PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 11:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

French beat Chinese at their own game: mahjong


Patrick Boehler has published on China and Southeast Asia in four languages for publications in the US, Europe and Asia. After stints with Austria's ministries of defence and foreign affairs in Vienna and Beijing, he began his reporting career in Kuala Lumpur with the Malaysian online news portal Malaysiakini and, later, The Irrawaddy Magazine, a Myanmar exile publication in Thailand. He holds a doctorate in political science and has taught journalism at the University of Hong Kong. Follow him on Twitter: @mrbaopanrui

Allez les bleus! A sweeping victory by France over China at an international mahjong tournament has left the nation that invented the game of tiles in shock.

French players won gold, silver and bronze at the championship held last week in the medieval city of Toulouse, in southwestern France.

To complete the European dominance, the three were followed by two Italians and a Dutch player. The best Chinese player ranked only seventh. Among the 108 participants, 13 were Chinese citizens.

News of the national humiliation went viral on Sina Weibo at the weekend. Mostly jocular microblog comments on the humbling defeat were shared tens of thousands of times.

“We cannot let foreign devils beat us," one person commented.

"As a person from Chongqing, I feel the nation needs me now," said a resident of the city known to produce talented mahjong players.

Some cited the national athem. "As the Chinese people have arrived at their most perilous time," they wrote. "Every person is forced to expel his very last cry."

The French Mahjong Federation was established along with the European Mahjong Association in 2005, 110 years after the sport was first mentioned in a Western book and only seven years after the Chinese State Administration of Sports recognised the ancient game as a national sport. Mahjong had previously been suppressed in China as a form of gambling.  

Yao Xiaolei, assistant to the secretary general of the World Mahjong Organisation, blamed jet lag for the Chinese players' lagging performance last week. He also told the Global Times that the best Chinese players did not attend the tournament.


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