conquian and Mah Jong, are also alike in requiring the player to get one more card than dealt to him originally, to complete the hand, and in blocking the adversary by exhausting the pack before he can get his hand completed.

All games "arrive" through a gradual process of evolution, but the evidence of their origin is not always remarked, although it may be very evident upon being pointed out. I have known persons who played dominoes for years without remarking the fact that they were simply flattened dice; dice being probably the oldest game in the world that is played with apparatus of any kind. All games seem to belong to certain fami-


lies, their resemblance to one another in the same group being easily traced.

Mah Jong is not a dice or a domino game, but clearly belongs to the card family. Almost every Chinese writer on the game refers to the tiles as "cards." In the great family of card games, we have two main branches; games in which the object is to win tricks, and games in which the object is to match up cards of the same suit or denomination, or both.

The matching up branch is, apparently, the older of the two, and Mah Jong belongs to that branch, its fundamental principle being to match up cards of the same suit in sequences, triplets, or fours. Its foundation, therefore, clearly rests upon some older and forgotten game which was played with cards, and the transfer of those cards from paper to bone can be shown to be of comparatively recent date.

Going back into Chinese history, while it is true that we find no allusion to any such game as Mah Jong, in its present form, we can find abundant reference to other games, notably chess, and occasionally to cards. From these it is interesting to trace the development of the game which we call Mah Jong from a very early period of Chinese history.

The game of Yieh-tze, whose inventor is unknown to us, is said to be the first of the many Chinese games that led finally to the game of Mah Jong. In a very old Chinese book entitled,


"Tien Lu Shih Yu," we are told that the Princess Chang Kue of the Tang dynasty was exceedingly fond of this game of Yieh-tze, and pestered all her friends and relations to play it with her. As persons in her position usually set the fashion, one can easily imagine that to play Yieh-tze was as essential a part of a courtier's education as it is now a social duty to play bridge. One thing is certain, which is that we have authentic evidence that this game was in existence at least twelve hundred years ago, or centuries before cards were even known in Europe.

Later, in the reign of Hwei Tsung of the Northern Sung dynasty (A.D. 1101-1125) a certain statesman proposed to establish a game called Ya Pei, which was played with thirty-two cards. We are told that this game was officially adopted by Kao Tsung, a later emperor, and proclaimed to the people. The cards with which this game was played were made of either ivory or wood, oblong in shape, similar to that of our present Mah Jong cards or tiles, and were commonly called Ku Pei, or "bone cards."

According to a rare old Chinese book on games by Chang Chao, a certain Sze Ma Wen Kuang, famous as a statesman during the Sung dynasty, should be credited with the invention of this game; but there is also a legend in the city of of Ka-Shing that a native there by the name of Chu Mi-Chen was the inventor. In the reign of Tien Tsung in the Ming dynasty


(1621-1628) a game called Ma Tiae (Hanging Horse) was invented. This game was played with forty cards, which were made of paper, but were similar in appearance to the cards used in the game of Ya Pei. These forty cards were divided into four different suits, numbered from I to 9, just as we now number the bamboos, characters and circles in the game of Mah Jong, to which were added four extra "flowers." These cards were decorated with characters from fiction, to make the game more realistic. The four suits came in some way to be thought of as the four feet of a horse, thus suggesting the name of "Hanging Horse."

There is a game popularly known in China as Ku Pei, which literally means "bone cards," and is the modern game of Chinese dominoes. The counters used by the Chinese in playing Mah Jong are marked after certain cards in Ku Pei. (See the illustrations of these counters in the chapter on apparatus.) The game of Ma Tiae is still played in China. There is a set of cards for it in the Pennsylvania University Museum, where it is described as being from Ningpo, and in which the suits are described by Mr. Wilkinson as "cash," "strings," and "myriads."

