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Mahjong's magic casts a growing spell老外对麻将的趣味日益增长

Game attracting more players overseas, Wang Huazhong reports in Qianjiang, Chongqing.  After spending most of his life working as a security guard at a State-owned factory, Liang Jianguo took on a role he never imagined.
  "I never thought we would host the World Mahjong Championships or that I would travel overseas as a referee," he said.
  Liang was head referee at the third World Mahjong Championships in Qianjiang, Chongqing municipality.
  Saturday saw a convoy of police cars shepherding 13 buses carrying the 12 referees, including Liang, and 186 players from 13 countries to local government buildings for the championship's opening ceremony.

  The tiles and scoring rules used in mahjong may differ slightly, depending on regional variations, but the game is essentially the same in all versions. Ran Wen / for China Daily
  The 84 overseas players demonstrated their skill and exchanged strategy during the championships that also drew 102 domestic competitors.
  According to World Mahjong Organization officials, a "steadily growing" number of people outside Asia are also playing the game, and mahjong associations have been organizing national- and continental-level tournaments and championships since the 1990s.
  "As a healthy, scientific, friendly mind game, Mahjong will become more popular and gain wider significance," said Yu Guangyuan, the WMO chairman and a former vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in his opening address.
  Mahjong has a checkered history in China. Some sources claim the game was devised thousands of years ago by the sage Confucius, while others date its beginnings to the 1880s and 90s. Either way, the game - in which players attempt to collect suits of tiles, similar to Western card games such as bridge or rummy - provokes strong reactions. While devotees praise it as an intellectual pursuit, opponents vilify it as the basest form of gambling.
  The perception of a game for unruly gamblers resulted in mahjong being outlawed when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, and it wasn't until the 1980s that it was played openly again. Even now, many view the game with suspicion and enthusiasts are sometimes embarrassed to admit their passion for fear of appearing anti-social.
  Western enthusiasm
  Pavel Anokhin, a computer programmer from Russia, first heard about mahjong when he read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by the British thriller writer Agatha Christie.
  The book, first published in 1926, includes a chapter An Evening at Mahjong, where the game is described as "simple entertainment, very popular in King's Abbot". The characters describe mahjong as a peaceful game, one that won't lead to acrimony with your partners, and discuss whether to shout "Chee" or "Chow" as some Chinese do when picking up discarded tiles.
  Intrigued, Anokhin began playing the game himself. "I don't see much difference between mahjong and chess in terms of the level of mental difficulty. I hope more people in Russia will learn the game," said Anokhin. "By playing mahjong, we can learn more about China and its culture," he added.
  Meanwhile, members of the British rock band Pink Floyd were so enamored of the game that they even called one of their songs A Pillow of Winds, a reference to a particular scoring combination.
  The European Mahjong Association said more than 500 professional players compete in regular national and intra-continental tournaments, hoping to rise ever higher in the rankings.
  The development of mahjong leagues across Europe inspired the associations in Denmark and the Netherlands to propose the establishment of the World Mahjong Organization. Founded in 2005, the WMO has branches in 24 countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia.
  Almost all the member countries have their own leagues, and four European Mahjong Championships have been held to date. Moreover, clubs have been mushrooming in major European cities from Amsterdam to Zurich.
  Desiree Heemskerk, who organized the Open European Mahjong Championship in 2005 and the Dutch Mahjong Association in 2004, said clubs and tournaments have been opening across the continent since the 1990s.
  People in the Netherlands used to play by the typical Dutch rules, which was boring, but when a match was organized using Hong Kong and world competition rules, the game began to flourish, she said.
  "Since then, more people have come to play because it's more official and you have a greater chance of playing against people from other countries. That makes all the difference - we don't play the Dutch rules anymore," admitted Heemskerk.
  She noted that the Internet is a popular destination for many players and that European devotees can even subscribe to Mahjongnews, an independent online newspaper.

  Mahjong's appeal is going increasingly global as seen during the world championships in Chongqing. Ran Wen / for China Daily

  Europeans taking part in the World Mahjong Championship in Chongqing described the game as a fun mental exercise played simply for enjoyment. For them, gambling never enters the equation.

  Joel Ratsimandresy, a French civil engineer, who took an oath on behalf of all the competitors to play the game in the correct manner, morally and in a spirit of fairness and friendship, may have understated his enthusiasm when he said he is "fond of the game". The 30-year-old plays three times a week, for five hours at a time at clubs in Paris.

  Another Frenchman, physicist Quentin Porcherot, 27, said he started playing with his parents and grandparents 20 years ago. "Some Western families play mahjong. It was very fashionable 85 years ago. The Americans brought mahjong from China to the Western world, translating and adapting it to simpler rules."

  "I love the game because it's relatively comprehensive. It mixes the random with strategy and psychology."

