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Shanghai and Ningbo

Part 1: Shanghai and Ningbo
Part 2: Tianyi Pavilion
Part 3: Ningbo's Chinatown
Part 4: Shanghai
Part 5: World Expo 2010

Sushila wanted to visit 天一阁博物馆, the Tianyi Pavilion. I wanted to visit 麻将起源地陈列馆, the Display Hall of the Birthplace of Mahjong (DH/BP/MJ). Those were the two places we wanted to see in Ningbo. We had the whole day available for those two places. We decided to go first to Tianyi Pavilion, after a side trip to get Sushila a cane. Couple little problems. Sushila had forgotten to bring the Chinese name of the pavilion. She said the place was on Moon Lake. And I had forgotten to bring the written name and address of the DH/BP/MJ in Chinese. I knew the street address in English: 74 MaYa Road, but I couldn't write it in Chinese. And the hotel clerks told me that just knowing a street address wasn't good enough. One had to tell the taxi driver the name of a building.

Digression(?) alert. I knew from having lived a while in Japan that Japanese addresses don't work like American addresses. In America, buildings are numbered according to location. The buildings on a block are numbered, like from east to west or from north to south, and the buildings on the next block continue the numbering but in the next 100. But in Japan the buildings are numbered according to chronology. The oldest building on a block is building #1. The next one to have been built is #2, the next one #3, and so on. So that's how addresses work in America and Japan. Who knows (based on what the hotel clerks had said) how they work in China.

After our side trip and acquiring a cane for Sushila, we needed to tell the driver where we wanted to go. Sushila remembered that the name was "Tianyi something." And off we went.

I could tell (from the cathedral spires) that we were back in the vicinity of the shopping center near our hotel. But Sushila spotted a likely-looking building and said "that looks like it."

I had told Sushila the story of how my handy little Chinese book had helped me when I'd been in Chengdu. I'd needed to tell a taxi driver to stop, and the book had given me the phrase. Now when Sushila saw the likely-looking building, she said, "Tom, look up in your little book how to say 'stop.'" I did. I told the driver, "qing ting." We got out.

On closer examination, this was plainly not where we were trying to get. We walked a little further, and we were in the same shopping center Pete and I had explored the previous afternoon. I looked on Pete's map and saw that this was "Tianyi Square." Not "Tianyi Pavilion."

These fellows on this plaque are not playing mahjong. Maybe another game, like Go.

We flagged down another taxi. I was the designated navigator. We were in a bouncing cab, and I was looking at a map I'd never seen before, trying to find a place I didn't know the name of. I never should have accepted the position! And I really need to change my approach to foreign travel -- I really ought to educate myself about the landmarks of a place I'm going to, rather than let serendipity run its course. But I digress. Again.

Looking on the map, I saw one landmark in the park by the lake and told him to take us there (pointing to it on the map). We were driving along the shore of Moon Lake (Yuehu Lake on the map) when Sushila said, "Tom, look up in your book how to say 'library.' The place is a library." So I did. I told the cabbie, "túshŭgŭan." He looked incredulous. What? Túshŭgŭan? He changed course and took us to... a library.

All of a sudden Sushila was able to find the place on the map. The driver pointed at me, and clearly he was saying something like, "but this idiot told me to go to the library!" Finally we got to the Tianyi Pavilion (also sometimes known as Tianyige Museum -- Tian Yi Ge Bowuguan -- on Wikipedia it's called Tianyi Chamber).

In the front entrance of Tianyige, Sushila talked to some ladies who said that someone who could speak better English would be there about a half hour later. We vowed to come back to the entrance, after exploring the grounds a while, to meet this person.

This is Fan Qin (范钦). He was Secretary of War in the mid-1500's, the Ming Dynasty. He's the one who amassed the collection of books. According to the guidebook of the museum: "Tianyige Library is the oldest private library still in existence in China, and it is also one of the most ancient private libraries in the world."
The grounds consisted of a number of buildings, gardens, and cute little courtyards like this one.
Me with dragon.
Very charming!
These fellows are playing Xiangqi, also known as Chinese Chess.
According to the museum guidebook, "The whole place is divided into three functional parts: library culture, recreational gardens and exhibition area."
We just sort of wandered, not following any particular path. We came to a rest spot. Pete bought us all soft drinks. I wandered into the gift shop to see if there were any mahjong trinkets. Not seeing any, I said to the lady in there, "majiang." She quickly produced the booklet of the Display Hall of the Birthplace of Mahjong, "The History and Culture of Mahjong."

