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FAQ 7E-F:
Mysterious Flower Tiles

Makers of mah-jongg tiles get extra creative with flower tiles. Flowers all look different from one another, and often contain Chinese writing and Chinese symbols. To Western eyes, these tyles are often a "mystery." If you have mystery flowers, I recommend laying out all your tiles like this:

This way, you can make sure you have all your flowers together for study. The set above has just the standard count of exactly eight flowers, but it is not unusual for sets to come with 16 or more flowers. Flower tiles might represent flowers, seasons, trades (occupations), virtues, historical scenes, games, or animals. Flower tiles might be marked with Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3, 4, or even 5. Or they might instead be marked with Chinese numerals 一, 二, 三, 四... or they might even be marked with Roman letters E, S, W, N ... or "SUM" "AUT" "WIN" "SPR."

Those who use flowers in the traditional Chinese way are already familiar with the fact that the 1 flower is the East seat flower, the 2 flower is the South seat flower, the 3 flower is the West seat flower, and the 4 flower is the North seat flower. Most of the time, our flower tiles just have numbers on them, but sometimes our flowers instead have season names on them (many times, but not always, numbers too) -- OR Roman wind letters. If you are playing and using flowers in the traditional Chinese way, you would already understand why they are so marked. For information on Asian forms of mah-jongg, see FAQ 20.

Players of NMJL mah-jongg: If you have flower or season or animal tiles marked with numbers 1 through 4 or E,S,W,N, just call them all "flowers" and don't worry about it!

For the rest of this FAQ, I simply share some questions & answers about "mystery tiles" that were asked and answered on the Maj Exchange Q&A Bulletin Board. Flower tiles have been the subject of many an emailed question! The following are in chronological order.


Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 28 May 2001

Comments

Hello Peter van Oort, you emailed me:

>I've a question about the meaning of the character on my tiles It's about the Flower and Season I've scanned the tiles and I send them as .tif with this mail I hope you can give me an answer which one is the spring summer autum and winter and which one is the plum, orchid, chrys and bamboo Maybe you can explain the characters on it

Peter, the tiles at the bottom are seasons, and the four tiles at the top are Singapore-style "animal" flowers.

Here's how Singapore "animal" flowers work:

Flowers are used the same way they're normally used in un-American forms of mah-jongg: they are exposed for bonus points (they are not used in the hand).

In Singapore, a variety of rules apply to the animal flowers.
According to one correspondent, an animal flower is scored the same as your own flower (the flower whose number matches your seat), 1 fan. And a matching animal pair (see Strauser & Evans' "capture" list below) is scored the same as having both of your own flowers: you collect $2 immediately from all other players if you have both your own flowers, or a matching animal pair.
According to another correspondent, if anyone gets all four of the animal flowers, there's a 4-point bonus added after converting the fan to points.

As described by Strauser & Evans (see FAQ 3, some Australian/Western players give holders of animal flowers the ability to capture others. If your set has CAT and RAT flowers, then cat captures rat. Here's what captures what (each set varies; may contain different animal flowers):

This adds a bit of extra strategic play to the game. If you pick a RAT flower, and nobody has yet exposed a CAT flower, you are likely to keep it concealed in the hand as long as possible. If you have to expose it, it's possible that someone else will have the CAT flower and will expose it, capturing your RAT. Then he/she has two flowers, and you have none. It's also possible that the rat is in the dead wall. Players of the American and Japanese games probably won't know what I'm talking about; American players don't use flowers the same way Asian players do, and Japanese players don't use flowers at all. [Portion in red was not in original reply to Peter - was added to FAQ for the benefit of readers.]

Have fun! -- Tom

* New information added August 3, 2006, thanks to Dan Pasek of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who pointed out that these figures, Liu Hai and the Three-Legged Toad, are discussed in "Outlines of Chinese Symbolism & Art Motives" by Williams. See, it helps to be a scholar of Chinese history, literature, and mythology to decipher some flower tiles.


Animal flower tiles: Rich Man [Zhao Gong Ming], Pot Of Gold, Fisherman, Fish, Cock, Worm, Cat, Rat


Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 03 Jan 2002

Comments

Hello joe alvarez (munchkin_alvarez), you emailed me:
>what are the other four flowers in mahjonng season tiles ?
I guess that depends on which four you mean by "other" (do you mean the flowers or the seasons?). The four seasons are Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Unless you mean Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum, Bamboo (the usual four flowers).
Or do you have a set that comes with Singapore-style flower tiles? Old Man, Pot of Gold, Cat, and Rat. Or Fisherman, Fish, Cock, and Worm. See above in this FAQ (scroll up).
Have fun! - Tom


Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 04 Jan 2002

Comments

Hello Joe (munchkin_alvarez), you emailed me:
>woops, sorry . I should have been more pecific i know the four flowers (plum, orchid, etc.) but, which flowers are presenting the seasons in the chinese type sets?
Joe, the images on the flower tiles vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and sometimes from set types of one manufacturer. I imagine that the depictions of the flowers are just whatever the artist renders.
And they might not be flowers at all, of course (or they might not be seasons either, for that matter). We just call them "flowers" or "seasons" according to our whim.
I just took a quick peek at the season tiles from two random tile sets (one from Hong Kong and the other from Taiwan); the Winter flower (for example) of the HK set bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Winter flower of the Taiwanese set.
You would have to provide a photo of your specific season tiles to someone who is conversant with flowers; then that person might be able to identify your flowers for you. And whatever real-life flowers might be represented on your season tiles would not necessarily correspond to the flowers represented on someone else's set.
Tom


Season tiles from a Taiwanese set in my collection.


Season tiles from a Hong Kong set.
See? No correlation between the flowers on the two. And what do I know of flowers anyway? I'm no gardener! (^_^)


Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 18 Feb 2002

Comments

Hello betjoe926, you emailed me:
>about the men on the flower tiles what year did they go from men to florwers on the flower tiles?
betjoe, like I wrote to you (on the bulletin board) on Feb. 10:
>>You are assuming that "little men" were "the norm" at a specific period, with specific beginning and ending dates. That ain't the case.
betjoe, I don't know where you got the idea that "men" CHANGED TO "flowers" but that idea is erroneous.
Some flower tiles depict men.
Some flower tiles depict flowers.
Some flower tiles depict animals.
Some flower tiles depict musical instruments, games, boats, pagodas...
Flower tiles depicting men were made as early as the 1900s-1920s, and flower tiles depicting men, animals, boats, etc. are still made today. There was never a period in between, during which flower tiles depicting men were "discontinued."
I say again: your question is based on an erroneous assumption. I hope this satisfies your mah-jongg group.
When you have another mah-jongg question, please post it on the mah-jongg Q&A bulletin board.
Tom


Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 06 Oct 2002

Comments

Hello Eric Stott, you wrote:
>My set has five numbered flowers and five numbered seasons. All the books and directions I've looked at tell how to use these in sequences of four. Why five?
Since you've seen different books and other descriptions of mah-jongg rules, you will understand the "un-American" concept that the numbers on the flower tiles have significance. (The reason I call that "un-American" is that in modern American mah-jongg, the numbers on flowers are meaningless.) The number on the flower matches one player at the table. Mah-Jongg is usually played with 4 players, thus the flowers usually are numbered 1-4. With me so far?
Well, back in the 1930s or so, before the NMJL decreed flowers as wild (beginning the meaningless of flower numbers), when 5 people wanted to play mah-jongg together, the 5th player (who would sit out) had to have his/her own rack (since back then players used the chips stacked up on the left side of the rack). And I guess there was a way that the 5th flower tile could be used too, but I haven't yet come across a detailed description of that.

