SOPHIA JARAMILLO WRITES — Recently, three women of Dallas, Texas took it upon themselves to launch a ‘refreshed’ version of the traditional Chinese tile-layering game, Mahjong. This event definitely sparked controversy, as none of the women involved in the project of The Mahjong Line are of Chinese descent, but rather, Caucasians who claimed that the traditional symbols on the tiles’ surface were not trendy, or up to par with their personal style. Obviously, there are many issues with such claims, as well as the outrageous pricing of the Mahjong sets—ranging between $325 and $425 a set-making them accessible, then, to only an extremely small percentage of wealthy consumers.
The main critiques of this Mahjong collection are: 1) that it erases the traditional Chinese history of the game and its cultural significance and 2) that the women who founded the company felt compelled to essentially defy tradition and create such a line that it needed a stylish reboot. There lies the source of people’s anger-the eradication of the game’s historical Chinese context and culture (by Caucasians). In recent years, Mahjong suppliers and craftsmen have faced threats of going out of business and losing work due to consumers’ declining interest in the old-school game. But to strip the game of its critical cultural importance to Chinese communities for the sake of allegedly improved aesthetics shows people’s lack of knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the game’s value to its native culture.
Though this is not the first time Mahjong tiles have been rebranded-nor will it be the last- it is important to acknowledge that the historical and cultural contexts of the game have been completely overlooked in this situation. This is not to say that Mahjong tiles will remain the same forever, but that this company, at this time and in this way, has made an insensitive move.