the Chinese connection and the Polo stick

jmd

(again, I've lost my earlier entry... must get used to these tabs! I'll try to re-write what took me ages to formulate reasonably clearly)

We often read that the four suits are descendents of the Mamluk deck, and that these are possibly further connected to Chinese money or domino cards.

Of the chinese connection, part of this is also due to the similar term used for what is depicted on the Mamluks as a cup, but on the Chinese as a (old) man - clearly anathema for a Muslim deck.

Of the suit, the Chinese have, certainly in the early versions, three suits of coins, 'tìao' and 'wan'. The last of these refers to thousands and is depicted by the old man. What is interesting with 'tìao', however, is that at one level it simply means 'stick', and is depicted by bamboo. At another, it seems to imply or even mean 'hundred'. The game thus seems to depict cards for tens, hundreds and thousands, depicted with allusions to what these 'same' words may have indicated in either speech or similarity.

The simple sticks, then, may have become the more elaborate polo sticks of the Mamluk deck, and the old man replaced with a cup - perhaps even as container for the elixir of longevity.

When European eyes looked at the Mamluk, it is little surprise that polo sticks may not have been recognised, as the figures look more like either stylised torches with flames atop, or glaives - polearms with large cutting blades atop.

In any case, the transformation from the Mamluk depictions to the familiar Tarot ones would have quite legitimately have caused those interested in these to also reflect on the fourfold basis of the world as then considered, with the four elements being in reasonably common parlance. That these reflections did not reach us in written form certainly makes this conjecture only that - yet, given the times, and given that there were already documents on allegorical reflections on both chess and dice, this is only the more feasible: not all that is discussed is written, and not all that is written survives...

Just additional reflections upon which to sharpen one's blade...

attached is the four of sticks from the Mamluk, for those who have not yet seen it...
 

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jmd

...oops, I've misnamed it in my files: this is the eight of sticks, not the four!
 

felicityk

jmd said:
We often read that the four suits are descendents of the Mamluk deck, and that these are possibly further connected to Chinese money or domino cards.

Are these the same as Mah Jongg? I was given a gift today, The Fortune Teller's Mah Jongg by Derek Walters. It contains a deck of cards rather than the regular tiles. What is interesting is that it was given to me by someone who only vaguely knows of my interest in Tarot and who certainly could not have known that I recently bought The I Ching Pack by Anthony Clark and Richard Gill, which has a very similar style of illustration. I think the two decks will complement each other nicely, and I look forward to studying both of them. I will try to follow up if I learn anything relevant to this thread.

Felicity
 

jmd

Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken, but they are not the same. It is my understanding that Mah Jong arose - though possibly from ancestry similar - in the early 19th century.

I'll have to check my sources and correct this entry if incorrect. My general background knowledge for non-Tarot is not at the forefront of my mind...
 

Ross G Caldwell

age of mahjong

jmd said:
Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken, but they are not the same. It is my understanding that Mah Jong arose - though possibly from ancestry similar - in the early 19th century.

I'll have to check my sources and correct this entry if incorrect. My general background knowledge for non-Tarot is not at the forefront of my mind...

Nor mine :) ... but the www is a workable substitute for an encyclopaedic mind.

According to Mahjong player Steve Willoughby at http://www.rag.com/~steve/mahjong/index.html
"Mahjong is an ancient Chinese game, probably dating back thousands of years."

Despite his humble tone, Andy Pollett (of Andy's Playing Cards) cites him as an authority on the game at
http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Musee/7685/cards48.htm

Ross
 

jmd

Thanks for those links Ross... seems like the history of Mah Jong is as mysti as the hystory of Tarot ;)

This link, amongst others, tends to also confirm the 19th century date :).
 

Huck

Re: age of mahjong

Ross G Caldwell said:
Nor mine :) ... but the www is a workable substitute for an encyclopaedic mind.

According to Mahjong player Steve Willoughby at http://www.rag.com/~steve/mahjong/index.html
"Mahjong is an ancient Chinese game, probably dating back thousands of years."

Despite his humble tone, Andy Pollett (of Andy's Playing Cards) cites him as an authority on the game at
http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Musee/7685/cards48.htm

Ross

I remember in unsure manner to have seen somebody claiming, that Mahjongg was invented in 19th century outside of the East Asian sphere (perhaps Bell?)
 

Ross G Caldwell

jmd said:
Thanks for those links Ross... seems like the history of Mah Jong is as mysti as the hystory of Tarot ;)

This link, amongst others, tends to also confirm the 19th century date :).

Good link, thanks!

Probably safe to say the modern game is a mid-to-late 19th century invention, but solidly based on older models or systems, or even growing out of them.

I am a total ignoramus, so I can't say anything more

Ross
 

Huck

The Chinese number 9

Mah-Jongg is based upon the number 9.

The "Ho-Tu-plan" and the "scripture of the river Lo", both prtesented by Richard Wilhelm in his translation of the I-Ching, are the bacic Chinese orders with numbers, which took their way from old times through many applications in the "new age".

Ho-Tu somehow reflects the 10 in a sort of Abakus-order, regarding especially the 5-elements-theory. The "scripture of the river Lo" is based upon the 9 and reflects the "trigram-oder of King Wen" and the Western Surn-square. It was used in various astrologies, especially the 9 stars astrology (Chinese astrology - which consists of various traditions, has to some part nothing to do with stars or planets, but only with counting).

In comparition to Western card-games Mah-Jong could be interpreted as a 4-fold 4x9-structure with one "suit" consisting out of 9 "trumps" (2 Flower-groups, 3 dragons, 4 directions of heaven or winds) and 3 other suits with just the numbers 1-9.

The play of 2-3-4 is expressed (also) in the I-Ching: Yin/Yang present the 2 opposing principles, the 3 presents the trio earth-man-heaven (= 3 lines of a trigram) and the 4 the "4 states of change", in the I-Ching presented by the number 6-7-8-9, which appear as result of a throw of coins.

So the Mah-Jongg has a Chinese Mandala form and the Chinese play with the 9 is known from old times (for instance exists there also an oracle-work with 81 figures, based upon a 9x9-structure). It could be interpreted as interpretation of the I-Ching, independently if the game is really old or not.
 

Aure

Mahjong and tarot

I have a chinese suitcase that contains a nice mahjong set and as I was discussing tarot history with my spouse, he asked me if it is possible that mahjong has something to do with tarot and playing cards?

I examined Eleanor Noss Whitney's a Mahjong Handbook and my set and found interesting things:

*There are three suits, each consisting of thirty-six tiles: four 1's, four 2's, four 3's and so on up to 9

*The names of the suits are bamboos, characters and dots (bamboos could be wands, dots look like coins, I don't know about characters though)

*There are two types of honor tiles: the four winds (East, South, West and North (and the three dragons, green white and red); there are four of each of these; thus twenty-eight honors in all

*Flower (plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo) and Season tiles are no longer used in Mah Jong but still appear in some sets

There seems to be some similarities with the Mah Jong and tarot but I'm not learned enough in this subject to make any more assumptions.

Maybe someone here has more knowledge on this?