Like every game, mahjong has its superstitions

By Sylvana Chan


Image courtesy of Flickr user persma.

Image courtesy of Flickr user persma.

The origins of the popular Chinese game of mahjong have been a subject of much debate. Some mahjong enthusiasts claim the game was invented by Confucius as early as 500 BC. Others insist the game originated in mid-nineteenth century Shanghai. There is little dispute, however, surrounding the game’s mass appeal: it transcended its status as a local fad into a worldwide phenomenon that captivates Chinese and non-Chinese, young and old, aficionados and the curious alike.

Like every game, mahjong has its superstitions. Larry Young of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England has played mahjong regularly for more than 30 years. According to the Hong Kong native, “All gamblers have superstitions.” Sometimes, he puts a piece of ginger in his pocket while he plays to ward off bad luck.

Other players swear by the following: wearing red undergarments for good luck (red symbolizes luck and prosperity); getting up for a change of scenery during a losing streak to turn the tides; praying or even making an offering to the gods before a game; stowing away all books in the vicinity of the game (the word “book” in Chinese is phonetically similar to the word “lose”); and not touching players on the shoulder while they play for fear of disturbing their fortunes.

Shiqi Hu, another fan of the game, is a junior at Boston College from Guangzhou, China. “Some people believe picking the right seat around the mahjong table brings good luck and will increase your probability of winning,” says Hu.

Chinese superstitions also occur beyond the mahjong table. Rumor has it that the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas remodeled its old entrance because Asian guests did not like to enter through the massive, gold lion. They believed this to be a sign of bad luck, as the casino was literally “swallowing” their wealth.

Whether these colorful superstitions can truly alter one’s luck remains uncertain, but their prevalence speaks volumes about mahjong’s role as a key facet of Chinese culture.


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