Just a game or gentrification? US company comes under fire for new mahjong sets

  • American company The Mahjong Line launched pricey mahjong sets with new designs that have nothing to do with Chinese culture
  • They were blasted on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for whitewashing the game
Amalissa Hall |
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The Mahjong Line caused a stir when they swapped the traditional tiles for new designs.

The Mahjong Line, a company based in the US state of Texas, came under fire this week for redesigning the patterns of mahjong tiles and selling sets ranging from US$325 to US$425 (HKD$2,519 to HKD$3,295). Mahjong was developed during the Qing dynasty and is still played regularly in Hong Kong and China.

The three American women who started the brand said they did so because whilst the artwork of the tiles was beautiful, it was all the same and “did not reflect the fun that was had whilst playing with friends”.

One of Hong Kong's last mahjong tile carvers talks about her craft

On their website, they stated the game needed a “respectful refresh” in order to “bring mahjong to the stylish masses”. With five sets to choose from, with names like “The Botanical Line” and “The Cheeky Line”, some of their new designs included bags of white flour and bars of soap.

Many people on social media felt the intention to change a traditional Chinese game for aesthetic purposes came across as cultural appropriation. It was also seen as tone deaf, considering that in 2020 there was vocal prejudice against Asian-American as a result of Covid-19, having been dubbed “the China virus” by some.

The Mahjong Line has since apologised on Instagram, saying “we are always open to constructive criticism and are continuing to conduct conversations”, however, they have turned off comments and direct messages on the platform.

Whilst other companies like Hermes and Louis Vuitton have given the game a luxury makeover by using expensive materials like jade and leather, they did not go so far as to change the design of the tiles.

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