It's the year 2020. Know what that means? No, not Chinese New Year. The Year of the Rat (hey, that's my year!) doesn't begin until 3 weeks from now. No, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Mah-Jongg in America and the Western world.
I wrote the story of Joseph Park Babcock in Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game (Israel & Swain, Tuttle). Skipping the details leading up to 1920: Babcock's newly-formed company exported Chinese mah-jongg sets to California, via W.A. Hammond's lumber company. Mah-Jongg soon became a craze, not only in America but also in the U.K., Europe, and beyond.
So what can we call this anniversary? It's not "the hundredth birthday of Mah Jongg," because the game itself was created by Chen Yumen in Ningbo in the 1860s). By the way, Chen didn't call his game "Mah-Jongg." No record exists saying what he called it at the time. By the time Babcock learned the game from a boat crew on the Yangtze, the game was being referred to as 麻雀 (ma que, "sparrow," from the sound of the bone-and-bamboo tiles when shuffled). Babcock apparently thought a name like "Mah-Jongg" would market better than "Ma Que" - more "ching-chongy" (to borrow a line from the TV comedy, Big Bang Theory), I suppose. Such were the times. Also, using an original name for the game allowed him to trademark the name, which he did. Parker Brothers allowed the trademark to lapse after the mah-jongg craze died in the mid-twenties... Dang, I keep digressing. Gotta stop that. Back to the subject:
2020 isn't "the 100th birthday of mah-jongg," because, you know, Chen Yumen.
We can't call it "the 100th birthday of American mah-jongg," because the National Mah Jongg League wasn't founded until 1937.
It's the 100th anniversary of Babcock's introduction of the game of 麻雀 (albeit with a new name) to the West. But that's not catchy-sounding enough. A catchy name is needed for this important anniversary. Anybody got ideas? Send them to me, let's discuss on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board! Hmm, how about "the centenary of Mah-Jongg in America," does that cover it? "Centenary," though...
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100 Years of Mah-Jongg, part 2
On Friday, January 10, 2020, 03:38:56 AM PST, H, Paul wrote:
100 Years of Mah-Jongg in America
Nice column on Mr Babcock’s ‘100th anniversary’.
Amazing man – right time & place – and the drive to make it happen.
Attached see a nice 1923 hardback of Babcock’s Rules, 10th printing which gives some indication of the rapid spread of the game in Europe during the 1920s.
Interestingly, on the title page the publishers include the text “also known as – The Red Book of Rules”, so why publish in yellow?
My suggestion ‘Mahjong, 100 years in the West’
Dia dhuit, Paul.
For comparison, I put an English hardcover edition of the Red Book beside your German printing, above. (Saves vertical space, don't have to scroll to see both.) You can see that the English hardcover has green art overlaid on a red bound cover. Yes, it's silly to use a different color for the Red Book. Guess the publisher wanted to help consumers identify that it was different. I presume the innards of your book are in German.
Glad you enjoyed the column. I should have gone into more detail about the implication of Babcock's new name for the game. Today, the Chinese call the game "majiang" and they write it with different characters than those on Babcock's cover. 麻雀 means "sparrow" (ma que), which makes it useless for the Chinese (it's written one way but pronounced a whole different way? Whaaa?). So that the game's name can sound like Babcock's "mah-jongg," the Chinese now use 麻将 (ma jiang). Should have gone into that in the column - maybe I'll make an addendum.
Since the world now knows the game by the name mah-jongg (with or without the hyphen, and with or without the double G), Babcock took an existing game and popularized it. I agree with your suggestion (but with the hyphen and double G because Babcock) - "Mah-Jongg, 100 Years in the West" does have a good ring. I've also toyed with just "100 Years of Mah-Jongg," but then it needs a subtitle: "(By that name)."
May the tiles be with you.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Author of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
January 10, 2020
Los Angeles, California, USA
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