Folks probably played Chinese Classical, or an Americanized version of it, thus the number on the flower only scores points for the player holding his own flower ("seat flower"). So unless the 5th player was able to score points even while sitting out, or unless the 5th player doesn't sit out, it's difficult to figure out exactly how a #5 flower would work.
If anybody has a writeup showing how the 5th flower was used, please let us know! (Maybe it's even in one of my old books - if it's in a book, let us know that, and I probably have the book.)

For pictures of special tiles used exclusively in antique mah-jongg sets, see FAQ 11.

For more about the symbolism of mah-jongg, see FAQ 18.

Tom


Date: Thu, 28 Oct 2004 00:52:15 -0400
From: G [nethippie]
Subject: Mahjongg set tile identification
>Attached is a scan I made of two types of tiles I can't identify. I'm trying to determine if this set I just acquired is complete or not.

Hello, G for George. Read FAQs 7a, 7b, and 7e.

>All of the three suits, the winds, and the dragons are accounted for. There are two blank tiles,
>3 sets of the tiles in the upper row of the picture, and 4 sets of the tiles in the lower row of the picture. There are no tiles marked "joker." Total of my count for all tiles present is 166, which seems to be the right number.

Right number for what? (^_^) See FAQ 2b.

>I know for sure that it's an older set, as there is a rule card from the American Mah Jongg league from the 1963-1964 year. Manufacturer of the set is "Cardinal Products Company."
> Any info you might have on this set would be appreciated.
> Thanks!
> George


Flower tiles

Please ask me specific questions after you read those FAQs. I don't do well with these "any info" type of questions (I can't write you an entire book). Always a good idea to read the FAQs before asking a question - I promise you I'll make sure you get your exact answer, but the FAQs are always the place to start.
Tom Sloper

Los Angeles, CA (USA)
Oct. 27, 2004


>Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2005 18:27:53 -0500
>From: Adam
>Subject: Re: Special Unknown TIles
>Thanks for the info - you are correct, no Western indeces. The four flowers I mentioned are not typical engraved tiles - the flowers are actually digitally printed directly onto the tile.

>The ink on the fourth one was covered up by a sticker and came off when the sticker did. I have been trying as delicately as possible to remove the stickers from the remaining tiles. The fourth tile in the picture is a stickered tile to show you what I mean - it is not a tile-sized sticker; the sticker is just a glitter heart shape itself. The first three are the flower tiles I mentioned - those pictures have been digitally (I think inkjet) printed onto the acrylic. As of now there are six true blanks, and 14 what I assume are blanks with the glittery heart stickers. The center compartment of the case, which I assume was for chips or sticks, is filled with these tiles that I guess were added to the original 144 from other sets. Maybe?
>Cheers,
>Adam

Hi Adam,
The thing that confused me is when you used the word "digital." Digital printing is a very recent invention, so when you say something is digitally printed, I have to assume we're talking about something made very recently (since the early 1990s at the earliest).
The practice of adding flower graphics or even heart stickers most definitely bolsters your theory that the set was modified to play the NMJL game. You said the set had 8 extra (decal or sticker) flowers? Besides the 4 that came with the Nintendo set originally? For a total of 12 flower tiles in the set? And no joker stickers? If so, that would mean that the modification to NMJL would have occurred about 1943 (during the war against Japan).
Oh wait, I just re-read your email. There are 14 heart-sticker flowers, and 4 printed flowers, and 4 manufactured flowers, for a total of 22 flowers (and no jokers). That would place the modification at 1956-57. And that makes more sense.
But I assure you, digital printing most definitely did not exist in the fifties, so if you're sticking with the "digital" thing, then there really is a mystery. (I think you're wrong about them being digitally printed.)
Tom Sloper (湯姆スローパー)
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
September 30, Year of the Rooster


I am occasionally asked what the Chinese writing on flowers and seasons means. This photo is courtesy of Colin Bisasky, who asked this very question in early January 2006. I added the text. "Mum" is short for "Chrysanthemum" (I would have had to make the writing much smaller to fit such a long word).


This image is the one I refer to for flower/season characters.

Not every set uses the same Chinese writing on its flower tiles. The flowers, although usually these same four flowers, are not necessarily numbered in this order. But the seasons are always numbered in this order. East corresponds to Spring, South corresponds to Summer, West corresponds to Autumn, and North corresponds to Winter. The wind is said to come from the indicated direction in the indicated season.


Another sort of flower tiles


Photo courtesy Stella Pethick, February 2008

TOP ROW: I honestly don't know what the pictures are supposed to represent*. The red 2 looks like a gong or drum - the red 4 is, of course, a flower. I don't read Chinese myself, but I know a website that's very good for identifying Chinese characters. You can try it yourself too. At http://www.zhongwen.com/ you can look up characters by stroke count, which is the only one of several options Zhongwen offers that you and I can actually make use of. Guoyu (http://140.111.34.46/newDict/dict/index.html) can also be useful, but it's much harder to use so let's forget that one and stick with Zhongwen.
*Update, May 2015 - Ray Heaton has provided information about these tiles; keep on reading.

1. The first character (the #1 tile) is "yī" (pronounced "ee") and it means "one." Easy.
2. Five brushstrokes, says Edwin Phua. 年 is pronounced as "nián," meaning "year."
3. 四 - If you're familiar with mah-jongg, you know this one means "four." The Chinese pronunciation is "sì."
4. I count eight strokes. On Zhongwen I start looking for eight. I found it about halfway down on the right side. It's pronounced jì and Zhongwen seems to be saying that it has to do with seasons of the year. I looked it up in my Japanese book and in Japanese this same character does indeed mean "season."

So the writing across the four red-numbered flower tiles says "yì nián sì jì" ("yi" is pronounced as fourth tone here, says Edwin Phua) - "one year, four seasons."

BOTTOM ROW:

Sometimes these old flower tiles have writing that isn't used any more in China. The second row's characters are more complex and I couldn't find any of them on Zhongwen. Edwin Phua says these tiles depict the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar [see Wikipedia]: 琴棋书画 ("qín qí shū huà"), representing zither, board game (go/weiqi), calligraphy, and painting.

But you can still just call them all "flower," of course.


Identify my Chinese Opera characters

From: "cynthia gallagher" (chiquitaroad)
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 10:46 AM
Subject: Mah-Jongg Q+A
> My mah-jongg question or comment is: Hello, I have a bone and bamboo 
> set with Chinese Opera characters, men, for the 8 Flower/Season 
> tiles.  I've tried finding who they represent on the net but 
> unsuccessfully.  Can you help me with this quest?  Do you know which 
> characters they represent?  Thanks, Cyn

Hi Cyn,
Chinese Opera, huh? I don't know anything about Chinese Opera. Are you sure that's where these guys are from? Because I've usually heard this sort of tile referred to as "Scholars." Wolfram Eberhard, in his book, "A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols," says that "scholar" is one of "the four callings," and that the scholars are symbolized by "the eight precious things." Eberhard doesn't give a list of the eight top scholars and how to identify them, but if you're interested in Chinese symbolism, I recommend his book to you - and also that of C.A.S. Williams, "Outlines of Chinese Symbolish & Art Motives." Both books are listed in FAQ 3, above left. Williams lists "The Eight Immortals," who may be what your flower tiles represent. It's too much work for me to try to help you identify which is which from Williams' book, but if you really want to know, I recommend you get his book. It's easy to find on Amazon (that's where I got my copy, if I recall correctly). And of course, a Google search on "the eight immortals" or "the eight scholars" might give you your answers as well.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper  /  トム·スローパー   /   湯姆 斯洛珀   /  탐 슬로퍼
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
March 10, 2008
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on mah-jongg East & West. Available at bookstores, BN.com, and Amazon.com.


