While Mahjong is a tool of mass entertainment, it also represents traditional Chinese culture. It’s important to note that each illustration on the tiles has its own meaning – these illustrations not only mirror the wisdom of Chinese people but also express their unique aesthetic ideas.
Now, imagine the rich history of the ancient game being shattered by none other than… white people.
Recently, netizens were seen calling out an American company called The Mahjong Line where they redesigned the tiles for a “cool and modern crowd”. Many deemed it as whitewashing and gentrifying Mahjong with some even throwing in the word ‘cultural appropriation’ into the debate.
The company was founded by three Caucasian ladies, Annie, Kate and Bianca.
On their website, it wrote: “Kate discovered that the artwork of the traditional tiles, while beautiful, was all the same – and did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends. And nothing came close to mirroring her style and personality”.
Welp! Because of that Kate decided that the venerable game needed a “refresh”. The website even explained that their mahjong tiles are “modern size for legibility” by stating that “the struggle is real when reading the old-school tiles”.
And well, netizens especially the Chinese were not having it! Check out what they had to say:
How do you screw up the design of bamboo and circles? White people can remember all the weird names of Game of Thrones characters but not one to nine in Chinese?
— Karen K. Ho (Doomscrolling Reminder Lady) (@karenkho) January 4, 2021
i can’t believe i’m watching the gentrification of MAHJONG. i know my lola is screaming somewhere in heaven rn lmao. pic.twitter.com/H4H2tMcBGu
— telepatty ⁷ 🍙 (@SPRlNGBAE) January 4, 2021
sorry for getting mad over mahjong it’s just… i grew up with this game it’s a literal staple of chinese households and for some white girls to come and slap a $400 price tag on it while saying the original doesn’t have their “personality” doesn’t sit right with me at all
— 莉² (@ggonesgalaxy) January 5, 2021
this makes me so mad. i checked their website and the only time they mention the word “chinese” is in their faq where they talk about how THEY play AMERICAN mahjong and not CHINESE mahjong https://t.co/aPfpntdt1b
— halle ᓚᘏᗢ (@quartoporto2) January 5, 2021
What’s happening? Colonizers Annie, Bianca and Kate have discovered a new and improved tile game, once known as mahjong but now is a reflection of their individual style and fun. This is a textbook example of #culturalappropriation so happy 2021 everyone. pic.twitter.com/EYNpwmeRFR
— “it’s allergies not Covid19, dear Caucasian” (@mskathykhang) January 4, 2021
barely a week into 2021 and here we see mahjong, OF ALL THINGS, getting gentrified ffs leAVE ASIAN CULTURES ALONE GODDAMMIT 😭😭😭 https://t.co/2MgPVhnfT2
— yuno for tom ford (@jaehyunplum) January 5, 2021
I’m all for “cool, new ideas!” except when cool new ideas completely ignore the root of the culture they seek to expand upon.
As decent as the designs are, there’s a basic cultural value that can/should not be replaced. Of all the things to whitewash, mahjong? Fucking really? https://t.co/0oLYSseLe0
— Azaxar (@RoninAzaxar) January 5, 2021
You can’t just repackage something belonging to a culture that isn’t yours and act like you started a new cultural phenomenon. This is the same deal with Lucky Lees when a white woman opened up a “CLEAN CHINESE RESTAURANT” BECAUSE SHE SAID CHINESE FOOD BY CHINESE PEOPLE WAS DIRTY
— untitled.ai (@christinacyoung) January 5, 2021