Suits in Mah Jong #Mondayblogs

It’s Mah Jong Monday again and this time we’ll look at the suits.

There are three suits in a Mah Jong set:

  • bamboo (sometimes referred to as bams)
  • characters (sometimes referred to as craks)
  • circles (sometimes referred to a dots)

1-9 Notation

Each suit has the numbers one to nine and an image. In Chinese sets the roman number is not shown only the picture.

4 of Each

There are four of each tile, 36 of each suit and a total of 108.

What can You do with them?

Suit tiles are the most flexible tiles in a hand and can be:

  • chowed,
  • punged,
  • konged or
  • paired.

What is a Chow?

It’s a run. For example: 1, 2, 3 in circles, seen below.

What is a Pung?

It is three of a kind. For example: 5 of bamboo seen below.

What is a kong?

It is four of a kind.

What is the significance of the suits?

It’s all about money.


“Because of the large size of the circle in the 1 Circle, it is commonly nicknamed da bing (大餅 pinyin dàbǐng, lit. big pancake).

From the monetary origin of this suit, the circles represent the copper coins known in English as “cash.”  Wikipedia


“… the sticks are actually rope strings (索) that tie 100 Chinese copper coins together by the square holes in the middle. … The repeated bumps in the sticks depict the individual coins in the strings, but they were mistaken as the knots on the bamboo plants, hence the English name of the suit. The 1 Bamboo, as it commonly depicts a bird, is often referred as the sparrow (麻雀 – má què).” Wikipedia


“These tiles feature the character 萬 (wàn) on its surface, which means ’10,000.”   Again it refers to money.




Feature Photo Credit:

Sandberg Elaine. Winning American Mah Jongg Strategies. Tuttle

Publishing, China. 2012

What’s Next?

If you found this post interesting, check out the rest of my Mah Jong mini-series. I may write about it more in the future, but for now that’s it.




“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” ~  Confucius

The 3 Dragons of Mah Jong #Mondayblogs

It’s Mah Jong Monday …

Dragons in Chinese Culture

Not all dragons are equal. Here in the west, we depict dragons as fire-breathing, aggressive beasts that need to be conquered, but eastern cultures see things differently.

“Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, typhoons, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it.” Wikipedia

Given their grand position in Chinese culture, it’s no surprise that there are three dragon tiles in the game of Mah Jong.

Dragons in Mah Jong

The three dragon tiles (i.e., red, green and white dragons) are honor tiles. They play important roles in mah jong hands.

Illustration: white, red, and green dragons. In many sets (mine included) the red and green dragons are actual dragons.

White Dragon

  • Chinese Character “Pai”
  • it represents the mysterious unknown
  • a border is drawn around the white to contain it


Red Dragon

  • Chinese Character “Chung” (see above)
  • it means middle or center and the character looks like an arrow hitting a target
  • so the larger meaning of this tile is success or achievement


Green Dragon

  • Chinese Character “Fa” (see above)
  • means to commence – the stylized version of the character looks like an arrow being drawn back, ready to release
  • to proceed or start



My 2 Cents

Knowing the meaning of the tiles adds another dimension to the game. Call me cheesy, but it makes it more exotic and fun for me.


My Mah Jong

My winning hand this week  was Windvane


Windvane: one of each of the winds, and one paired, a pung in each suite. We play it exposed.



What’s Next?

Next Monday I’ll look at the other honor tiles (i.e., the winds, ones and nines).

If you found this post interesting, check out the rest of my Mah Jong mini-series.


“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” ~ Confucius

An Introduction to Mah Jong #MondayBlogs

What the heck am I doing?

I’ve fallen in love with Mah Jong, a Chinese game played with tiles that is similar to rummy. I’ll be sharing what I know about the game as I learn it. This mini-series will appear on Mondays, because I like the alteration of Mah Jong Mondays. Today, I’ll introduce the game.

 Mah Jong – The Name

The game was originally called pinyin, which means sparrow. While this name continues to be used in some southern Chinese, Korean and Japanese games, most Mandarin-speaking Chinese now call the game májiàn. The English form of this word is Mah Jong, which is spelled in various ways.

The Origin of Mah Jong

There are a few stories about how the game got started.

Blame it on Confucius (500BC)

Most people consider this story a myth, as it is based on the idea that the philosopher Confucius invented the game over two centuries ago. This, they say, explains the origin of the sparrow name, as Confucius loved birds. They also say the three dragons in the game, represent the three virtues in Confucian philosophy: sincerity, filial piety and benevolence.

It was all in the Cards (1850 – 1875)

It is widely believed the game, as we know it, was developed by a Shanghai nobleman between 1870 and 1875.

Another popular story is that two brothers from Ningpo, renowned for carving ivory,  created the game around 1850.

Mah Jong is based on popular draw-and-discard card games and is considered to have the same root as the game of Rummy.

The earliest known tile set dates to around 1870.

The Spread of Mah Jong

Although the origins continue to be disputed, everyone agrees that Mah Jong was played in China in the mid to late 1800s and came to the United States in the 1920s. It is played around the world in many different ways.

Is it a Game of Chance or a Game of Skill?

That’s the question that fascinates me.

Clearly both chance and skill are involved in the game. How much does one dominate? I have noticed that experienced players tend to win over new players, so even though it appears to be mostly a game of chance, skill is important.

What do you think?


“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~ Confucius


Wikipedia –

Photo Credit:

Confucius – Wikipedia

Coming Next Monday:

The 3 Dragons in Mah Jong