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Hot tiles: how mahjong conquered the West

2014-11-14 16:10:21



Many mahjong sets contain 136 or 144 titles. Wang Zhuangfei / China Daily

Mahjong’s ‘red book’

In the 1920s, Westerners flocked to China and spotted local people playing mahjong. They were at first fascinated by the mysterious game and grew gradually obsessed. Mahjong soon emerged at foreigners’ clubs in some port cities like Shanghai.

Among the foreigners who made great contributions to the development of mahjong in the West was Joseph Park Babcock, who worked in Suzhou and spotted the great commercial potential of the game.

In 1924, Babcock published Rules of Mahjong, also known as the “red book”. His rules simplified the game, making it easier for foreigners. The book became popular among foreigners in China and was published in the US, Canada and Mexico, with 12 editions printed within four years.

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