And another "mystery flowers" exchange on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board, this one with Johni and Lori, from early September 2008:

Someone Lori knows who can read Chinese translated the writing as follows:
1: Benevolence (with open gate symbol)
2: Religion/Belief (woman kneeling and praying)
3: See (verb) (woman standing and gazing ahead)
4: Mother (empty chair image)

N: Moon (man walking under moon holding long scroll)
E: Middle (man deep in thought)
W: Appreciate/Enjoy (man standing, gazing up and ahead, one hand raised)
S: Autumn (person on ground in front of broken swing or chair?)

Note that Johni and Lori play American-style mah-jongg, so they arrange winds as "NEWS," but the Chinese arrange them as "ESWN." So the order of the wind flowers is wrong in the photo, and would not make a proper sentence. They should be read this way:

E: Middle
S: Autumn
W: Appreciate/Enjoy
N: Moon

"What do my flower tiles say" is a fairly common question, and doesn't always get the happy answer. By which I mean, you find out that the characters say some nonsense thing like "Benevolent Religion See Mother, Mid Autumn Enjoy Moon." (See, so now you have to figure out what the heck that means!) So what you need, if you want to figure out what your mystery flowers mean, is for someone who's fluent in Chinese (not just the language but also the culture) to see the tiles and explain them for you - someone who's fluent in Chinese AND also willing to read an email in English and reply in English. You can also use a website like http://zhongwen.com/ to try and read the characters yourself. Either way you go, good luck -- you're on your own if you want to try.


In late December 2008, reader Ellejai sent this photo of her "mystery flowers." Over the course of the correspondence, and with help from the Internet and her son who has studied Chinese and Japanese culture and languages, Ellejai was able to learn a few things.

Top row:

1. Spring - The Monkey King wears golden chain mail and a phoenix feather cap. He walks on clouds.
2. Summer - The Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin (Kwan Yin). She's depicted with a water jar in the right hand, a willow branch in the left, and wearing a Buddha crown. In the book "Journey to the West," Guan Yin enlisted the Monkey King as a bodyguard for the monk Tripitaka.
3. Autumn: This is Liu Hai, and the next tile is his 3 legged frog or toad. You can find the story of Liu Hai on the Internet.
4. Winter: Liu Hai's 3 legged toad with a string of coins, symbolizing fortune and wealth.

The bottom row:

1. Rich man sitting on an ornate chair.
2. Pot of gold with three symbols inscribed on the pot.
3. Acrobats superimposed over the obverse of a Chinese coin with a square hole in the center. One acrobat is lying on his back flipping the other up in the air (like we used to see on the Ed Sullivan show when I was a kid), in a traditional Chinese acrobatic style possibly known as Wushu. Ellejai explained, "The two red symbols on either side of the coin are written in Manchurian (Boo Su or literally Su then Boo) and translate to "Soochow Mint", which is located in the Kiangsu Provence." Possibly this is an indication of where the set was made.
4. Not sure what the last tile depicts. Ellejai wrote that It "looks like 5 men sitting around a table in a cone shaped basket. The man at the head of the table is important and seems to have a crown or a some kind of hat on. There is something on the table, it looks like a kite? with three streamers that have symbols on the ends of the strings."


Zhao Gong Ming and his pot of gold

>From: "Ticktoc25
>Sent: Friday, January 30, 2009 7:56:59 AM
>Subject: Mystery Tiles cont.
>Hi Tom,
>I've researched the tile commonly called the "Rich man" and "pot of gold". The Rich man is really the Daoist god of wealth, Zhao Gong Ming. In one hand he is holding a gold ingot and in the other a magical iron whip. The magical whip is usually depicted in the form of a rú yì scepter which carries the meaning of "everything you wish". He is usually surrounded by jewels, gold, pearls, coral etc.

>The "pot of gold" more correctly should be referred to a "basin filled with treasure". Three Chinese characters are often present on the basin. The first one means "Basin" or "tray", the second means "Treasure" and the third translates as the word "together". ("Basin and treasure together".) The basin of treasure is filled with 3 gold ingots. In China ingots look like a rounded hat with a ball in it's center. Three of these ingots together carry the meaning of "prosperity". The basin is also contains some of the other treasures mentioned above.
>I still have my number 3 and 4 "flower" tiles to interpret, but all in all my set seems to have a carver who had a Daoist background.
>LJ

Wow, LJ!
Good job! So where did you find this information? Future seekers will want to know.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on mah-jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
January 30, 2009


Zhao Gong Ming and his pot of gold, part 2

>From: Ticktoc25
>Sent: Sunday, February 01, 2009 12:22 PM
>Subject: Mystery Tiles continued.
>Hi Tom,
>In response to your question as to how I discovered the information for the commonly called "Rich man" and "Pot of Gold" tiles being "Zhao Gong Ming" and his "Basin of Treasure" all I can say is that I spent hours and hours of work. After deciphering Quan Yin and the Monkey King, and Liu Hai and the 3 legged toad, I realized that there must be more to the "Rich man" than met the English eye. And frankly it bugged me that I didn't know that the words on the basin were! I will share a bit of what I did.
>
>I visited many web sites about Chinese mythology and ideology. My son helped me with Chinese symbols and words. Wikipedia, and Godchecker.com were helpful, as were web sites with pictures and commentary. Once I determined that my tiles were specifically of Daoist (Taoist) origin, I was able to narrow the search down. A book called "Five-Fold Happiness" by Vivien Sung is a good reference, though by the time I discovered this book I had pretty much found out as much as I could. I also went to one of my local Chinese Restaurants and found a person who is fluent in both English and Chinese. He helped me with the translation of the characters on the Basin.
>
>What I can say is that, at present, there is no one place that all the information can be found. Only by searching and putting together all the pieces can the answer be discovered. I've enjoyed learning about the Chinese culture and how it has been engraved in our MJ tiles! I'm thinking of writing a book about special MJ tiles so others will be able to discover the rich meaning of their tiles also.
>
>Alas, my Chinese friend was unable to help me with my last two tiles, so I am now looking for a Daoist who may be able to help get me started with the meaning of those. I'll let you know what I find out.
>Ellejai aka LJ

Hi Ellejai,
Wow. So many people come here looking for instant gratification to their mystery flower questions, and are disappointed when I can't help them. Those people don't appreciate that the quest itself can be so rewarding. What fun you had -- what dedication to the quest for knowledge. I think it's a wonderful subject for a book, and I hope that you will write one.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on mah-jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
February 1, 2009

From the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board:


What do these flower tiles say, part 2 (from September 11, 2008)

From: "Amy Chapman"
Sent: Sunday, June 06, 2010 1:16 AM
Subject: Re: What do these flower tiles say?
> My mah-jongg question or comment is:
> I looked at the unidentified set of flower tiles from September 2008
> that say 中秋賞月 仁宗見母. 中秋賞月 is a clear reference to celebrating
> the Mid-Autumn Festival. Not knowing much about China, I did some
> research on 仁宗見母. I couldn't find a clear-cut reference, but my best
> guess is that the tiles are meant to be read "Emperor Renzong meets his
> mother" and tell some version of Emperor Song Renzong learning about his
> birth mother, a low-ranking palace woman (he had been raised by the
> Empress). In one verson, she had been exiled to the Cold Palace (the
> characters above the gate may be 冷宮 "cold palace", but I'm unsure on
> the first). In this version, she was still alive after he came to power
> and learned the truth, so I'm not sure where the empty chair fits in.
> Another version has it that the Emperor's mother had died before he
> found out the truth, which explains the empty chair. The story was used
> in opera and might have been popular. I wouldn't feel comfortable fully
> endorsing any version, but this could help.
> Thank you for having such a nice site!
> Amy

Hi Amy,
You're referring to the flower tiles Johni and Lori asked about on September 11, 2008 (see FAQ 7e, http://www.sloperama.com/mjfaq/special.htm, and http://www.sloperama.com/majexchange/bulletinbd-archive6.htm).
I'll add this to FAQ 7e.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
6/6/2010


