Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture

Oxford Univ. May 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780190081799. $34.95. HIST
Mahjong is a tile-based game that originated in China. Heinz (history, Univ. of Oregon) explores the history of mahjong in the United States: how it arrived, the demographic groups who played it, and its evolution from the early 20th century to the present. American marketers in the 1920s advertised mahjong as an ancient game played by Confucius. In reality, it originated in southern China in the mid-19th century. Americans living in Shanghai became aware of the game in the early 20th century, and there was a boom of interest during the roaring twenties that died down in the Great Depression. After World War II, two groups dominated the American version of the game: the National Mah Jongg League, whose membership was largely Jewish women; and Wright-Patterson Mah Jongg, whose membership was largely military officers’ wives. These groups created their own standardized ways to play the game, while Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans played versions of mahjong from their ancestral homelands.
VERDICT An enjoyable and informative work that’s highly recommended for any reader interested in the history of mahjong specifically or 20th-century U.S. cultural history generally.
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