THE REAL SOCIAL WEIGHT OF MAHJONG
"Mahjongg has had the power to be both a bridge and a barrier between different cultures," explains Annelise Heinz, a researcher who has dedicated an entire book to this specific board game.
Heinz has managed to trace how the popular game of Asian origin has always found a way to be community across various cultures and countries.
Mahjongg is a relatively modern game that developed around the mid-1880s, especially in large cities in China, such as Shanghai and Beijing. It was then in the early 1920s that he developed a truly international reputation. Exporters, shopkeepers and businessmen helped spread this new fashion all over the world, even in America.
In the new world, everything started anew from the elite and subsequently reached the entire population, especially as a tool to facilitate the transition into a new era, more globalized and deeply connected with the Asian world.
And this transition is also visible in women's lives.
In its origins, Mahjonng was a game played mainly by men; nothing suggested his subsequent and decisive association with women and their femininity. American ideas about Asian culture were founded on a completely different, non-canonical, non-standard way of being women. The exoticism and femininity that revolved around the Mahjonng absolutely favored such a widespread and enthusiastic participation.
Ironically, the times were deeply racist. The Johnson Reed Act of 1924 only cemented the restrictions on the immigration of Asians to the United States. The Americans continued to practice it with pleasure because they associated it with a mysterious and ancient Chinese past, now vanished, allowing them to distance themselves from the contemporary population.
Asians living in America had to deal with their middle position, if we might say so.
Although they looked at the famous board game as a way to return at least in thought to their homeland, often they could not escape its commodification in order to survive. Many Chinese tried to earn their bread by teaching Americans how to play.
The Jewish community of New York went further. A group of women came together under the name of the National Mahjonng League in 1937, changing the overly complex rules of the game in its original form and standardizing them to create an all-American version of it.
Again, Mahjonng was a means of integration, connecting women from all walks of life within gaming circles.
So what made this Chinese game so capable of creating communities for different groups?
According to researcher Heinz, a key factor would be playing time.
In fact, between one round and another, the necessary arrangement of the pawns allows the players to converse. When integrating into a new reality it is difficult to start with open-hearted communications, while short dialogues with the same group can facilitate the process and perhaps transform into lasting bonds.