Japanese museum returns mahjong sets to China

World's largest mahjong museum to send sets back to China, including one used by Puyi

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 4:45am

A mahjong museum in a prefecture near Tokyo has decided to return to China a huge collection of mahjong sets, including one used by the last Chinese emperor, Puyi, the World Mahjong Organisation (WMO) said online yesterday.

The cultural relics will be transferred to Beijing, where the organisation is headquartered, from the museum in Japan's Chiba prefecture.

Besides Puyi's set, which China considers a national treasure, the batch also includes mahjong pieces made of jade, silver or bone, as well as those that once belonged to famous historical figures such as the late Peking opera star Mei Lanfang and famed 20th century ink painter Zhang Daqian, said Yao Xiaolei, assistant to the WMO's secretary-general.

"They are all of very high cultural value, and it is difficult to say which piece is worth more money," Yao told the Post by phone yesterday. "We're still considering how to deal with them."

The return of the mahjong items was an unfulfilled wish of the late former board chairman of a publishing company that owns the museum.

As the museum's entire collection will be transferred to Beijing, the WMO will establish an institution in the museum's place to promote mahjong, according to an agreement reached between the museum and the WMO.

The decision by Chiba's mahjong museum - the biggest and oldest of its kind in the world - will strengthen co-operation between the two countries in the study and heritage of the mahjong culture, the WMO said.

"This decision will also help boost the mahjong culture in a healthy and scientific way," it said. "It is an important push for cross-cultural communications, as well as for the sustainable development of competitive intelligence-oriented activities, expos, leisure tourism and mahjong equipment."

The West China City Daily reported that the museum previously intended to hold an auction in Beijing, with an opening bid of about 120 million yuan (HK$150 million) for more than 30,000 items, but the auction was cancelled for unknown reasons.

Established in 2005, the WMO is a non-profit organisation dedicated to training and competition involving the Chinese game. It was set up by mahjong organisations in China, Japan, the US, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Hungary.