What Do Mahjong Tiles Mean: Part 1

Jul 16, 2015 | 1 Votes by Aethyna 9 rate Your vote
Online Mahjong games are not only fun and relaxing to play; the tiles themselves are very pretty as well! However, have you ever stopped and wondered what those pictures and characters on the mahjong tiles that you so love mean? Well, if you do, you don’t need to fret any longer! That’s what this article is here for! WWGDB - What Do Mahjong Tiles Mean: Part 1

Online Mahjong games are not only fun and relaxing to play; the tiles themselves are very pretty as well! However, have you ever stopped and wondered what those pictures and characters on the mahjong tiles that you so love much mean? Well, if you do, you don’t need to fret any longer! That’s what this article is here for!

Similar to a standard deck of cards’ suits (hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs) and ranks (A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, J, Q, K), mahjong tiles have their own suits and ranks too! There are generally 4 suits in mahjong, namely circle, bamboo, character and honor (there are many types/ sets of honor tiles though), and the tiles contain ranks from 1 to 9 (except the honor suit). So introduction’s aside, let’s find out what these suits mean within the context of the Chinese culture!

Circles


Starting off with the simplest-looking suit, the circle suit, which is also called as “The 36 Points” (this name is in reference to the traditional gambling-oriented mahjong game), represents, in general, the Wheel of Heaven in the Chinese culture.

In a standard mahjong set, you’ll usually find 4 sets of the circle suit with each set containing 9 circles (1 to 9). The 1 circle tiles, as you may have noticed, are a slightly different from the other tiles – its circle is a lot bigger... big enough to fill up more than half of the tile. Due to this, this particular tile is often nicknamed as “da bing”, which means “Big biscuit” in English.

Furthermore, different tiles also have differently colored circles, namely red, blue and green. The color red usually symbolizes life itself or good fortune and luck, while the color blue represents the heavens and purity. The green on the other hand symbolizes the bountiful earth from which everything originated from (from the Chinese cultural perspective).

Bamboos


Continuing on, the bamboo suit is another rather interesting suit among the other mahjong tiles as, technically, they are not “bamboos”. Although the pictures are shown as a series of bamboo-like sticks (and some may go as far as to change it to look like bamboos), these tiles are actually depicting traditional Chinese coins.

In traditional Chinese culture, bamboo rope was used to tie 100 copper coins, via the square holes in the middle of the coins, together so that the coins are much easier to be carried around. Therefore, actually, the pictures of sticks with knots... well, the sticks are the bamboo strings/ ropes while each knot represents a coin. However, since the knots on the sticks are so often mistaken as knots on the bamboo plants, the name of “bamboo” stuck with the tiles until today.

Similar to circle suit, you’ll usually find 4 sets of the bamboo suit in a standard mahjong set with each set containing 9 bamboos (1-9). Moreover, a quick fun fact – did you know that the 1 Bamboo tile is often represented by a bird and referred to as “the sparrow” or “ma que” in Chinese? The rumor as to why the 1 Bamboo is different from others is to avoid cheaters from adding more Bamboo lines to the 1 Bamboo to change it into other Bamboo tiles. Fun stuff, right?

Characters


The third more common suit is the character suit – they are the ones with the Chinese letters on them. They are more appropriately known as the “wan” tiles, whereby “wan” is the Chinese word for “ten thousand” (You can usually see it right below the Chinese numerals). Some mahjong sets may present the characters in simplified Chinese, though most prefer the traditional Chinese characters as they are thought to be more aesthetically pleasing.

This “wan” suit is linked to the supposedly bamboo suit as well. Do you remember how each bamboo is actually 100 ancient coins tied up with a bamboo string? Well, each “wan” is technically equivalent to 100 strings of coins that the bamboo suit depicts. So if you do the math, each string contains 100 coins and 100 strings will get you 10,000 coins... and voila! Mystery solved! Also, similar to both bamboo and circle suits, character or “wan” suits contain 4 sets in a standard mahjong set with each consisting of 9 tiles (1 to 9).

So, are you interested to learn more? Do keep an eye on WWGDB by bookmarking the website, or better yet, like us on our Facebook page as I’ll be posting up the part 2 of the series soon *wink*! Don’t forget to vote or leave some comments if you’ve enjoyed reading this!

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