My mystery tiles

>From: Hanan B
>Sent: Mon, October 4, 2010 2:06:57 AM
>Subject: Mystery Tiles
>Dear Mr. Sloper,
>First of all many, MANY, thanks for your wonderful website so heavily loaded with wonderful & useful information. I'm so glad I found it after long searches in the internet.
>As to my question:
>During a trip for my employer to the rural zone of Jiangsu in eatern China I was presented with this nice set of Mah-Jongg.
>I can positively identify the standard 108 tiles and also the 28 tile of dragons and winds.
>But then there are the ones shown in the attached photo:
>Thanks to your website I now can identify the Jokers (bottom) and the "flowers" (Rich man [Zhao Gong Ming], Gold pot, Fisherman and Fish) in the center. However, there still remain the top characters:
>The first man is obviously a well-to-do character if he can afford a horse, or maybe a high official, if not the Emperor himself ?
>The second character with his exposed belly seems to be a farmer holding a rake behind his back ?
>The third character I don't know how to describe. Maybe a philosopher holding a long scroll ?
>The last one looks to me like a warrior. Maybe because of his heavy clothes ?
>But what do they represent ? The seasons ?
>I show also two blank (spare ?) tiles. The one shows the face and the other the back but both in slanted position to show the "sandwich" structure: Back and face are some hard plastic and the pink filling is probably polyester, judging from the terrible strong smell it has been emitting in our balcony for over ten years !
>Thanking you in advance,
>Hanan B
>Jerusalem

Shalom Hanan, you wrote:

Thanks to your website I now can identify the Jokers (bottom) and the "flowers" (Rich man [Zhao Gong Ming] , Gold pot, Fisherman and Fish) in the center. However, there still remain the top characters
So you seem to have found FAQ 7e, the Mystery Tiles article. But you seem to have stopped reading it about halfway through. Did you see the letters at the bottom, like the one From: "cynthia gallagher" (chiquitaroad) Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 10:46 AM and the one with Johni and Lori, from early September 2008? Or the link at the bottom to Jesper Harder's site which has a discussion about the Chinese writing on mahjong tiles? Those parts of the FAQ suggest ways you can obtain your own answers to your questions.

The first man is obviously a well-to-do character if he can afford a horse, or maybe a high official, if not the Emperor himself ?
>The second character with his exposed belly seems to be a farmer holding a rake behind his back ?
>The third character I don't know how to describe. Maybe a philosopher holding a long scroll ?
>The last one looks to me like a warrior. Maybe because of his heavy clothes ?
I don't know, Hanan. You can do some reading about Chinese personages and legends, if you are driven to do so.

But what do they represent ? The seasons ?
The tiles do not have season names on them. Chinese players surely say "hwa" ("flower") when using these tiles during play (in other words, these are what I call "flower tiles" -- and flower tiles and season tiles are pretty much synonymous).

I show also two blank (spare ?) tiles... to show the "sandwich" structure
Okay...

the pink filling is probably polyester, judging from the terrible strong smell it has been emitting in our balcony for over ten years !
Stinky plastic tiles should have become considerably less stinky in all that time. I have some tips about plastic stink in FAQ 7o (seven oh, not seventy).

May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
October 4, 2010


My mystery tiles, part 2

>From: Edwin Phua
>Sent: Tue, October 5, 2010 11:35:54 PM
>Subject: Re: Mystery tiles
>Dear Tom,
>Hanan’s first set of flowers are the characters from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. They are respectively: the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (or Tang Sanzang) riding his white horse; and his disciples Zhu Bajie (Pig), Sun Wukong (Monkey), and Sha Wujing (Friar Sandy). The Chinese characters are 僧唐取经 sēng táng qǔ jīng (僧唐取經 in traditional characters), which refers to Xuanzang’s pilgrimage to India (the ‘West’) and quest to bring back sutras to China.
>Interestingly, the more typical order of the phrase is 唐僧取经 rather than 僧唐取经.
>Best regards,
>Edwin

Excellent! Thank you, Edwin. I hope Hanan comes back to get the info.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
October 6, 2010


Mystery tiles symbolism

>From: Bill P
>Sent: Tue, October 12, 2010 4:59:50 AM
>Subject: Emailing: Mystery Tiles
>Dear Mr.Sloper,
>I attach a picture of two tiles which may be of interest to your readers.
>
>I have researched the symbolism of these two tiles and discovered, in "Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives" the spider is described as one of the Chinese "Five Poisons" used in traditional medicine to cure a variety of ailments .In some societies such images are made in black silk and attached to children during the" first five days of the fifth month to ward off pernicious influences"
>As the spider is used symbolically for protection I feel that the image is a positive one unlike in western society.
>
>The parrot,if that is what is represented, is looked upon as a symbol ,warning women to be faithful to their husbands.This follows a Chinese legend that a talking parrot reported the actions of a faithless wife to her pearl merchant husband,The wife's intrigues had almost bankrupted the unfortunate husband.
>
>As most of your female readers are busy playing Mah Jongg any thought that this refers to any of them is purely coincidental.
>If any of your contributors can add,contradict or otherwise comment on this I would love to hear from them.
>Yours sincerely,
>Bill P
>Úmhlanga Rocks,Durban,South Africa
>The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:
>Mah jong sets 2010 building works 063
>Note: To protect against computer viruses, e-mail programs may prevent sending or receiving certain types of file attachments. Check your e-mail security settings to determine how attachments are handled.

Hi Bill,
Or it could just be "bird eats spider." (^_^) Hadn't seen those two tiles before! Cheers.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
October 12, 2010


My mystery tiles, part 2

>From: mstanwick
>Sent: Mon, 22 Aug 2011 22:21
>Subject: My mystery tiles part2
>Hi Tom.
>I have about 8 of these type of tile sets [from Alison B's bulletin board post of 8/22/2011].

>In my opinion they are very
>underrated as the engraving quality is absolutely superb. They date
>from 1951 to about 1969. I have never come across a set with a
>provenance dated after 1970. There may be sets after that date but I
>have never seen any. Most come from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.
>These sets commonly come in flattened rectangular boxes with slide top
>lids usually with characters in grass script on the cover.
>I agree with you about the likely area these personages may represent.
>The Five Kingdoms saga is a very popular subject as are other early
>Chinese historical sagas.
>Regards
>Michael Stanwick


My flowers, part 2

>From: Edwin Phua
>Sent: Wed, August 24, 2011 11:10:26 AM
>Subject: Flower tiles and their symbolism
>Dear Tom,
>I write regarding the most recent [8/24/2011] query from Alison B on the symbolism of her flower tiles.

>While I am no expert on Chinese history and literature, I can at least take those characters and do a quick search. From what I see, these sets of flower tiles refer to episodes in Chinese history and literature, in particular the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Where possible (i.e. if I know), I include an explanation of the phrase. I suspect that these phrases in particular refer to operas depicting the episodes from the novel. (After all, opera characters are frequently depicted in mahjong flower tiles. But this could just be a coincidence.)
>
>“Making an oath in the peach garden”, this refers to a famed incident from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where the three warriors Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Liu Bei become sworn brothers in a ceremony.
>
>“Kong Ming mourns for the dead”, Kong Ming being the style name for Zhuge Liang, the famed strategist.
>
>“Crossing the river to attend a feast”, referring to an episode where Guan Yu go to attend a feast alone. Actually, a more common title for this episode is
> (literally “A Single Sword going to the Meeting” which actually means “Guan Yu attending the banquet alone”).
>
>“Jiang Gan steals a letter”, referring to Jiang Gan, a subordinate of Cao Cao, stealing a letter from Zhou Yu. This stolen letter leads Cao Cao to think two of his generals were plotting treason, and he thus executes them, but the letter is actually false and is Zhou Yu’s trickery.
>If you look carefully, perhaps the tiles depict the characters and events. For example, Tile 1 from shows an altar, most likely used for the swearing of brotherhood ceremony, while Tiles 2, 3, and 4 show men in a pose that indicate obeisance and solemnity. Tile 3 from shows an altar that may be used for a funeral, while Tile 2 shows a man holding a fan that is characteristic of Zhuge Liang.
>Best regards,
>Edwin