From information kindly supplied me by T. B. Pun, Trade Commissioner to the United States, it appears that some forty or fifty years ago two brothers in the city of Ningpo developed the game of Mah Jong from the earlier game of Ma


Tiae, and that a district magistrate of Chekiang Province, in which, the city of Ningpo is located, took a great fancy to the game, and the people of the entire district followed his lead, and from thence it gradually spread over all China. A very similar thing seems to have happened about

three years ago in Shanghai, when two brothers named White took a fancy to the game of Mah Jong and introduced it to the English-speaking clubs. The social position of the White brothers was enough to insure the game's being taken up by all the best people among the foreign residents.

The earliest known sets of which I can find any record were sent to the Columbia Exposition in Chicago, in 1893, by W. H. Wilkinson, British Consul at Seoul. The tiles, if not the game


played with them, were called Chung Fa. These are now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The set brought over by Stewart Culin, who went to China on the Brooklyn Academy of Arts and Science Expedition, 1909, and which is now in the Brooklyn Museum, is labeled "Chinese Dominoes." The set in the Museum of the Long Island Historical Society, Brooklyn, N. Y., is from the port of Fuhchau, which lies south of Shanghai. It was the gift of the Hon. George B. Glover, formerly U. S. Consul at Fuhchau. It is also called Chinese Dominoes. Neither of these sets makes any allusion to the name of Mah Jong, or Ma Chang, or Ma Diao, or Sparrow, although the One of Bamboos in each set is a bird.

When one comes to investigate the development of the sets with which the game is played, one finds one's self involved in a maze of contradictions and hearsay evidence, without any dates that can be verified except in rare cases. The first sets that were brought to this country had no numerals upon them. In other respects they are practically identical with the sets we use to-day, except that the designs for the Seasons are much more ornate, and better executed. The coloring of the tiles is also superior.

Just when the numerals were first put upon the Chinese sets it is impossible to say. Several claim to be the originators of the idea, but they cannot prove it. Joseph P. Babcock says he put


English numerals on the pieces in July, 1919; but he does not say it had never been done before. There are two gentlemen living in New York to-day who were engaged on the Grand Canal in China at the time of the war, and who learned Mah Jong from some of their Chinese companions on a house boat. One of these gentlemen had occasion to discuss a war supply contract with a high Chinese official one day, and this official suggested that they postpone closing the deal until he heard further from headquarters, as they had information that an armistice was to be signed next day in Europe.

In order to pass the time, he suggested a game of Mah Jong, and laid emphasis on the fact that the American would find it easy to play with the Chinese official's set as it had the English numerals on the pieces. Here we have a definite date, as we all know the day the armistice was signed was November 18, 1918, months before July, 1919. Many of the earlier sets had numerals on the Character set only, as the numbers of the other pieces were obvious.

Mr. H. G. Boulon, who was with the American Trading Company in Shanghai from 1913 to 1922, tells me that he first played the game which he knew as Mah Jong in 1914. He had watched the game for some time and understood it well enough to play it, but always excused himself from joining the experts in the tea-houses by saying he could not read the Chinese characters


on the tiles, the real reason being that he felt he would be outclassed as a player. One day in 1914, however, he went to one of the tea-houses to get some contracts signed, and a merchant with whom he did business came up to him with a set of tiles, saying, "Now can read. Now can play," at the same time showing him a set with the English numerals on the tiles. Several similar cases, going back nine or ten years, have been given to me by past residents in China.

Just how or when the Flowers and Seasons were introduced, I have been unable to discover. The Chinese players use them only when they want to make the play high, and upon occasion they will put sixteen of these tiles into the set, instead of eight only. There are no Seasons in the set sent to the Columbia Exposition in 1893 by W. H. Wilkinson; but there are in the set at the Brooklyn Museum, which was brought from Shanghai by Stewart Gulin in 1909. They are now universal in all the American sets.

