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English>>Life & Culture

Mahjong's magic casts a growing spell

By  Wang Huazhong  (China Daily)

10:00, October 31, 2012

The tiles and scoring rules used in mahjong may differ slightly, depending on regional variations, but the game is essentially the same in all versions. (China Daily /Ran Wen )

After spending most of his life working as a security guard at a State-owned factory, Liang Jianguo took on a role he never imagined.

"I never thought we would host the World Mahjong Championships or that I would travel overseas as a referee," he said.

Liang was head referee at the third World Mahjong Championships in Qianjiang, Chongqing municipality.

Saturday saw a convoy of police cars shepherding 13 buses carrying the 12 referees, including Liang, and 186 players from 13 countries to local government buildings for the championship's opening ceremony.

The 84 overseas players demonstrated their skill and exchanged strategy during the championships that also drew 102 domestic competitors.

According to World Mahjong Organization officials, a "steadily growing" number of people outside Asia are also playing the game, and mahjong associations have been organizing national- and continental-level tournaments and championships since the 1990s.

"As a healthy, scientific, friendly mind game, Mahjong will become more popular and gain wider significance," said Yu Guangyuan, the WMO chairman and a former vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in his opening address.

Mahjong has a checkered history in China. Some sources claim the game was devised thousands of years ago by the sage Confucius, while others date its beginnings to the 1880s and 90s. Either way, the game - in which players attempt to collect suits of tiles, similar to Western card games such as bridge or rummy - provokes strong reactions. While devotees praise it as an intellectual pursuit, opponents vilify it as the basest form of gambling.

The perception of a game for unruly gamblers resulted in mahjong being outlawed when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, and it wasn't until the 1980s that it was played openly again. Even now, many view the game with suspicion and enthusiasts are sometimes embarrassed to admit their passion for fear of appearing anti-social.

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