What’s So Special About Playing Mahjong During Chinese Spring Festival?

HSK 3 quiz

You may know that “麻将 (májiàng) Mahjong” is the most common form of entertainment during Chinese Spring Festival, but do you know why the Chinese are so keen to play Mahjong instead of other leisure activities like poker?

What are the different values and cultural connotations that poker and Mahjong exhibit from Eastern and Western cultures?
Chinese Culture Lesson: 麻将 (Májiàng) Mahjong
“麻将 (Májiàng) Mahjong” is a tool of mass entertainment, but also represents traditional culture, some people even call it “国粹 (guócuì) the quintessence of Chinese culture.”

As any common Chinese person will tell you, playing Mahjong is one of those quintessential pastimes that helps relieve stress, regulate people’s moods and help them relax, but also gets their minds going and is the activity to enjoy during their downtime!
The Quintessence of Chinese Culture: Beijing Opera

1. Mahjong And Poker Contain the Different Values of Chinese And Western People.

HSK 3 quiz
I. What do the different patterns of mahjong tiles mean to Chinese people?

Mahjong hits on the Chinese people’s most simple wishes. “条 (tiáo)” in Chinese mahjong represents copper money, (a kind of ancient currency), which expresses the greatest desire, which is the yearning for wealth.

During New Year’s celebrations, the most common greeting is “恭喜发财,步步高升 (gōngxǐ fācái, bùbùgāoshēng) wishing that a person makes a fortune or wishing friends and relatives an early promotion and further development in their careers.”

Therefore, “发 (fā)” in Chinese mahjong means getting rich. “中 (zhōng)” refers to “中状元 (zhòng zhuàngyuán) getting first on an exam,” and Chinese parents hope that children can pass their college entrance examination smoothly or receive a promotion at work.

Therefore, we as Chinese people, while enjoying the leisurely New Year festivities, of course, like to play Mahjong, not only because it’s fun and relaxing, but also because it expresses these well-wishes for the future.

HSK 3 quiz
II. What do the different suits of poker mean?

The four colors and shapes on the poker cards represent the 4 main industries in Western culture.

The “黑桃 (hēi táo) spade” represents a spear, which is a symbol for “军人 (jūnrén) soldiers,” “红桃 (hóng táo) the heart” represents a red heart which stands for a priest “牧师 (mùshī),” “梅花 (méihuā) the club” represents “三叶草 (sān yè cǎo) the clover,” which symbolizes “农业 (nóngyè) agriculture.” and “方块 (fāngkuài) diamonds” represent bricks and tile, which stand for “工匠 (gōngjiàng) craftsman.”

This reflects the structure of western society at the time of its origination.

Nowadays the spade represents the olive leaf, which symbolizes peace; the heart represents the actual shape of the heart, symbolizing wisdom and love; the club is the three leaf clover which stands for luck; and the diamond has the shape of the gem, which signifies wealth and prosperity.

2. The Rules of Poker And Mahjong Embodies the Different Personality Characteristics of Chinese And Western People.

The rules for playing poker begin when the cards are dealt. What is dealt is very important, and higher cards beat lower cards.

Players count on their abilities of deception or intelligence if dealt a bad hand in order to win. The greatest chances of winning are of course when the player is dealt a high hand, and this is like destiny.

The focus is on the rules of the game, and it requires ability and strategy in order to play well. As such, it shows how Western culture advocates for and admires individualism, as well as focus on the ability and strength of individuals.

Mahjong, on the other hand, starts with rolling the dice to decide what kind of hand is going to be dealt, and in fact, getting a certain hand isn’t essential or that important, because what comes after decides how the game develops.

The points in the game are not based on each suit’s value but instead is based on the sum of the whole and how it works together in order to play a certain role in the game.

So, you can see the Chinese system and way of looking at things through the way the game is structured. Chinese people see the whole as the most important and that they are one of a group, without as much of an individualistic attitude.

Playing poker is a fierce competition where opponents enjoy facing off against one another and use their intellect and wisdom to outsmart their opponents.

Playing Mahjong, on the other hand, is more like a stroll with a friend, laughing and smiling while playing your tiles. The object is to create harmony and togetherness. Through togetherness wealth and prosperity are born!

Key Learning Points:

1. 麻将 (Májiàng) Mahjong


Zhōngguó rén hěn xǐhuan dǎ májiàng.
Chinese people like playing Mahjong very much.

2. 娱乐 (Yúlè) amusement; entertainment; recreation


Dǎ pūkè shì yí xiàng qīngsōng de yúlè huódòng.
Playing poker is an easy recreational activity.

3. 活动 (Huódòng) activities.


Yīshēng jiànyì tā duō zuò hùwài huódòng.
The doctor advised him to do more outdoor activities.

4. 性格 (Xìnggé) personalities


Zhè duì shuāngbāotāi zhǎng de hěn xiàng, xìnggé què wánquán bùtóng.
The twins look alike, but their personalities are completely different.

In a small way, we can see the differences in attitudes towards life, people, making money, and work through analyzing these games and how they reflect the different cultures from which they originate!

So let’s take a look at what you’ve learned and test you on it with a little quiz!

We would love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know your thoughts about these two games, your experience of playing Mahjong, or any other comments! We would love for you to share with us!


HSK 3 quiz

1. Read the dialogue and answer the question below.

Xiǎo Míng: Nǐ xǐhuan dǎ májiàng ma?
小明: 你喜欢打麻将吗?

Xiǎo Hóng: Bù, wǒ zuìjìn gèng xǐhuan dǎ pūkè.

Which form of entertainment does Xiao Hong like recently?

A. Xiao Hong likes playing poker recently.
B. Xiao Hong likes playing Mahjong recently.
C. Xiao Hong doesn’t like playing Mahjong recently.
D. Xiao Hong doesn’t like playing Mahjong nor poker recently.

Chinese Culture
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