SPARROW: The Chinese Game Called MA-CH'IAU

A Descriptive and Explanatory Story, by LY YU SANG, M.A. Member of Kwongtung Economic Research Bureau, Science Society, Etc.
Copyright 1923 by Ly Yu Sang. Printed in U.S.A. by The Lent & Graff Co., New York.

While Ly Yu Sang's book is remarkable in several ways (one of them being its in-depth discussion of Chinese numerology which illuminates much of the philosophy behind the mah-jongg set), it also has great importance in terms of this discussion. The CC Theory holds that Chinese Classical mah-jongg (the form of the game which we call "classical" today) predates HKOS (and every other known variant). Ly Yu Sang being from Guangdong (Kwongtung), the area surrounding Hong Kong, it is natural to assume that he would write about the variant played in his home region. If the variant which today we call "HKOS" was played in the 1920s when Ly Yu Sang wrote his book, that, then, would be the variant he would describe. But he does not. The rules he describes are those which we today call "classical."

This book, then, is another bullet in the arsenal of the proponents of the CC Theory.

Herewith, some excerpts which may be of interest to mah-jongg scholars.




1--The Correct Name. The correct name for the popular Chinese game which is now so much in vogue in America is Ma-ch'iau P'ai, or simply Ma-ch'iau. P'ai, which like any other noun in the Chinese language may be either singular or plural, means a card or cards, whether soft as paper or hard as stone. Ch'iau means a bird or birds; Ma means hemp, texture, tangle, mixed, confused, etc.; and the two together, Ma-ch'iau,* mean a bird or birds with feathers of hemp-like mixed color, that is to say. Sparrow (or Sparrows). The English Ma-ch'iau P'ai is not of course a resemblance to the Chinese , but is simply the closest English equivalent of the Chinese symbols or characters in sound.
Ma-ch'iau is therefore a conventional imitation in English of the Chinese sounds which stand for "Sparrow," Just as the word "Sparrow" is an approximate translation of the Cliinese symbols represented by the Anglicism: "Ma-ch'iau."
The Chinese game has but one correct name-"Ma-ch'iau." The sound "P'ai-ling" or "Pe-ling," meaning "hundred intelligence" is the literary term for a lark somewhat like a sparrow in appearance, and stands for "Sparrow" only indirectly, by implication or analogy.
* a in Ma as in Father; iau in Ch'iau as in (th)e ow(l). Hence Ma-ch'iao is equally correct. See Giles' Chinese-English-Dictionary.


"Pung Chow" or "Pung Wo" is equally inaccurate. "Wo" represents the Chinese symbol for "harmonious" or "harmony," and "Pung" the symbol for "met" or "to meet." "Chow" is a common expression in "Pigeon English," meaning "to eat." There are at present five or more supposed Chinese names for "Sparrow," beginning with the sounds M-j, or M-c, or M-t, or M-d, such as Ma-jong, Mah-cheuk, Mah-tsok, and Mah-diao. Indeed many more names are possible, since there are several hundred local Chinese dialects in each of which the sound for "Sparrow" is peculiar. Ma-ch'iau, however, is the Mandarin, official national sound for "Sparrow" throughout China, and is therefore the only correct name for the "Sparrow" game. (See Appendix A.)

2--Reasons for the Game's Popularity.
The popularity of the Chinese game of "Ma-ch'iau" can readily be understood. It is essentially a sociable game, combining entertainment and relaxation. Typically Oriental and peculiarly Chinese, it is fascinating and mysterious; and as a fascinating game or a mysterious puzzle, it is interesting to young and old people alike. The popularity which it has already won will, I believe, long endure, and the game will even increase in popularity as the number of people who understand it increases.
There are several general features of "Ma-ch'iau" which justify its growing popularity, and which everyone who wishes to learn the game properly must understand. Let us consider a few of these features.

A--Philosophic Ideas in Artistic Forms.
The game of Ma-ch'iau is played with one hundred and forty-four tile-like cards or pieces which may be called tiles...