  Healthy and friendly

  Deng Kunming, deputy director of the public security bureau of Qianjiang, who provided security for the opening ceremony of mahjong championship, said the official perception of the game has changed: "After the event, I heard local policemen talking about mahjong's advantages in aiding communication skills. I sensed a change in their attitudes. A healthy mahjong culture in China could also relieve pressure on the police when maintaining social security."

  Tu Shaobo, a student at the Communication University of China, at the 3rd World Mahjong Championships, which attracted college students from across the country. Ran Wen / for China Daily

  However, Jiang Xuanqi, general secretary of the World Mahjong Organization, said support from police was not forthcoming when he organized matches many years ago.

  In 1998, the General Administration of Sport of China published the paper Competition Rules of Chinese Mahjong, which prompted many enthusiasts to believe that nationwide leagues might come into existence because an official standard had been established.

  However, negative perceptions of the game sparked outrage among the public, many of whom felt the leagues would result in adverse social consequences.

  Nowadays, the game is less controversial, although discussions still rage far and wide whenever the media reports the opening of the championships, especially if students from elite institutions such as Tsinghua and Peking universities, are enrolled as competitors.

  "The opening-up of China to the outside world has driven the healthy evolution of mahjong over the years. People have rethought the world and their values from a different angle," said Jiang. "However, we still have a long way to go to raise public awareness that mahjong can be a healthy, scientific and friendly mental game."

  Chairman Mao Zedong once said the game was one of three treasures China had given the world, the others being Chinese traditional medicine and the classic novel A Dream of Red Mansions.

  Both the former Sports Minister Li Menghua and the former Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Yu Guangyuan have stressed the urgency of promoting mahjong as a force for social good and ensuring that it isn't just seen as a game, like martial arts.

  "Anything can be used for good and bad causes and it is up to the government and social groups to direct opinion," said Jiang. "Engaging the younger generation is the key to realizing our goal," he said.

  In recent years, a number of competitive clubs have registered with local authorities to promote the game, and young people's participation is "a major force that keeps the clubs running vibrantly".

  Zhou Guijun, founder of the Beijing Fangzhuang Mahjong Mind Club, said young people are smart, skillful, innovative and most important, have energized the club.

  The club has 100 members, aged from 20 to 80, every season, and to keep younger members involved Zhou has arranged for games to be scheduled at times convenient for them, because it would not survive without their input.

  "After all, it's the young people who will restore the culture and image of mahjong," she said.

  Zhang Shirong, 39, a math teacher in Qianjiang, said he welcomed the championships and supported the idea of introducing mahjong to students.
  "Mahjong is a mind game and part of Chinese culture," Zhang said. "I don't see anything wrong if children play it to develop their mental abilities."

  Business chances

  Behind the growing acceptance and popularity, there is a prospective industry that could even match the market value of soccer in China, if unleashed.

  The game brought hundreds of players, organizers and entertainers to stay and spend at the most expensive hotel in town, while food and beverage companies set up stalls around the events. More importantly, the local government is joining in too.

  More than 180 players from 13 countries participated in the 3rd World Mahjong Championships, held in the Qianjiang district of Chongqing this week. Ran Wen / for China Daily

  Officials from the Qianjiang government have proposed that the WMO should establish a museum and co-found an institute to research Qianjiang's mahjong culture, according to Jiang.

  Wu Zhong, head of the Qianjiang district government, said the championships helped to promote tourism in the remote, mountainous southwestern region where infrastructure development has been slow. He pointed out that highways linking the district with the outside world were only built a few years ago.

  He added that he has no concerns that negative perceptions of the game will tarnish the image of his government: "It's just a game, a leisure pursuit. Healthy culture is a good way of building our brand and encouraging more people to visit Qianjiang."

  Qianjiang is not the only government "bold" enough to embrace the popularity of what is probably the most-widely played game in China. In August, more than 300,000 people attended a competition organized by a chess and card games association in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

  Rui Quanbao, director of the mahjong professional committee under the Sports Association for Elders in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and Zhang Demin, chairman of the Jingzhou Association for Mahjong Sports Competition in Hubei province, said local governments are no longer wary of holding this type of event - instead they are in fierce competition to host competitions.

  Some authorities have even pledged to sponsor the travel and accommodation costs if associations can assemble the requisite number of participants, said Rui.

  For Liang Jianguo, the game's allure is simple: "You make friends through this game."
Seize this moment to create the future. Seize present causes and conditions to improve the future.
2012-11-1 10:08

2012-11-1 10:08

2012-11-1 10:08
Seize this moment to create the future. Seize present causes and conditions to improve the future.
2012-11-1 10:09

2012-11-1 10:09

2012-11-1 10:09

2012-11-1 10:09
Seize this moment to create the future. Seize present causes and conditions to improve the future.
2012-11-1 10:09
Seize this moment to create the future. Seize present causes and conditions to improve the future.