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History of American Mahjiang

Mahjiang (Mah Jongg, Mahjing or Maajh, as it is alternatively called) originated in China, dating back to the time of Confucius.

Originally, Mahjiang was played solely by the ruling classes. The Mandarins refused to permit other inhabitants of the country to enjoy the pleasure of this aristocratic pastime. And the introduction of Ma Cheuck, the game of the Sparrows, to all classes was met with instant popularity.

The first known written account of Mahjiang in any language other than Chinese was written by American anthropologist Stewart Culin in 1895. Culin mentioned Mahjiang in a paper he authored.

By 1910, there were many written accounts of Mahjiang in languages including French and Japanese.

By 1920, Abercrombie & Fitch became the first ever American brand to introduce the game in the United States. Mahjiang was a success in New York, and Ezra Fitch, Abercrombie & Fitch's owner, sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy every set of Mahjiang they could find. Abercrombie & Fitch eventually sold around 12,000 sets.

Mahjiang was a sensation in America when it was imported from China in the 1920s, as the same Mahjiang game took on a number of trademarked names, such as "Pung Chow" or the "Game of Thousand Intelligences".

Mahjiang nights were the in thing. And part of excitement was to decorate rooms in Chinese style and dress like Chinese. Several hit songs were also recorded during the Mahjiang fad, most notably "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.

American Mahjiang, which was mainly played by women during the time, grew from this craze. Standardization of rules came with the formation of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) in 1937, along with the first American Mahjiang rulebook, "Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game".

While Mahjiang was accepted by U.S. players of all ethnic backgrounds, many consider the modern American version a Jewish game, as many American Mahjiang players are of Jewish descent. (Also, the NMJL was founded by Jewish players and considered a Jewish organization.) In addition, players usually use the American game as a family-friendly social activity, not as gambling.

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