* * *
Well, that's the beginning of the book. Let's skip the middle (especially since it's a lot of work to scan and correct the text) and proceed to the end...
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Category--A Wheel, or Axis, or Number tile.
Cha Fu--A false composition; a winning hand declared but found false.
Ch'ai Kang--Taking a discard for which another player calls "Kang."
Ch'i--A categorical arrangement; a formation of three tiles of a category in consecutive order; a sequence of three.
Ching-Yi-Ch'iu--Homogeneity with Ones and Nines; a winning hand composed of but l's and 9's.
Ching-Yi-Se--"Pure Color"; a winning hand composed of tiles all of one category.
Ch'iu--Autumn ; nine.
Chu--rhylostachy (bamboo).
Chuang--The Challenge Indicator; the East Wind; The Leader.
Chung--A Red Extreme ; a figurative expression for Man ; centre; central.
Counter: Discard: Draw, Efficient--A draw which effects a formation that completes a winning hand.
"Eyes"--Tile pair of tiles in any winning hand; two of a kind.
Extreme--Tien (Heaven), or Ti (Earth), or Jen (Man), figuratively, Po, or Fa, or Chung. Erroneously called "Dragon."
Fa--A Green Extreme; a figurative expression for Earth.
Fan--A double, a turn, denoting multiplication of points scored.
Fang--Corner, Region, "Wind."
Ssu--The four corners; "the four winds."
Feng Ch'uan--A Round of play.
"Flower"--A Season or Flower tile.
Flower, Own--A flower of The order corresponding to the player's position; as, Epidendrum to South.
Formation--A scoring combination, or set, of two or three or four tiles.
--, Dependent, or exposed, or open. A formation effected by taking a discarded tile.
--, Independent, or concealed, or unexposed. A formation effected bv a draw.
Fu--A game, a composition, a harmony, a winning hand. "Woo" in Canton dialect. Erroneously called "Ma-ch'iau."


--, Man--A limited game.
Hai-Ti-Yueh--The last possible tile drawn to effect a formation, thereby completing a winning hand.
Ho P'ai--A tie game; a draw game; a play without winner even after the last possible draw and discard.
Hollow-Square--(See Ma-ch'iau Square).
Hsi--West; western.
Hu--Another sound for Fu; a figurative expression for Fu. A point or points. "Wo" is in Shanghai, and "Woo" in Canton dialect.
--, Man--The figurative expression for Man Fu.
Hwa--A flower; a change ; a transformation. --, Ssu--The four changes ; the four Flowers.
Kang--A realm; a formation of four like tiles; four of a kind; a quadruplet.
Kong--A local sound for Kang.
Lan--Epidendrum; "lily."
Leadership--Standing or right or position of the leader of a game.
Leading Position--Position of the leader.
Limited game--A game which scores to the stipulated, fixed limit of points.
Ling-Shang-Hwa--The "loose tile" drawn to a formation which at once completes a winning hand.
Ma-ch'iau--A sparrow; the Sparrow Game. Erroneously called Pung Chow, Pung Wo, etc.
Ma-ch'iau-Square (or Block)--The logical arrangement of the 144 tiles according to the Philosophy of Change; or the form, constituting a four-sided "wall" or square in which the tiles are arranged at the outset of each game.