This key informative booklet is one I already had. I'd received a copy in the packet given to all participants at the first World Championship of Mahjong in Tokyo in 2002. And I cite the booklet as a key historical resource in FAQ 11a, FAQ 11c, and FAQ 11b.

But as I mentioned above, I needed to show a taxi driver the address of the DH/BP/MJ so he could take us there after we were finished at Tianyi Pavilion. So I bought a copy.

It was raining on and off a bit, and plenty of visitors stopped to rest at this same rest spot. I heard visitors speak to the mynah bird. It was able to say both "niihau" and "hello." I should have recorded a movie with my camera, but didn't think to at the time.
A sign pointed towards the mahjong display. We could go around, or we could go through this cute little tunnel. We opted for the tunnel.
Then just like that, we found ourselves walking on mahjong tiles!
Now you can see how big these tiles are.
And inside, a display room of mahjong sets.
A mahjong set with dice. Dice are actually part of mahjong's "genealogy."
An American-style set.
These money-suited playing cards are part of mahjong's "genealogy," as I discussed in FAQ 11b
A very old mahjong set. The flower and season tiles don't have any pictorial carving on them -- they're only written.
A colorful bone-and-bamboo set.
The flower and joker tiles of the colorful set above.
Antique season and joker tiles.
An elaborate "Outlaws of the Marsh" Treasure Set (also known as "Water Margin"). I'm pretty sure these sets are quite modern.
A set of tiles all made out of bronze. Although this was a museum, and there were labels on some of the displays, they weren't particularly informative. I don't know when this bronze set was made, or why.

There was a mahjong-devoted gift shop in this part of the Tianyi Pavilion. I bought some trinkets, and three different decks of Chinese playing cards; One deck of money-suited cards, one deck of domino cards, and a deck of number cards. You can read more about these types of cards at

The walls here are covered with panels from the booklet of the Display Hall of the Birthplace of Mahjong, "The History and Culture of Mahjong." The panels of most interest to me are those discussing the "genealogy" of mahjong. For scholarly purposes, many of those panels have been on display here, in FAQ 11b and the information has also helped fill in dates in the FAQ 11h timeline.
I took high-res photos of all the panels so I can compare them with what's in the booklet, in case any new tidbits of information can be gleaned thereby. There was also a panel about Chen Yumen.

According to the DH/BP/MJ booklet, Chen Yumen (also known as Zhengyao, also known as Zhengyue, also known as Yanglou*) created mahjong based on money-suited cards and dominos. I had read somewhere that the DH/BP/MJ is in Chen Yumen's house, here in Ningbo. It didn't seem strange to me that the info from the booklet was here on the walls in the Tianyi Pavilion. This all made my anticipation for visiting Chen Yumen's house all the greater.

* In the DH/BP/MJ booklet, his name is always written as 陈鱼门 (Chen Yumen in Simplified characters). But in the picture of his calling card, his name is written as 陳政鑰 (Chen Zhengyao in Traditional characters).**

** If you think it was easy getting those Chinese characters in Unicode so you could see them here, you got another think coming! Took me several hours.

Here's the famous bronze mahjong table.
Okay, so sometimes I use my left hand, sometimes I use my right. I type with both hands, I play guitar with both hands. Why shouldn't I play mahjong with both hands? Just not both at the same time, else my Japanese mahjong friends get upset (it's bad mahjong etiquette to use both hands at the same time).
Some players play too slowly. Like Mr. Beard there.
Here's a first -- Pete is playing mahjong!
Sushila always calls me "the mahjong guru," so here I am pretending to actually be one.
Opponent #1 is the "thinks too much" type. I wonder if he actually represents a real person...? Oh wait. Do you suppose? I think he represents Japanese players, since mahjong is so popular in Japan.
Opponent #2 is the "too eager" type. What are you reaching for, huh? Mr. Thinker is still thinking!

Could be that he represents "all Chinese players."

Opponent #3 is the "obligatory foreigner" type.

