Chinese Game Mahjong – What is it? How is it played?

chinese game mahjong
My girlfriend plays the game of Chinese Mahjong with her family every Chinese New Year Holiday.

The Chinese love gambling and playing games, Chinese Chess is very popular but this is very complicated and normally only played by men. The most popular Chinese game is Mahjong. This is a game which can trace its origins back to ancient times and it’s likely that it started as a card game.

What is the Chinese game of Mahjong?

Mahjong is similar to a card game, but instead of being played with cards it is played with small tiles. These tiles were traditionally made from bone or ivory, but are now almost always made of plastic.

Where is Chinese Mahjong played?

Mahjong is played very commonly in Asian countries, most notably China and Taiwan. There are many betting shops throughout China, even in small towns which have automated Mahjong tables. Now though, Mahjong is played throughout the world, and not just by overseas Chinese.

Origins of Chinese Mahjong

Most people believe that the Chinese game of Mahjong started life as Madiao which was a card game played in Ancient China. Other people say that Confucius created the game which then became popular.

How to Play Chinese Game Mahjong

Playing the Chinese game Mahjong is quite easy, but if you don’t speak Chinese and are playing with Chinese people then it can be a little tricky. The Chinese game Mahjong is played at a table with four players at a time.

Chinese Mahjong is like Gin Rummy where players must collect cards in the same suit or value. Each player is dealt 13 tiles, and they must collect groups of the same tile. You need four groups of three and one pair of the same.

There are different suits in the game, which is similar to playing cards. These are bamboo, character and circle tiles. Each suit has number 1 to 9 and there are 4 of each tile in the game.

Although each game is fairly short, Chinese mahjong sessions can last for hours. This is because many like to continue playing over and over again, especially during the Chinese New Year Holiday.

Chinese Mahjong: Different Rules

There are some different rules which will be played depending on where you are playing the game. For example when discarding unwanted tiles these are not allowed to be picked up unless you have two of the same tile already, in which case you can peng, and pick the tile up. However, in some games it is possible to pick up a tile if it completes a sequence.

Learning to play Chinese Mahjong

It’s not possible to accurately describe how to play Mahjong in an article because it can be quite a complex and confusing game. You will need to start playing it and you will find it much easier to learn it. When you start playing then it should be much easier to get to grips with it and understand all the rules.


It’s customary to bet when playing Mahjong, the winner will receive the money from all the other players. This makes the game more exciting. The bets are normally very small (around 1 RMB) when playing at home. However, if you are playing for money then it is possible to increase the bet sizes considerably.

Return from Chinese Game Mahjong to Chinese Society and Culture

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