Ma-chok--A Sparrow, so called in "Kweilin" dialect.
Ma-cheuk--A sparrow, so called in "Canton" dialects.
Ma-diao-- "
Ma-jeuk-- "
Ja-tsok-- "
Ma-chiang--Erroneously assumed to be the sound in Peking dialect for Sparrow.
Ma-Jong--Sparrow, so called in "Shanghai" dialects.
Mah, Jongg--"
Mistake, Big--Referring to a foul hand having more than thirteen tiles.
--, Small--Referring to a stale hand having less than thirteen tiles.
Nan--South; Southern.
P'ai--A card; a tile in the Ma-ch'iau set.
Pei--North, northern.
Pigeon English--Pidgin-English; "a barbarized English used in Chinese and oilier Oriental commercial centers in intercourse between (uneducated) natives and foreigners."
P'ing Fu--Consecutive Harmony; a winning hand composed of four sequences besides the "eyes" (and "Flower" or "Flowers"). P'ing--A rank; a formation of three like tiles; three of a kind; a triplet.
P'ung--Another sound for P'ing.
Po--A White Extreme; a figurative expression for Heaven.
Quadruplet--Realm ; Kang; four of a kind.
Realm--(See quadruplet).
Rank--Three of a kind; P'ing.


Round--A round of play in which There must be at least four games, from East to North, inclusive.
San Chi--The Three Extremes; The Three elements, meaning Heaven, Earth and Man.
San Yuan--"
San Lei--The three categories, or variables.
San Lien Yi ch'i--"Three successions, one evenness."
San Wei Yi P'ing--"Every three, one rank."
Schou--An axis; erroneously called "bamboo" or soh.
Score, Addition
--, Circumstance--Fan or double score; "bonus score."
--, Composition--"
--, Efficiency--"
--, Basic--Score for a "game" ; that is, on the basis of a winning, to the winner.
--, Formation--Score on a formation, or set, of tiles.
--, Limit--A limited or maximum score to be counted for winning a "game," determined by general agreement at the outset.
Season, Own--A season in the order corresponding to the player's position ; as, Spring' to East.
Sequence--A formation of three tiles of a categorv, or "suit," in a consecutive order; Ch'i.
Shang--to uplift, to take up.
Shu--A number; erroneously called "character" or Wan.
Ssu Fang Wei Kang--"Four regions, one realm."
Ssu Shi--The four Seasons.
Super-extreme--T'ai Chi, the One and All, the ultimate, the absolute, the infinite.
Super-game--A limited game.
T'ai Chi--The super-extreme.
Tile--A "card" or "piece" in the Ma-ch'iau set.
--, Familiar--A tile corresponding to a previous discard.


--, Forbidden--A full "honor" tile of the sort or "suit" of which two or three triplets or quadruplets are shown on the table to some one's credit, or a tile of a category nine of which in formation are already shown.
--, Full "Honor"--An Extreme, or Wind, or Season, or Flower.
--, Half "Honor"--A One or Nine of a category.
--, "Loose"--A tile at the end of the wall, that is, where the hollow square was broken, to be drawn only after a "Flower" or a Kang has been obtained.
Ts'an-Yi-Ch'iu--Heterogeneity with Ones and Nines; a winning hand composed of Full and Half "Honor" tiles.
Ts'an-Yi-Se--"Mixed Color"; a winning hand composed of Full "Honor" tiles and other tiles of but one category.
Tui--A pair; the "eyes."
Tui-Tui-Fu--"Even Harmony"; a winning hand without any sequence.
Tung--East; eastern; Winter.
T'ung--A sacred, heavenly wheel; erroneously called "circle" or "dot."
Waiting--When a player calls for only one tile to complete a winning hand; "calling."
"Wall"--A tier of tiles; the Ma-ch'iau Square; the Hollow Square; one of its sides.
Wan--Finish, end; another "name" for an Axis.
Wan Wu--All things, all beings.
Wang--Lucky, successful, prosperous.
Wang-tsz--Luck; success ; prosperity ; winning points.
Wind--Wind, "Corner," "direction," "position."
--, Own--A Wind of the order corresponding to the player's position.


--, Prevailing (or Dominating)--A Wind in the order corresponding to the Round of play; as, East to the East Round of Play.
Woo--Cantonese for Fu or Hu.
"World, Other"--"Dead Wall"; that part of the hollow square consisting of sixteen tiles which can never be drawn during a game except one.
Yi--One, a, all.
Yi Shwang Yi Tui--"A couple, a pair."

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