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Chinese Culture Lesson: 麻将 (májiàng) Mahjong

May. 3, 2017

Chinese General Mahjong

It’s very likely you have heard of Mahjong before, you might have even played some version of it on the computer or your phone. Or, perhaps you saw the Chinese mafia in movies playing Mahjong. But, do you know its everyday significance in China?

麻将 (májiàng) Mahjong

Note: “将” has 3 different pronunciations: jiàng, qiāng, and jiāng. The different pronunciations gives the words different meanings. When speaking of the game Mahjong, you should pronounce “将” as “jiàng.”

Zuótiān wǒ zài péi nǎinai dǎ májiàng
昨天      我  在  陪  奶奶  打    麻将!
Yesterday, I played Mahjong with my grandma.

Jenny xǐhuān dǎ májiàng!
Jenny   喜欢  打    麻将!
Jenny likes to play Mahjong!

Mahjong can mean something different to everyone, but to many it carries the feeling of family. In my family, every year when we get together for a family reunion on the Spring Festival, my family and I will play a couple rounds of Mahjong together while surrounded by the happy festive atmosphere of spending a holiday together. You also might see older people gathered together outside playing Mahjong for a whole afternoon with friends.

Mahjong is originally from China and is called “麻雀 (máquè)” in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao. It is an ancient strategic game used for entertainment and the pieces are usually made of bamboo, bone or plastic. There are 136 pieces and each are engraved with words or patterns. It is played by 4 people and is a very popular cultural game.

Mahjong is considered a traditional cultural treasure because of its charm and rich background, as well its unique features such as educational and need of strategy to play the game. By now I am sure you are wondering, so what about the gambling? In reality, there are some people who do not approve of the game because it is also used as a way to gamble. I recommend not using money when playing this game so you don’t develop this bad habit. This game can be played with friends, fellow students and family as a way to spend time together. It doesn’t have to become a way to gamble!

When someone wins the game, he or she may say “我和了” to tell others that she or he is the winner in this round:

Wǒ hú le.
我   和 了。
I have completed the set. (won the game)

Note: “和” also has many different pronunciations: , huò, huó, , and . Each way gives the word a different meaning, and in the case of Mahjong you should pronounce it as “.”

1. Which of the following is not a pronunciation for the character “将”?

A. jiàng
B. qiāng
C. jiāng
D. jiā

2. Which of the following means you won the game?

A. 我输了。 (Wǒ shū le.)
B. 我喜欢打麻将。 (Wǒ xǐhuān dǎ májiàng.)
C. 我和了。(Wǒ hú le.)
D. 我不打麻将。 (Wǒ bú dǎ májiàng.)
See Answer Analysis

Learn More about Chinese Culture:
Why Chinese People Use English Names
China’s Traditional 满月酒 (mǎnyuèjiǔ) Party: a Baby’s First Month
Understand 人情 (rénqíng)? Prepare for an Easy Life in China

―Written by Becky Zhang―
Becky Zhang is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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