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Three Women in Hot Water for Their Luxury White-Girl Version of Mahjong Game

Closeup of mahjon tiles on a mahjong table

Less than a week into 2021, three women are trending because their Dallas-based mahjong company is receiving backlash for “gentrifying” (read: colonizing) the classic Chinese game of mahjong. In the last 24 hours, The Mahjong Line has edited their website multiple times before finally taking it down.

The three women were aiming to market The Mahjong Line as a “unique” take on the tiles — altering the look and feel of the traditional tile sets to better represent the personalities of the white founders. So, instead of 144 tiles featuring Chinese characters and symbols, it was important to these women to “refresh” the traditional tiles. After all, when founder Kate was on a mission to buy her first Mahjong set, she was unimpressed with what was on offer — “while beautiful, was all the same — and did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends.” The Chinese designs she saw didn’t even come close to mirroring her style and personality, they wrote on their company’s site. None of the founders are of Chinese descent.

Mahjong is a big deal for Chinese Canadians and Americans. In rare pop culture moments that include Asian representation, there’s often a reference to the game that was originated in China. You’ve seen scenes of Asian folx playing it in The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians and others. It’s a thing. In fact, mahjong films even have their own subgenre in gambling flicks — their release date usually falls during Lunar New Year.

Still, The Mahjong Line founders saw a business opportunity. They had a vision and followed through — redesigning 5 tile sets — stripping away all that is Chinese and traditional from a game that was never theirs — and replaced the designs with western, more familiar images and borrowed some Arabic numerals. (Guess they thought that culture was more aligned with their aesthetic and personalities?) They did the thing and made it available for retail — marked it with a price tag: starting at $300. In case you didn’t know, you can land yourself an authentic mahjong game set for as little as $35.


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As you can imagine, the Internet was unhappy with the culture appropriation and colonization happening from the tone-deaf founders of the luxury line. It seems not everyone was listening and learning in 2020.



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But the founders did release a statement apologizing for failure “to pay homage” to the game’s heritage and cultural background following backlash — and talk about how they’re going to have some chats with people “who can provide further insight to the game’s traditions and roots in both Chinese and American cultures.”


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