Another interesting historical point that I took some trouble to clear up was how we got the English names for the suit cards. Mr. Joseph P. Babcock, in a signed article, Saturday Evening Post, December 15, 1923, appears to claim the honor of having invented the names; Bamboos, Circles or Dots, and Characters. I cannot quite agree with this, as I find those names given to the suits in a book published in 1895, or twenty-eight years before Mr. Babcock paid any atten-


tion to the matter, and I have numerous letters on file from persons who played the game in China ten years ago, using those terms.

The following description of the Mah Jong set in the Museum of the Long Island Historical Society in Brooklyn is to be found on page 519 of Stewart Culin's "Chinese Games with Dice and Dominoes," published by the Smithsonian Institution, in 1895.

"First, there are 4 suits of 9 pieces each, marked in red, green, and blue, with from I to 9 circles. "Second, 4 suits of 9 pieces each, marked in red and green, with from I to 9 narrow rectangles. "Third, 4 suits of 9 pieces each, marked with characters, 'yat man,' one ten thousand, to 'kau man,' or nine ten thousand."

The only term we do not use to-day is "rectangles." As pointed out by several residents in China, any one who ever saw bamboos cut and stacked in the markets or the custom house, would at once recognize the resemblance to the design on the tiles, and in China this set is called "Sawk" or "Sock Chee," or simply "Sok," or "Soh," which are Chinese names for Bamboo.

All the terms used in the game as played in America and England to-day are corruptions of Chinese words, just as the name of the game itself is a corruption. According to Ly Yu Sang, the author of "Sparrow, or Ma-ch'iau," which gives an excellent idea of the fundamental phi-


losophy and intellectual or spiritual meaning of the game and its terms, these corruptions can all be traced.

To begin with, there is no such tile as a Dragon in the Chinese game. These tiles are known as "Extremes," and represent Earth, Air, and Sky in that order by the Bed, Green, and White. The correct design for the Bed is "Center," as shown in all the illustrations of this book. The correct design for the Green is "Prosperity," which is also the one used throughout this work.

The term "Dragon" probably originated through the desire to have the tiles more highly ornamented in the best sets, so the more elaborate design of the ideograph for "Dragon" was substituted for the simpler one of "Center." The ideograph for "Phoenix" for the Green, usually accompanies the Dragon design in the more expensive sets that now come from China. These are both illustrated in another part of this book, in the chapter on How to Choose a Set.

The names of the sets, Ly Yu Sang tells us, are by foreigners taken from their appearance, instead of from their meaning. What we have always called Circles, or Dots, are actually Wheels, and what we call Bamboos, because they look so much like the bundles of green Bamboos which are such a common sight in China, are properly the Axes, and represent the Axis of the Earth. The Chinese themselves usually call this suit Sok, or Soh, which is their word for Bamboo.


The suit which, has been designated by foreigners for more than thirty years as "Characters" he tells ns should be known for what it actually is, "Numbers," that being the only suit that bears any numbers in the Chinese sets, although, of course, the numbers themselves are in the Chinese ideograph. They are symbolic of the belief that the destiny of man may be revealed in numbers.

The little cylindrical box which we call the Ming, should be called "Chuang," the original meaning of which was a place in which boxing exhibitions were held, and symbolizes a challenge to play, or the East Wind position in the game.

A sequence is properly called a Ch'i, meaning categorical arrangement. In the infinitive, Ch'i means to take, as in taking a discard. There is another Chinese word Ch'i, meaning to eat, and in many of the books published on the game in China, notably Lindsell's we find repeated use of the expression "eating" in the sense of taking a discard. The translation "to eat," having been taken by foreigners in mistake for the translation "to take," and learned from lower class Chinese, who use pidgin-English, we find many writers using the slang word "chow," which means "eats," and is a noun. It is about on a par with our slang term "skirt" for a girl.

To form a triplet, the correct Chinese term is P'ing, meaning to add to. This we have corrupted into "Pung."


Four of a kind in Chinese is Yi Kang, when the set is formed by taking a discard. This means "to effect a change," or change the triplet to a four. This has been shortened in China to "Kang" and our word "Kong" is simply a corruption.

