Mahjong expanding 'to every corner of the world'

Updated: 2014-11-03 01:23

(China Daily)

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"Mahjong is now played in the Middle East and all throughout Europe. There is no question the game has a growing international following. (Its) global popularity is expanding, with no end to its growth."

President of manufacturer Fun With Mah Jongg Anna Rosen points to industry surveys saying player numbers have risen from 90 million worldwide a few years ago to 500 million.

Owner of Dutch Web shop Mahjongshop DOt1 Janco Onnink explains the Dutch Mahjong Association's founding has meant the country has gone from hosting virtually no tournaments in 2004 to many.

"When we started offering our mahjong line, we had eight products," says Onnink, who has competed in international mahjong tournaments. "We now offer over 75 items … sold on a retail, wholesale and export basis. There were very few websites when we started. Today, there are thousands."

The Australian Mahjong League has hosted over 6,000 tournaments since its 2007 founding, attracting thousands of players who've won more than A$3million ($2.6 million), the league's managing director Freddy Fajardo says.

International trends include more daylong tournaments and weeklong festivals, Australia's Rockhampton Mahjong Club Inc president Jan Davison says.

Others are younger players and more men, although retired women still comprise most of the Western base. "Over the years, I've seen an incredible resurgence with kids as young as 7 wanting to learn and couples who enjoy an evening or afternoon game with other couples," says Rosen, who also teaches classes.

"Although the game is predominantly played by men in China, in the United States, most men consider this a woman's game and don't want to learn. But that trend is also slowly changing."

Israel points to nostalgia for the earlier decades when the game was popular in the US as a reason for its revival among younger Americans.

"Younger people — men and women alike — (are) … recalling with great affection the clattering of the tiles at their mothers' or grandmothers' mahjong tables," she says.

Media report the game has become a staple in some US singles bars frequented by youth. Mahjong isn't as much emerging but re-emerging in the US, where it was popular through the 1920s until the Great Depression, Rosen says.

It maintained some appeal until the early '60s, she says. "However, by the late '60s it became stereotyped as a game that only older Jewish women were playing," Rosen says. "But today, with 1950s nostalgia becoming so popular thanks to television shows such as Mad Men, the game is enjoying a renaissance."