He might represent "all Western players." Or he might represent a particular real person. But if so, who? He's not Joseph Park Babcock. Babcock didn't sport a beard. Maybe he's Robert F. Foster.

I didn't have time to study the tiles each player is holding and what's on the table. Maybe there's a worthy puzzle there...?
This portion of the Tianyi Pavilion is what Sushila wanted to see, of course, so she made the most of it.
No mahjong set would be complete without dice, and scoring sticks. Right?
Sushila wanted to make friends with this lion. Probably better to just get a cat, in my opinion.
And we exited through a back gate. And found ourselves on this charming back street. Thought we were supposed to go back to the front and speak with someone in English. Ah well.
Okay, that's the last of the scenic spots here.

On to Chen Yumen's house! It's at 74 MaYa Road, and I have the booklet with the address (and name of the place) written in Chinese, and we can show it to a cabbie.

At the main road we hailed a cab and I showed him the address we wanted to go next. Looking confused, he drove in reverse down the street we'd just walked, and pointed to the gate we'd just exited from!

The Display Hall of the Birthplace of Mahjong, it turns out, was within the grounds of the Tianyi Pavilion!
Now that I've had a chance to do more research, I found on that Maya Street is indeed the street that runs along beside the Tianyi Pavilion. Comparing the addresses of the two places, you can see why I didn't know the one place was within the other:

  • Tianyi Pavilion - #10 Tianyi Street (some online sources say #5)
  • DH/BP/MJ - #74 Maya Road (Google Maps shows it as Maya Street)

    So I had already been in the place I'd wanted to go to Ningbo to see!

    I'd hoped to speak to a curator, ask him if they had the 1861 diary of British Consul Frederick (FEB) Harvey. A 2008 TV show about mahjong on CCTV9 (part 6 of a series on Ancient Chinese Games) mentioned the diary, in which Harvey said he'd been taught the game of Sparrow (mahjong) by Chen Yumen around 1861. You can watch the video on the CCTV website at The thing is, in the video they say that the diary is located in the Mahjong Museum in Chiba, Japan.

    So, together with Michael Stanwick (a British mahjong historian), Thierry Depaulis (a French historian of card games and mahjong), and 梶本琢程 Takunori Kajimoto (Japanese pro mahjong player and author), I wrote to Mr. Noguchi, the Japanese publisher who created the museum in Chiba and who organized the Tokyo WCMJ, to ask him to publish a transcript of what Harvey wrote in the diary.

    Mr. Noguchi replied and said that the diary is not in his museum. So I figured maybe it's at the DH/BP/MJ. I wanted to ask the curator.

    But now I'd left the place already. After Pete and Sushila were back in the hotel, I seriously contemplated going back. But on further thought, I realized I didn't have the information I needed. I didn't remember Harvey's name, or the name of the TV show it was mentioned in, and now that I'd been in the place, it didn't seem nearly as complete a mahjong museum collection as Mr. Noguchi's in Chiba. I'd seen everything there was to see in the place, as far as I could tell. The only thing I really needed to do there was talk to a curator and ask if he had the Harvey diary. And I hadn't really expected to be able to do that anyway.

    I realized that I'd come less prepared than I'd thought. And through a comedy of errors, I'd gone through the place without realizing I was in the place. Sometimes when I travel, I feel like James Bond. This time I was more like Inspector Clouseau or Mister Magoo.

    Now I am left with unanswered questions:

  • Since the DH/BP/MJ is not in Chen Yumen's house, does Chen Yumen's house still stand?
  • If his house still exists, is it open to the public, and what's contained therein?
  • Does Harvey's diary still exist, and if so, where is it?

    In December, 2011, I received correspondence from Yukio Mori (a mahjong luminary from Japan, whom I'd met at just about every international tournament) and he provided some answers to the questions above. He wrote:

    The remaining mystery, then, is the Harvey diary mentioned in the CCTV show. If it exists, where might it be? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Part 1: Shanghai and Ningbo
    Part 2: Tianyi Pavilion
    Part 3: Ningbo's Chinatown
    Part 4: Shanghai
    Part 5: World Expo 2010

    Sushila Singh launched her Mumbai Style Mahjongg site in 2012:

    © 2010, 2012 Tom Sloper