That English or Americans can ever be persuaded to abandon the familiar terms, Dots, Characters, and Bamboos, for Wheels, Numbers, and Axes, is very doubtful. Habits once formed are very tenacious.

When we come to the history of the introduction of this game to America and Europe, we are compelled to specify just what we are talking about. Do we mean the sporadic cases in which the game was introduced to various family or social circles, more as a curiosity than anything else; or do we mean its introduction to the public at large, on a commercial scale, accompanied by business propaganda and advertising, conducted by persons who were interested only in the sale of the sets with which the game is played?

The commercial introduction to America began in 1922, but the game was known to many individuals in different parts of the world long before that day, and sets are to be found that have been for years in the possession of persons who did not even know what they were for, beyond the fact that they represented some sort of a game.


From the best information at hand I am led to believe that the game was little known outside a few select circles in China previous to the Boxer Rebellion) and that the sets with which it was played were probably made to order, or purchased as works of art, and were not shown in shops as part of the regular stock in trade. We have a parallel in the Japanese sword.

It is certainly remarkable, in view of the popularity that the game has achieved, not only lately in America, but for more than a dozen years in China itself, that some intelligent Chinese writer has not come forward with the facts, which must be well within the personal knowledge of thousands of persons now living in China. That the game has been a leading recreation in the teahouses in all parts of the Republic for many years is known to every one who has visited that country. A foreigner may easily overlook a thing which is only one of the many strange things that he sees in a land where everything is strange, but a native would certainly be expected to remark a sudden craze for a new game. Our literature is full of bridge.

So popular did the game become that it was bound eventually to attract the attention of foreigners. One traveler tells us that in some places it was impossible to sleep for the noise of constant rattling of the tiles on the smooth wooden-topped tables in some neighboring tea-house. In


many of the gambling houses, which, foreigners are all supposed to visit, Mah Jong completely superseded fan tan, which is one of the reasons that the Chinese rules about the preliminaries of play are arranged with a view to eliminating all chance of trickery in building the walls and drawing the tiles for play. Cheating is practically impossible at this game without a confederate, either at the table or looking on at the opponents' hands.

One writer informs us that many of the Belgian builders of the Hankow railroad learned to play Mah Jong and took the game back to Europe with them, but that for some reason or other, it did not spread. It is also stated that the Germans who were interned near Pekin during the war passed many of the weary hours playing Mah Jong, and probably took the game back to the Fatherland with them; but there does not seem to have been any further attention paid to it there.

The reason for this is not far to seek. Among the many business men who traveled extensively and regularly in China there must have been many who were struck by the fascination the game seemed to have for the merchant and official classes. One of these, Henry M. Snyder, the author of "Snyder's Mah Jung Manual," who spends six months of every year in China as a publishers' agent, wrote to the editor of Vanity Fair some years ago, calling his attention to the


game and its possibilities as an American amusement, and suggesting that Vanity Fair should write it up.

This letter was sent to me in Florida, but I was quite unable to give any opinion on the subject for precisely the same reason that the game did not spread in Belgium or Germany. There were no sets to play it with. The mere description of a game gives one no chance to estimate its value as an amusement, unless one can try it out with the proper equipment. No matter how much the Belgians and Germans may have liked the game they played in China, it is very doubtful if more than one or two of them took back with them a set of tiles, which are not only expensive, but inconvenient in both size and weight for a soldier's kit, or a workman's bag.

The first attempts to make the game possible as a popular amusement by supplying the sets to play it with in sufficient quantity seem to have been made by two men, about 1919'. One of these was Joseph P. Babcock, who was at that time the Soochow representative of the Standard Oil Company. The other was his friend, A. B. Hagar, manager of the Shanghai branch of the International Correspondence Schools. We are told that it was in July, 1919, that Mr. Babcock tried to interest Mr. Hagar in the game and the possibilities of exploiting it in the United States. Up to that time Mr. Hagar tells us, he had considered it too intricate and baffling ever to be popular


with foreigners, an opinion which had. been confirmed while watching the game while serving as a volunteer policeman during the war. He had also been told by persons who had lived in China almost all their lives that foreigners could never learn the game. (It was so Confucian!)