Great, Edwin. So that means that the correct order is:

May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper

Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Creator of the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations welcome.
Los Angeles, California, USA
August 24, 2011


How old and how much, part 2

> From: Ray
> Sent: Friday, January 10, 2014 11:06 AM
> Subject: Kerry's set of flowers
> Hi Tom,
> I thought I'd help out Kerry with the translation of her fabulous and beautifully carved flower tiles shown with the rest of her set on Monday [January 6, 2014].
> Green characters, right to left, 山林泉石.
> 山, Shan, Mountain
> 林, Lin, Forest or Woodland
> 泉, Quan, Spring (as in Spring-water, not the season. The unusual shape just under the red flower is a common way of depicting a Well, and so can be thought of as the source of the spring-waters). Quan can also translate to 'Mountain Stream' or as 'the source (or mouth) of a Spring'.
> 石, Shi, Rocks.
> So that would translate simply as the Forests, springs and rocks in the mountains. I have also seen this translated along the lines of "Mountain forest and waters" and as "the mountain forest and upland stream"
> Red characters, also right to left, 江上清風
> 江, Jiang, River and is usually the Changjiang river, or Yangtse river of Central China. In some Classical Chinese poetry, the Jiang is used to mean "rivers of exile" where less favoured civil officials were sent.
> 上, Shang, Above
>The third tile from the right is 清, Qing, meaning Clear or Pure
> 風, Feng, Breeze
> This would translate to "a clear wind above the river", or possibly "a refreshing wind above the river"!
> Regards
> Ray

Great, Ray! I hope Kerry comes back and sees it.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper

Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
January 10, 2014


This exchange has been edited for the purposes of this FAQ

More mystery flowers

>From: Robert G
>Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 12:07 PM
>Subject: More mystery flowers
>Hi Tom,
>An elderly neighbor asked me to take a look at his wife's grandmother's Mah Jongg set. It's clearly from the early 20's based on your excellent descriptions on your website. . . . the flower tiles are quite unique. Any suggestions about their meaning would be appreciated. Thanks.
>Bob G
>Scottsdale, AZ


Right-click to view or download the pic

Hi, Bob!
. . . As for reading the Chinese, that's not my strong suit. But you made a mistake in arranging them. Notice how they all have red Arabic numerals, but half of them have green Chinese characters and the other half has blue Chinese characters. So the green ones form a phrase, and the blue ones form a phrase. They're supposed to be read like this (not sure if green goes before or after blue):


You can right-click that to view or download larger than 400 pixels wide. Comparing this, then, with some of the mystery flowers in FAQ 7E-F, we can identify some of them. In FAQ 7E-F, search for the string "How old and how much, part 2" and you'll find Ray Heaton's translation of your blue-character flowers: "a clear wind above the river." Your green ones say "mountain something something moon." Maybe my friend Ray will see this and tell us what the two in the middle mean! . . .
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
February 6, 2019 12:40 PM

More mystery flowers, part 2

>From: "heaton.ray"
>Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 10:31 PM
>Subject: Re: New flowers mystery
>Hi Tom,
>The [green] row that you [had] a bit of trouble with are 山间明月, "Bright Moon among (or between) the mountains", a line from Ode to the Red Cliff if I recall correctly.
>Regards,
>Ray

So then, all together:
Blue row: "A clear wind above the river."
Green row: "Bright moon between the mountains."

Thank you once again, Ray!
Tom


More mystery flowers, part 3

>From: heaton.ray
>Sent: Thursday, February 7, 2019 10:20 AM
>Subject: Re: New flowers mystery
>Hi Tom,
>Ode to the Red Cliff is a very famous piece of Chinese writing, it dates from the 11th century and was written by Su Shi, noted poet and calligrapher of the Northern Song period. The ode has been translated many times; here's an extract from one translation that includes the two phrases on the tiles...
>"...All things between heaven and earth have their rightful owner. If something does not belong to you, then you shall own not even a part of it.
>Only the cool breeze on the river and the bright moon among the mountains are an exception. If you can hear it, it is a sound to you; if you can see it, it is a view to you.
>It never ends and is never exhausted. It is the infinite treasure granted to us by our Creator for both of us to enjoy...”
>Ray

Thank you, Ray. That's lovely.

Tom


"This beautiful Mah Jongg set"

>From: Ray Heaton
>Sent: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 12:42 AM
>Subject: Re "This beautiful Mah Jongg set"
>Hi Tom,
>Gary's flower tiles shown on Monday [September 1, 2014] are beauties, aren't they (and I couldn't see similar ones shown in FAQ7e).
>Flower tiles are a bit of a passion of mine, and I have seen examples using the same Chinese characters as Gary's several times before. The tiles show the following:
>
>The lower set with the green Chinese characters...
>西, West (Xi),
>湖, Lake (Hu),
>佳, Beautiful, (Jia) and
>景, View (Jing).
>
>Together these mean "Beautiful views of the West Lake" or the "Beautiful scenes of West Lake", and refer to the West Lake in Hangzhou; in China the lake is well known as providing inspiration for poetic works and has been commemorated since the Song Dynasty in the Xihu Shi Jing,
>西湖十景 or the "Ten Scenes of West Lake". The tiles show examples of these "ten scenes", tile #1 for instance shows Leifeng Pagoda. The ten views are easily found on the internet.
>
>The top set with the pagodas and red Chinese characters...
>樓, Lou, a multi-storied building, tower
>臺, Tai, terrace. The set uses a simplified version of this character, 台
>亭, Ting, pavilion, kiosk
>閣, Ge, two-storied pavilion. The set uses the simplified version, 阁
>
>I have seen this translated to "high towers and pagodas" and is sometimes used in literary works, poems etc., where they provide 'nostalgic associations with imperial palaces or the vanished glories of remote or bygone eras' and the buildings give open views of distant landscapes prompting 'transcendent aspirations'!
>Regards
>Ray

Awesome, Ray! You've come through again!
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper

Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
August 2, 2014


My mystery flower tiles

>From: Robert C
>Sent: Friday, December 12, 2014 5:00 PM
>Subject: Four Joker/Flower Tiles
>Greetings, Tom,
>I have been a fan of your great website for years but have never sent a question. Here goes.
>I bought these (4) four tiles to serve as Jokers for my bone and bamboo set. They were so unusual, that I didn't want to put a sticker over them before I had some idea as to what they were.
>Two of the characters seem to be holding some sort of flower and the other two are holding some type of tablet or scroll, etc. Could you help with what these tiles represent or who the characters are. I assume that they are some type of flower, scholar, worker, etc.
>Your insight is certainly appreciated.
>Regards,
>Bob

Hi, Bob.
Nice to hear from a "silent visitor" at last! (^_^)
Checking FAQ 7E, here's what I get for the writing on the tiles:

Top #3: AUTUMN
Top #4: WINTER
Bottom #2: BOARD GAME (qi, same character as in the bottom row, FAQ 7E, "Another sort of flower tiles")
Bottom #4: PAINTING (huà, see FAQ 7E, same reference)

As for your "four" personages: they look to me like they're all the same guy (notice his costume and hairdo is always exactly the same). The top 2 are holding flowers, as you say (I don't think it's important what flowers they might be, and I don't know if that's knowable). Bottom #2 is holding a game board, and bottom #4 is holding a painting; those represent two of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar; see Wikipedia, and see FAQ 7E, "Another sort of flower tiles," "BOTTOM ROW." Your #2 and #4 correspond exactly to the #2 and #4 flowers in that image And the season names are right there in FAQ 7E also.
Too bad you're missing the other 4 tiles that match those four. If I were you and I needed four jokers, I wouldn't sticker over those lovelies. I'd just tell anybody playing with me "the four man tiles are all to be used as jokers."
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
12/12/14


