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What the Symbols on the Mahjong Tiles Mean

Diesen Artickel einschätzen There are lots of different types of Mahjong all over the world, and lots of different tiles in a set but what do all of the markings mean? Mahjong Spiele kostenlos - What the Symbols on the Mahjong Tiles Mean

Playing mahjong for many years, Most of us never asked ourselves what the marks on the tiles mean. For years, we thought of them as Chinese figures without paying notice to the fact most of them contain meanings. Nowadays, there are so many mahjong games, some of them with new and modern patterns on them, but we want to take a moment and introduce you to what the classic patterns mean.

As mentioned above, Mahjong is a Chinese game and has many variants, and has an interesting history that you can read that in our Origins of Mahjong Article. What is important for us, is the fact that mahjong wasn’t played as a solitaire game, but as a game usually involving four players who try to form pairs and sets of four tiles, resembling the game Rummy. The game consists of 3 sets of suited tiles, 2 sets of honor tiles and any number of variant tiles, usually nature based. A game should consist of at least 136 tiles and always in multiplications of 4.

Simple Tiles:
There are basic mahjong 3 sets (or suits) numbered from 1 to 9. These are the common tiles we see most often and usually confuse us while playing because they all look quite similar. The 3 basic suits represents Bamboo, Characters (myriad) and circles (or bam - round bread). Each of the sets will appear 4 times.

The tiles also has a second meaning. The Bamboo represents the Axis of Earth, the circles represent the Wheel of Heaven and the characters represents Changes in the life of man.
The numbers on the tiles would usually be simplified Chinese characters when the first and the last tiles sometimes appear unique due to their original game purpose, similar to the Ace card.
The tiles used to represent Chinese currency. The “bams” are equal to their numerical value in copper coins, each “bamboo” is worth 100 copper coins (bamboo were used to carry coins) and each “myriad” is worth 10,000 copper coins.

Honor tiles:
Unlike the basic sets, the symbols on the honor tiles are unique and don’t have ranking or numerals on them. The common honor tiles are the four winds and the “dragons”. The wind tiles represent the 4 Cardinal directions: east, west, south and north. The Three Dragon tiles don’t represent real dragons, in Chinese culture Dragons can also mean the “basics of life”. Therefore the red, green and white tiles, represent in order the 3 of the virtues in Confucianism – Benevolence, Sincerity and Piety.

Flower tiles:
Although you would think with the name Flower tiles they would be picture of flowers, though they do not consist only of flowers. Flower tiles are usually numbered in Latin numerals from 1 to 4. The first common set are traditional Chinese flowers: Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum and Bamboo. The Second common set, are the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn.

Under Flower sets, we can usually find tiles that take pictures from the from the different areas around where the game is played. Mahjong has spread to many different countries and each one personalizes the tiles. For example, in Singapore, you will find Mahjong games that have “Animal Flower tiles”, such as cat, cockerel, rich man with a pot of gold and a fisherman with a fish.
In American Mahjong, You will often find eight “Jokers”, resembling the jokers from the common card set. Joker tiles style and graphics will change and have many different variants but some of them will plainly say “Joker” in Chinese.

We hope you enjoyed our article about the meaning of the different tiles, and we invite you to play one of the mahjong games on our site and try identifying the different tiles! Though these are the solitaire version of the game you can still see how the tiles relate to each other, and the different icons that each set has.

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