Upon Mr. Babcock's representation that the difficulties foreigners had with the game were largely due to the want of English translations of the terminology, and that the whole thing could be simplified by cutting out many of the frills, retaining only the essentials or basic scores, and by always putting English numerals on the tiles, Mr. Hagar began to see the light.

Shortly after this, Mr. Babcock put his rules in print. This was in September, 1920, but it was not until two years later that W. A. Hammond, a lumber merchant of San Francisco, undertook the importation of sets in large quantities. Mr. Hammond informs me that up to September I, 1922, he imported $50,000 worth of sets, out of a total of $56,000 reported by the Chamber of Commerce as having been shipped from Shanghai, up to that time.

In order to market these sets, the Mah Jongg Sales Co. of San Francisco was formed, and was fortunate in securing the services of Mr. J. M. Tees as vice-president and general manager, than whom none seems to understand better the gentle art of persuading people to buy something that they do not really want. Under his able man-


agement a propaganda campaign was started, with. exhibitions in all the principal cities of the country, free lessons on the game in all the big stores, and a liberal advertising program.

It is undoubtedly due to Mr. Babcock's original idea of cutting the frills off the old Chinese game and keeping to the simpler elements of the play, that we owe the present popularity of the game, and it is to the enterprise of those who undertook to market the sets upon a large scale that we are indebted for easy access to the paraphernalia with which the game is played.

Of course the pioneers soon had imitators, and many other firms began to import sets in quantities, so that by the Spring and Summer of 1923, in spite of the proverbial abundance of Chinese labor, the shops in Shanghai could not keep up with the demand for sets, although children of very tender years were employed in their manufacture, and materials, especially bones, were shipped from the United States in large quantities.

It seems to have occurred to another enterprising American, Mr. L. L. Harr, who had been in China in 1919 as the representative of the Grafton and Knight Belting Co., of Worcester, Mass., that these sets could be just as well made in America, and might be manufactured not only on a large scale, but would be absolutely uniform, so that pieces lost or mislaid could be easily replaced. This is practically impossible


with the imported sets, as they are all hand made, and differ considerably in the size, color, thickness of bone, and markings. Mr. Harr called his sets "Pung Chow," and he also entered the propaganda field with exhibitions and free lessons, backed up by a campaign of advertising and newspaper publicity in which fact and fiction were dished up in a way to make most interesting reading, surrounding the game with all the glamor of the East, and all the fable of a foreign land, embellished by the imagination of a marvelous press agent.

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. While there were undoubtedly a number of persons who had the rules of the game in MS form, among them two gentlemen mentioned in another part of this book, who were engaged in work connected with the Grand Canal in China during the war, there was no demand for printed rules until the sets were available in such numbers that almost every household had one. Mr. Babcock's rules were first printed in 1920, and were later distributed with the sets in which he was commercially interested. All the American writers seem to have followed his rules more or less closely, or to have copied the rules put out by others who had entered the importing field. Every importer had a score-card and rules of his own; but in the main features they stuck


closely to the original basis of the old Chinese game.

Back in China, the first person to publish a set of rules for the game, with a full description of the set and its uses, seems to have been Mr. Harold Carey, an Englishman writing under the pen name of Harold Sterling, whose first edition appeared in February, 1921, under the title of "Ma Chang," and was published by Carey and Co., in Shanghai. This book was devoted entirely to the original Chinese game, the difference between which and the present American or Babcock game, will be discussed in the chapter devoted to that subject.

Another Englishman, B. E. Lindsell, a British magistrate in Hongkong, came out with another text book, devoted exclusively to the Chinese form of the game, published under the title of "Ma Cheuk or Mah Jongg," using the double "g." This was published by Kelly and Walsh, Hongkong, in January, 1922. A week or two later, Edgar S. Winters published his book, entitled "Ma Cheuk, As Played by the Chinese," and published by Brewer & Co., Hongkong.