My mystery flowers, part 2

>From: RayHeaton
>Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2014 3:05 AM
>Subject: My Mystery Flower Tiles
>Hi Tom,
>The flower tiles that Robert asked about (12th December) show boys holding the Flowers of the Four Seasons, a common group of flowers in Chinese culture; each flower representing one of the four seasons.
>The two that Robert has are the Chrysanthemum on the Autumn tile (#3) and the Plum Blossom on the Winter tile (#4). The missing two are Orchid for Spring and Lotus for Summer.
>These differ in sequence and flower to the group you showed (Plum, Orchid, Bamboo, Mum), there is no Bamboo in Robert's grouping, the Lotus making its appearance - though both groupings are correct, they just mean slightly different things.
>Regards
>Ray

Excellent, Ray. I'm so glad you keep an eye on the board to help out with questions like Robert's.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
12/14/14


Mystery tiles

>From: Donna <puffins
>Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 10:50 AM
>Subject: Mah-Jongg Q+A
>My mah-jongg question or comment is:
>Hi Tom!
>I looked through your photos of 'misc' tikes but do not find these. They are four extra tiles in a set that I am looking at. The tiles are three layered green, clear, white.
>Hoping you might be able to tell me a bit about these.
>Thank you for all of your wonderful help with MJ!!
>Donna
>California

They're flowers, Donna. Look again in FAQ 7-E, under the heading "Another sort of flower tiles."
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May 14, 2015


Mystery tiles, part 3

>From: RayHeaton
>Sent: Friday, May 15, 2015 3:59 AM
>Subject: Donna's Mystery Tiles
>Hi Tom,
>There are two different partially complete tile runs in Donna's flower tiles, (May 14th).
>The left hand pair of tiles with blue numbers show two images from "the four arts of the Chinese scholar"; the four arts are depicted by a Zither-like musical instrument, the game of Go, Calligraphy and Painting.
>Donna's tiles show on tile (blue) number 1 a Qin (also called a Guqin), 琴, the zither-like musical instrument and on tile (blue) number 2 the game Qi, 棋, depicting the strategy game of Go or Chinese Chess (these are two quite distinct games, either one gets used within depictions of the four arts); in Donna's case, it looks more like the game Go.
>As you said, these are shown in FAQ 7-e.
>This grouping of four accomplishments has been written about since at least the Tang Dynasty (the years 618-907, so the best part of a millennia and a half) but have been called the Four Arts (or in Chinese Si Yi, 四藝) since about 1600, when the grouping were also called "the four leisure time pleasures", (as described by Guqin scholar, John Thompson).
>The right hand pair of tiles with green numbers show two of the "Four Noble Professions", Fisherman, Woodcutter, Farmer and Scholar. The tile (green) number 3 shows a plow (plough, to us non-Americans!) or other hand tool for tilling the soil together with a farmer's hat and is representative of the Chinese word 耕, Geng, meaning "to plow" and here depicting the profession of a Farmer. Tile (green) number 4 shows a book, implying the word 讀, Dou, to Read or Study, and is representing Scholar.
>Fisherman, Woodcutter, Farmer and Scholar may reflect the values revered in the traditional Chinese agricultural society, in which people are encouraged to work hard to be self-sufficient on the one hand, and to cultivate good morality and try for an official career through studying on the other. Alternatively, they may be the ideals of the Chinese officials - once they had passed the Chinese civil service examinations and achieved high status, they dreamed of retiring to the 'simple life' of working on the land.
>Regards
>Ray

Great info, Ray. I'll add this to FAQ 7E. Cheers!
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May 16, 2015


My flowers present two mysteries

>From: "ak49er
>Sent: Thursday, September 10, 2015 11:07 PM
>Subject: Symbols and colors (red/black) on Flower/Season Tiles
>Tom,
>Thank you for your reply; however, I could not find my answer in your FAQ's (something close, but not).
>I had another reply to my question from someone named "Mel" and he/she asked me to send a photo:
>and decided to send it to you also.
>The original question was vague, so I have tryed to ask it differently:
>*See attachment of the 16-tiles I currently have.
> Set-1: has 4-tiles with different symbols (which I do not understand) with red numbers
> Set-2: has 4-tiles with symbols of flowers and black numbers
> Set-3: has 4-tiles with number in red, SPR-SUM-AUT-WIN in black and symbols of flowers
> Set-4: has 4-tiles with number in red, SPR-SUM-AUT-WIN in black and symbols of flowers (dublicate)
>a) What do the symbols in the Set-1 mean?
>b) Why are there no color diffences between Set-3 and Set-4?
>I am a Core Volunteer at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center (ASAC) and have decided to use
>Set-2 with black numbers and Set-3 with red numbers: so the players (age 70-80) can make a
>bouquet of 4-tiles of the same color. I first started playing with the younger players (age 60-70)
>and found the house rules strange (must have a doubler to go out, sequence of dragons is a
>Pung/doubler, going out with any number "5" tile is also a doubler, and 5-flowers of any color
>is a "true" bouquet and worth 2,000-points/player).
>So I bought my own set of tiles (American-Modern per your FAQ's) with 4-pushers and a book:
>"A MAH JONG HANDBOOK How to Play, Score, and Win" by Eleanor Noss Whitney.
>Now I seem to have a following of players at my table who are enjoying the game a lot more.
>Thus, I will probably be on your website more often when I can't find my answers in the book.
>I also teach Canasta, Dominoes-Mexican Train, and Scrabble (with real words). I am unable
>to work and enjoy the company of Seniors. I am considered an Associate Member (age-54).
>Thank you for sharing your time. ?-Cows
>Diane P
>*This is a shared email with my spouse.

Hi, Diane. I owe you an apology, but I'm confused!
- I let your question slip through the cracks, and never read it until today. My apologies for the delay.
- I'm confused because you seem to be saying that you or your spouse wrote me before (and recently), but I cannot for the life of me figure out when that might have been!
To get to your questions:

Set-1: has 4-tiles with different symbols (which I do not understand) with red numbers... What do the symbols in the Set-1 mean?
I don't know, Diane. Ray Heaton, a regular reader of this board, can surely read them. He might be along sometime with a translation for you.

Set-3 [and] Set-4: has 4-tiles with number in red, SPR-SUM-AUT-WIN in black and symbols of flowers... Why are there no color diffences between Set-3 and Set-4?
Those tiles are intended for use in the American style of play, in which all the flowers are considered identical (American players always ask me why the flowers are NOT identical!).

found the house rules strange (must have a doubler to go out, sequence of dragons is a
>Pung/doubler, going out with any number "5" tile is also a doubler, and 5-flowers of any color
>is a "true" bouquet and worth 2,000-points/player).
Sounds like Taiwanese, or at least some variant of Chinese mah-jongg.

I bought my own set of tiles (American-Modern per your FAQ's) with 4-pushers and a book:
>"A MAH JONG HANDBOOK How to Play, Score, and Win" by Eleanor Noss Whitney.
Whitney describes three ways to play in her book: classical Chinese, classical Japanese (or at least early riichi-dora), and classical Western-style. Personally, I find her book difficult to navigate, because she doesn't segregate the three styles cleanly.

I will probably be on your website more often when I can't find my answers in the book.
Please be sure which style of play you are using, when asking me a question.

