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Who Invented Mahjong?

Many play the game, and sometimes one wonders: who invented Mahjong? 

Who Invented Mahjong?
Who Invented Mahjong?

Surely, with the complexity of the mahjong rules, the inventor must be someone quite well versed in games? Or was it an entrepreneurial idea to gather players in a discreet social interaction while playing the game?   

Get ready to flaunt your trivia knowledge for the next mahjong session with this article on who invented mahjong and how it came to be the most popular tile based game in the world. 

The Answer

China. There are many variations to the answer on who invented mahjong, for example, a wikipedia search would reveal that mahjong was created in the 1800s by an imperial servant Chen Yu-Men. Others speculate that philosopher Confusius created the game. This is due to several symbols of the game that Confucian valued such as the three dragon tiles and the sparrow. 

( “Suits'' such as the bamboos and circles represent ancient Chinese currency; the three dragon tiles “dragons,” symbolize the ancient art of archery; and flowers, may represent the four Confucian plants/or four gentleman: the plum blossom, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum.) 

Historical evidence, however, indicates that Mahjong evolved from card games in the late 19th century. Its popularity surged quickly, enjoyed by both men and women, the wealthy and the poor, and in both rural and urban areas. 

A Brief History 

Throughout history, mahjong frequently faced criticism from moralists and reformers. During the initial introduction of the game, Chinese government officials preferred that only elite citizens play the game, fearing that peasants might enhance their mental skills through playing.

Interestingly, mixing this “elite” class stereotype about the game and the “confucian” rumours,  the game had created its own “origin myth—which became really widespread and lasting—about the game,” she says, “marketers separated it from contemporary Chinese immigrants and elevated it in terms of class and status.”.

Following the Communist Revolution in the late 1940s, Chairman Mao banned Mahjong, labeling it a capitalist game due to the occasional gambling involved. However, interest in the game continued to flourish in that period and the prohibition was lifted in 1985, leading to a resurgence in the game's popularity.

Playing Mahjong in the Modern Day World

In today’s (2024) world, mahjong remains one of the oldest games requiring a combination of intellect and foresight, much like Chinese chess or English chess. 

With a modernistic flair, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) also features a pivotal mahjong scene, the young casts from the movie fueled interest locally (in Singapore) as well as among Asian American millennials and Gen Zers. 

Modern day mahjong adapts the rules and point calculation from the past, however, with technology and creativity, you can find all types of tiles made of a wide variety of materials previously not available, or an auto shuffling table for the game!

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