After this, quite a number of books were published in Canton, Hongkong, and Shanghai, but none of them had its author's name attached, and all indications of the date of publication are missing. Many of these were issued by shops that had sets for sale, or who took advantage of the popularity of the game to advertise their mer-


chandise or tea rooms by giving away the books of rules to their patrons.

Concurrent with the multiplication of text books on the game, we find various devices for playing it without going to the expense of getting an imported Chinese set of tiles. Sets were made of various compositions, of wood, and finally of card board, but all of them were really cheap or thin tiles, with printed instead of hand engraved faces.

The next step was to take the game back to its original form, and play it with cards. The faces of these cards are exact duplicates of the best tiles, and have the advantage of being large enough to be readily recognized. There being no walls to build, the game is much quicker, and the possibility of holding the cards in the hand, as at bridge, makes it an ideal game for travelers, or in any situation that there is not room enough for the tiles, or that tiles would not stand up. The difference in the methods of play will be found in the chapter devoted to the subject.

At this point history ends for the present, and prophecy begins.



THERE are one or two points upon which players in different localities or social circles do not always agree. This is chiefly because they have learned the game from some one author's book or importer's score card, and never heard of any other way. When a game suddenly becomes popular, every one seems to be anxious to pose as an authority and to show his friends how to play it, without knowing the game thoroughly himself. The sudden demand for text books or score cards, of which every importer or manufacturer of sets felt compelled to have one of his own, led writers to rush into print with all sorts of rules for the game, avoiding the copyright laws by making slight alterations in the descriptions that they copied, and offering various reasons for their rules being the real thing. One writer tells us that he "traveled extensively" in China for a number of years and made a special study of the Chinese game as played in the various Provinces, finding that it was played in almost every case in a different way. Any one who knows what it means to "travel extensively" in China naturally smiles at such statements. The difficulty of getting passports;


protection from the natives and bandits anywhere but in the largest cities; the impossibility of understanding the various dialects; and the general hostility of all Chinese to foreigners, make such a "special study in the various Provinces" a practical impossibility, even to a native. All the writers who have compiled text books on the game there evidently got their information from purely local sources. No author who wrote in Shanghai ever lived in Hong Kong, or vice versa. I have known Chinese from different parts of the Republic who could not understand each other's language; but who could sit down and play Mah Jong without any further preliminaries than to ask the local custom as to the base score; "Ten, or twenty, for Mah Jong?" A surprising number of persons who happen to have been in China at some time or other, and who gained a smattering of the game from the English-speaking friends there, but never even saw the Chinese themselves play the game, now come forward as teachers. I have known persons who played the game in China who never spoke to a native about the game except to refer some dispute about a rule to "the pantry." Many educated Chinese who could speak English well enough found that teaching Mah Jong offered a way to add substantially to their income, although their only recommendation was their nationality. Most of those I have met had never seen the game in China, or had never been


in that country, having been born here. Two years ago it was impossible, I discovered, to find any one in the section of New York that we call Chinatown, who knew anything about Mah Jong, or Ma Cheuk, or Mah anything else. Now they all know all about it, and will tell you wonderful stories of how long they played it. The result of all this has been that whenever a writer or teacher who had not thoroughly mastered the subject met with a situation that he or she had not foreseen or thought about, a rule to cover the case was invented on the spot and passed along to others, probably to be misquoted and changed again. Persons who had picked up the game from a more or less competent teacher in one or two lessons, immediately tried to show their friends all about it in a social way, constantly forgetting some part of the instructions they had received, and inventing something to cover their ignorance of the detail. I have any number of letters from persons who took lessons from teachers or relied on authors who traded on their having been in China, or having learned the game under some unusually advantageous circumstances (such as being taught by Li Hung Chang after he was dead), only to find that these teachers and writers knew the game only in its most superficial aspects. I never learn a game by reading a book about it. I get some persons who are supposed to know the game to show it to me, and after I have