May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
September 17, 2015


My flowers, part 2

>From: "heaton.ray
>Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2015 2:17 PM
>Subject: Diane's flower tiles
>Hi Tom,
>Diane's flowers that she can't read have the following characters;
>#1 is 福, Fu, good luck or happiness.
>#2 is 祿, Lu, good fortune or prosperity.
>#3 is 寿, Shou, long life.
>#4 is 貴, Gui, meaning rank, or nobility.
>The first three, Fu Lu Shou, are three very well known "star gods" in China and appear all over the place as an auspicious trio. When these three appear on Mahjong tiles the fourth is usually 喜, Xi, meaning happiness, so there's a possibility that the fourth tile here comes from a different common set of four, 榮華富貴, Glory Splendour Wealth and Rank.
>Ray

Very nice, Ray! I'll be sure to add this information to the "mystery tiles" FAQ. - Tom


Set valuation, part 3

>From: Ray H
>Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 1:03 PM
>Subject: Esther's flowers
>Hi Tom,
>In your answer to Esther's question [Mah-Jongg Q&A BulletinBoard, May 11, 2016 ] on her flower tiles, you referred her to FAQ 7-e, but there's at least one tile that I don't think is included in 7-e; the figure riding a donkey.
>It's not too easy to see the images, but the figure looks to be riding the donkey while facing backwards - if so, the figure represents Zhang Guolao, 張果老, the oldest of the eight immortals (at three thousand years old). His emblem is a fish drum, a tube-shaped bamboo drum with two iron rods or mallets that he carries with him. He often, too, carries a phoenix feather or a peach, representing a desire for a long life. Zhang could shrink his donkey to a tiny size, keeping it under his cap between rides.
>Best wishes,
>Ray

Hi, Ray.
As always, your encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese personages is amazing. I should probably actually read my Eberhard book sometime! I looked under Z and there he is indeed. Eberhard uses two characters in the middle where you used one. Maybe I need a better book (not that I use the one I have). Heck, I wouldn't have known to look under Z (it would have taken me a long time to get that far, and I would have long since given up).

May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May 11, 2016


Set valuation, part 5

>From: Ray
>Sent: Monday, May 16, 2016 11:21 AM
>Subject: Fwd: Esther's flowers
>Hi Tom,
>I looked in my copy of Eberhard too, and you are right, he uses 張國老 for Zhang Guolao. This seems to be a rather less commonly used way to write Zhang Guolao's name (and has a slightly different pronunciation, the central character, 國, is Guo with a rising tone, whereas the more common 果, also Guo, has a tone that falls and then rises).
>Regards
>Ray

Interesting! I detect a chink in the armor of the Chinese tonality system. Not as though English armor, I mean armour(!), doesn't have chinks too (you say tomato, I say you're wrong).
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May 16, 2016


My mystery flowers

From: tions
Sent: Sunday, April 29, 2018 8:43 PM
Subject: Mah-Jongg Q+A
My mah-jongg question or comment is:
Hello Tom, My question is on the subject of FAQ #7e "Mystery Tiles"
Linda and I have purchased a simple bamboo wood MJ set on eBay, seller said to have been told it at least looks like an Avercrombie and Fitch set but is being sold as not necessarily true.
My question is simply the meaning on 4 of the 8 Flowers/Seasons, figure 1.
1) Four of them (marked X) I understand from your FAQ figure 2 are Plum, Orchid, Bamboo, Chrysanthemum.
2) I don't know about the other 4 (marked O)in figure 1.
3) Meanwhile figure 3 is another different eBay auction, that one was titled "ABERCROMBIE AND FITCH ANTIQUE MAHJONG SET 1923, antique". The set of 4 vertical flowers on left have the same Chinese characters for 1 and 4 as our new set.
4) The book in fig. 4 comes with the set we're purchasing. I saw in your FAQ that it describes MJ as played in Hong Kong in the very early twenties.
Anyways, we would sure like to know what the those 4 flowers say :).
Rob


Hi, Rob. Long time no see. You asked:

My question is simply the meaning on 4 of the 8 Flowers/Seasons, figure 1.

I needed to see them grouped the way they were intended to be grouped. With the possible exception of American sets, flowers always come in groups of four. See that in your set, one group has a large green character in the center, with a four-cornered frame and a red Arabic numeral centered at top. The other group has red Arabic numeral at upper left, and a blue character at upper right. This is the way they're to be grouped.

As you noted, the top row seems to be the names of the usual flowers. The characters are very artistic, drawn in a way to echo elements of other characters in the row.
I can't read Chinese, but I have a Japanese kanji book; it doesn't give me Chinese pronunciations. Based on what I can find from my kanji book, it says: "writings bright? era world." Note that there is a writing brush on the #1 tile. The thing on the #2 tile looks like a shiny/bright object of wealth. The thing on the #3 tile looks like a box? And obviously #4 depicts a building before a forested mountain range.

The photo from eBay was not displaying the flowers properly, so I reorganized them the way they were supposed to be organized. The four with red Chinese character at the left, and the four with green character at right. Left, reading down: "one something mountain something" (I can read the first and third characters without the book - I can't make out the details in the photo of the second and fourth). Right, reading down: "writings bright? era world," as with your set.
Perhaps another reader will be able to help fill the gaps and correct my egregious errors herein (assuming there are some). May the tiles be with you!
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
April 29, 2018 9:45 PM


My mystery flowers, part 2

>From: tions
>Sent: Monday, April 30, 2018 5:02 PM
>Subject: My mystery flowers.
>Tom, I spent a couple hours or more.
>Thanks to your suggestion I entered 'world' in English to Chinese
>translator online and the two characters that together mean 'world' are
>those exactly as shown on the last two tiles figure 1.
>Your phrase 'bright world' brought up the second tile, followed again by
>the last two for world. Also the character for 'of' which are not on the
>tiles.
>I had to google 'which Chinese character looks like a man walking' to get
>the image on the first tile which means 'great'.
>So I entered 'the great bright world' and got the last translation which
>right to left is I think The Great Bright Bright World which sounds a lot
>like something Mr. Rogers would say entering the club house :)

Good work!
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
April 30, 2018 5:50 PM


My mystery flowers, part 3

>From: heaton.ray
>Sent: Tuesday, May 1, 2018 12:41 AM
>Subject: Rob's mystery tiles.
>Hi Tom,
>Rob's mystery tiles are 文明世界, meaning "civilized world".
>In a way, you were correct in suggesting "writings bright" for the first two characters, 文明, as 文 by itself can mean writing and 明 can mean bright...but put the two characters together and the meaning is transformed to "civilised".
>As well as the above, the EBay set has 一統山河, which means "unify the whole country".
>Regards,
>Ray

Thank you, Ray! Very helpful as always.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May Day, 2018 6:40 AM


My Vietnamese mystery tiles, part 2

>From: "Darren
>Sent: Thursday, March 5, 2009 3:04:34 PM
>Subject: RE: Mah-Jongg Q+A
>Thanks Tom,
> I didn’t see these mystery tiles in FAQ 7e, so here is a picture of them.
>Thanks,
>Darren

Hi Darren,
Sorry, I misspoke earlier. Turns out I didn't have photos of this type of tile in FAQ 7e (until now). But compare that photo with this photo from FAQ 7b:

I call your tiles the "kings & queens." They're a common feature of Vietnamese sets. They're used just like extra flowers (which is why they're numbered the same way flowers are).
Tom Sloper
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on mah-jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, CA (USA)
March 5, 2009


