Mahjong in China
Lately I realized how important mahjong is to the daily life in China, especially in that village where my mom lives. It’s not an overstatement that, mahjong has become one of the popular games there.
If people just play it as a regular game, that’s totally fine. It’s one kind of entertainment, and helps people to sharpen their minds. But sometimes, the game becomes a way of gamble. When money is involved, it changes the whole meaning of the game.
I lived at my mom’s place for 3+ months, and witnessed how mahjong is part of the village life there. During the winter, the farmers have more free time. Many choose to play mahjong. On most of the mahjong tables, there is money flowing around, big or small.
The games affect many families in that village. In some families, only the husbands play it. In some households, only the wives love it. It’s not uncommon to see both the husband and wife get involved, nice teamwork. The resentment surfaced out when the spouse lost money. Only quite a few families stay away from mahjong.
To many folks, “not involved” is not an option. If they have money, and like to take the chance, they would sit at the table to participate. For those who love the game, but don’t want to lose the money, they are the sincere audience.
My dad and mom never had anything to do with mahjong. My brother and I don’t know anything about it either.
Out of curiosity, one day, I liked to see how a mahjong place looked like. I dropped in at the most popular mahjong place in that village. The hostess is my classmate’s mom, and she knew me. I heard that, the host family takes small commissions from each round of the game. Sure, they had to run extra utility to host the games.
At the entrance, I was hesitant to walk in, as there were 2 dogs in the yard. The barking dogs alerted the people in the house, and many stood up to check what’s going on. I guess they were nervous about being caught by the cops.
Theoretically, it’s illegal to gamble over there. Offenders and host families could be fined or jailed if caught. But the fact is that, even some of the cops could be gamblers, once they are off duty.
Anyway, false alarms. The hostess came out and greeted me, and the game resumed. The whole room was about 250 square feet, and 20 people were there. One table was on, with 2 guys and 2 gals. And the rest were the quiet observers, either sitting or crouching there. Each guy smoked like a chimney. The air in the room was horrible. I guess the ladies in the room didn’t mind the dirty air.
I recognized one guy on the table. He is my friend’s husband, with a typical poker face. My friend told me earlier that, her husband was a frequent client of that place.
The gambling had a lot of impacts to her family. At the beginning of their marriage, she was very mad at her man’s gambling. She tried to change him, and failed. I guess lately she accepted him as is, and started playing the game, too. Can’t beat them? Just join them. There are two old Chinese sayings to mimic this scenario: use poison to attack poison; once you are on a pirate boat, just be a pirate.
Mahjong is a well-beloved game, not only in that remote village, but also in many cities in China. The games in the cities are more an entertainment, and probably no money is involved. 3 years ago, I was visiting the West Lake in the city Hang Zhou, a beautiful place. On the south side of the lake, there was a game corner. Some played mahjong, and others played Chinese chess. Retirees gathered there, chatted, had fun, and enjoyed the lake scenery. That was cool.
One time I saw a picture someone took in the city Cheng Du. It was an extremely hot summer. The residents brought out the tables and chairs, and set them up in a creek. With the pant legs rolled high, feet cooled in the running water, they played the mahjong. It looked like a life in the paradise.
Why do the people in China like mahjong? That’s a question related to sociology, psychology, history, and home economics. I really don’t know. Probably they want to win? Or just for socialization and entertainment? Or they are bored, and don’t have a better hobby?
Dear readers, have you heard about the mahjong game? Do you know how to play it?