learned enough to ask a few pertinent questions I usually find, if it is a new game like Mah Jong, that they know nothing more about it themselves than what they have picked out of some importer's catalog or score cards. When I was asked to write a book about the game about a year ago, I felt that the subject required much more investigation than any writer or teacher I could find had given to it. It has taken me a year, devoted to this game almost exclusively, hunting through museums, libraries, and text books; taking lessons from any one that I thought had anything to teach; discussing moot points with any one who knew; interviewing disinterested persons who had known the game in China but never wrote about it or attempted to teach it, and still I feel that I am not justified in offering anything but a first edition, with hopes of much fuller and more authentic information for a second.

The chief points of variation that one finds in different circles are of two kinds. First, some of the minor points in the scoring; second, some of the conditions under which a person shall be allowed to call Mah Jong. The first of these is comparatively unimportant; but the second is vital, as they transgress the fundamental principles of the game, and turn a highly intellectual pastime into a device for gambling, requiring no mental effort whatever. First, as to the scoring. The double for one or two of one's own Season has been touched


upon in the chapter on the Seasons. The practice of counting only 10 points, instead of a double, for both no-count and all-count hands arose, like so many other errors, from overlooking the importance of changing one part of the game to fit other changes. The Chinese usually give 10 points only for going Mah Jong. Any advance in this figure is for the sake of increasing the winnings or losings, as it evidently can have no effect whatever on the intellectual attractions of the game. They also give a double for either a no-count or an all-count hand. As there is nothing in the no-count hand but the bonus for woo, the double meant 10 points. In changing the "base score," as it is called, from 10 to 20, the American writers forgot to change the 10 points bonus for these no-count hands to 20, or to restore the double. A little carelessness in glancing at the Chinese scores, and finding both hands were a double, and seeing that in one case it meant 10 points, taking it for granted that 10 points would do for the other also, is responsible for this error. It is quite true that for a no-count hand 10 points or a double of the base score of 10 points is the same thing, but it is not by any means the same thing for an all-count hand, as the double applies to every set in the hand, as well as to the base score. No-count hands are usually made by timid players, who "dog" everything, or they are a


matter of chance, and 10 points seem to be quite enough reward for doing nothing particular, but just drifting along to success. The all-count hand, on the contrary, is invariably planned for, even at the risk of missing chances to go Mah Jong, and should be rewarded with a double if successful. Calculation shows that the proportionate difficulty of getting an all-count hand, to say nothing of the risk of being left at the post with it only half completed is well worth the compensation of a double, instead of the paltry 10 points that some give it. There is a bonus score of 2 points for drawing the winning tile from the wall, or filling "the only place," such as an interior or one-end sequence, or the eyes. Some writers contend that this spoils a no-count hand. The Chinese allow the player to sink the 2 points and take the 10. It is manifestly unfair to allow a pure accident, like drawing the winning piece instead of taking it from a discard, to upset a score which was the only thing left in the hand to play for. In other cases the rules give a bonus for being lucky enough to draw the winning tile; in this case they take away a bonus of 10 points for the same luck. This is poor logic. There was at one time a similar blemish in the game of Skat, which was quickly removed by American players, in spite of the protests that they were tampering with the established laws of a national game. The law was illogical, and they


changed it, and that settled it, as it always will eventually, when the fault is pointed out. The present rule is to allow 10 points bonus for a hand that is all sequences and a worthless pair, no matter how that hand was completed. A pair of Dragons, or of the player's own or the Dominating Wind would, of course, preclude the bonus. To have a player break up a pair that is his own or Dominating Wind to complete a no-count hand and then penalize him for completing it by drawing the winning piece is handicapping him unjustly.

Click here to learn more about another (earlier) important work by Foster.

Foster was one of the experts behind the creation of "The American Official Laws of Mah-Jongg"

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