Explaining one mystery, part 2

>From: Raymond L
>Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 2:12 PM
>Subject: More obscure dora tiles and the Thai set
>Hi Tom,
>Here's a followup on the white potchi tile. If you go on google image search and put in 白ポッチ 麻雀 you will find some that look like Adam's and all sorts of rare dora tiles like green and gold 5s. I believe they're parlor house tiles. I found one website that makes custom tiles: http://www.1kawaya.com/mj/custom/bees01.html
>Moving on to another topic is the rare and mysterious Thai set. I've never found the rules which I believe may have gone extinct. After several years I've only managed to find one small photo of that set at the Japanese mahjong museum's website: http://museum.takeshobo.co.jp/houmotsu/world/asia/index.html
>I'll do a rough translation:
>"Plastic Thai mahjong tiles are manufactured in Hong Kong. There are many flower tiles [sic includes jokers], 8 groups of 32 tiles. 「春夏秋冬」 (seasons), 「梅蘭菊竹」 (the four gentlemen flowers), 「漁樵耕読」 (four noble professions), 「琴棋書画」 (four scholarly arts) along with Zhao Gongming and his treasure pot, Jiang Ziya and the fish, rooster and the centipede, and the cat and the rat from the "cornered rat". Furthermore there are the almighty tiles 「花合喜元」「総萬筒索」 [they are identical to the Vietnamese jokers], which are examples of the many flowers."
>
>This explains some of the mystery tiles in FAQ 7e like the fisherman and the fish. The rooster and the centipede and the cat and rat are also Chinese folktales that you can online. Turning our attention the the jokers, you will find that they are exactly like the eight in the Vietnamese set. If you remember, these eight are nearly identical to the Changsha wang maque that Michael Stanwick and Hongbing Xu wrote about here: http://www.themahjongtileset.co.uk/tile-set-history/flowers-and-kings-an-hypothesis-of-their-function-in-early-ma-que/
>
>The only difference is that instead of a 陞 joker in wang maque, there is a 花 (flower) joker. In wang maque, 陞and 総 can act as any suit or honor tile but not as flower tiles. In Vietnam, the 総 can also act as a flower while the 花 joker behaves just like the animal flowers in Singapore and Malaysia. I do not know the origin of the animal tiles in SE Asia, it's best to consult with Thierry Depaulis or Stanwick on this issue. The strange thing about the Thai set is that it seems to be a combination of the 164 tile Malaysian set with the Vietnamese set. As the Thai set already has eight animals, the flower joker would just be the ninth animal but as we don't know the rules we can't be sure. As I can't make a table on email, I'm sending an excel sheet comparing the various sets of SE Asia.
>
>I've also included the northern Chinese game of hua maque into the spreadsheet. Stanwick reports that there is a "no honors no flowers" hand just like in Vietnamese game but is played with 16 tiles at hand like in Taiwan and the Philippines. Best regards,
>Ray L.


Hi, Ray.
You wrote:

If you go on google image search and put in 白ポッチ 麻雀 you will find some[.]
Cool! Until you told me the name of the haku dora tile yesterday, I wouldn't have known to do that.

another topic is the rare and mysterious Thai set. I've never found the rules which I believe may have gone extinct. After several years I've only managed to find one small photo of that set at the Japanese mahjong museum's website:
That photo is indeed small! The full-size image is in the Mahjong Museum's beautiful MAJAN HAKUBUTSUKAN DAI ZUROKU ("Illustrated Book of the Mah-Jongg Museum," or "Mah-Jongg Museum Big Encyclopedia"), which I list in FAQ 3. I have a copy of the book, which is extremely rare. I didn't want to break the book's spine and scan the image, so I took a photo of the image with my iPhone. I don't like the images on this board to be larger than 400 pixels in either direction, so my apologies that this is shrunk:

All the other tiles in the image are ordinary mah-jongg tiles, so I just zoomed in on the meaty portion (flowers and jokers).

I'll do a rough translation:
>"Plastic Thai mahjong tiles are manufactured in Hong Kong...
My book is in both Japanese and English, but the English is always less detailed than the Japanese. But thank you for the translation. Essentially, the set has 16 flowers plus the Singapore-style flowers plus the 8 basic Vietnamese jokers.

This explains some of the mystery tiles in FAQ 7e like the fisherman and the fish. The rooster and the centipede and the cat and rat are also Chinese folktales that you can online.
That's nice to know! I've always just referred to them as "Singapore style" because in Singapore they have a documented use for those tiles.

I'm sending an excel sheet comparing the various sets of SE Asia.
>I've also included the northern Chinese game of hua maque
Thanks. It never occurred to me to make such a grid for comparison.

By the way, perhaps it's helpful to explain why I call FAQ 7E "the mystery tiles FAQ." I often get people writing me and saying, "I have a mah-jongg set and I've figured out what most of the tiles are, but some of the tiles are a mystery!" Those tiles aren't so much a mystery to me - I explain what they are in the FAQ. And now I'll add this email to the FAQ. May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
May 18, 2016


My Hispanic-theme decoupage tiles

>From: Linda K
>Sent: Monday, June 6, 2016 7:25 AM
>Subject: Fwd: Majong tiles pic
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>From: Linda K
>Date: Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 10:13 AM
>Subject: Majong tiles pic
>To: LINDA K
>I recently came upon these tiles, which I admire for their artistic beauty; each is a miniature work of art.
>I have since learned that they are indeed mahjong tiles, but I have yet to find any information on the lower tiles in the photo, they have Hispanic images which appear to have been decoupaged onto the tile which is bamboo backed. Are you familiar with these types of tiles? If so, can you tell m e more about the tiles with Hispanic images? Are they mahjong tiles or for a different game?
>Thank you for sharing your expertise.
>Linda


Click image to see larger version

Hi, Linda.
My guess is that those "Hispanic" tiles (your second image above) were stickered to make extra flowers. If you take a look at column 509, you'll see that the National Mah Jongg League required varying amounts of "wild flowers" in the 1940s and 1950s - as many as 24 flowers in 1950-1955. The original owner of your set probably made those tiles to enable NMJL play in the early fifties.
That's my guess.
But I am much more curious about the yellow plastic tiles in your image. I cut your image into 2 separate images, and am making them clickable to see in detail. You showed yellow plastic tiles in the upper part of your image (that's the first of the 2 above), and the bone-and-bamboo tiles in the bottom part of your image (the second image above). While your bone tiles are stickered with "Hispanic" imagery, your yellow plastic tiles have Asian designs on them. This all raises another point I want to make, which raises a question I have for you.

When the League required players to add as many as 16 extra flowers into a set (given that a set normally came with only 8 flowers), many players had to add in mismatched tiles. It would then be no secret that some of the tiles in the wall were flowers, since those tiles (even though stacked face-down) did not match the other tiles, either in color or material or size or any combination thereof. So that's why your set has both bone/bam and plastic tiles in it.

My question for you is: what is the rest of your set made of? Is it a bone/bam set with these added in? Or is it a yellow plastic set with these added in?

And another question for you: your yellow plastic tiles have images of what appear to be Japanese women on them. That's unusual given the history at the time: that Japan had been a mortal enemy in the previous decade. But my question is, are those also "decoupage"? Looking closely at the Five Dot tile, for instance, and the Five Bam in the bottom row, it looks like the image was applied over the original design and has deteriorated away. It looks like those were decals, like the ones I used on model airplanes in the fifties. Those decals would be very thin and brittle, and it appears that's what I'm looking at. Seem right to you?

May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
6/6/16


My Hispanic-theme decoupage, part 2

>From: Linda K
>Sent: Monday, June 6, 2016 6:49 PM
>Subject: Re: Fwd: Majong tiles pic
>Very interesting! You are exactly right, both have decals.
>These are all of the tiles I have, they came from an estate sale, I found them interesting and beautiful. Thank you for your insight.

I see. One problem with estate sales is that sometimes they separate things that ought to be sold together. Somebody else might have gotten the rest of the tiles from your set.
May the tiles be with you.
Tom Sloper
トム·スローパー
湯姆 斯洛珀
Creator of the Sloper On Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
Los Angeles, California, USA
6/6/16



© 2001-2018 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.

Thanks also to British mah-jongg scholar Michael Stanwick; his research has informed some aspects of this article.

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