Panelist also reflected on how Mah Jong players who are not of Chinese heritage can work to respect the Chinese cultural heritage of Mah Jong. Panelist answered how it is important to take the time to learn from the inheritors of the game and respect the cultural roots of the Mah Jong tiles. Gregg explained how Mah Jong was a steppingstone into learning more about Chinese art, when researching her book, Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game.
In addition, Annelise Heinz challenged listeners to connect the history of the game with contemporary Asian American experience of identity and oftentimes exclusion in America.
Mah Jong can be an entry point into learning about Chinese culture and engaging with the Asian American community. It can bring people together with a shared love of the game, and a reminder of Chinese cultural roots. However, people-to-people exchanges take effort, intention and humility. Mah Jong has a rich and complex history, all which cannot be encompassed in a single discussion, and we hope this was steppingstone to further learning and exploration.
Annelise Heinz is an American History professor at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexuality. She is the author of Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture, which explores the American history of the Chinese parlor game mahjong in the first half of the twentieth century. This book follows the history of one game to think about how, in their daily lives, individuals create and experience cultural change.
Patrick Hamilton has taught Mah Jong in the local Washington, D.C. area. Growing up, his house had Mah-Jong sets and an extended family of uncles and cousins played because of a Great-Aunt who was an importer. Since the late 1970’s his academic and career interests made him a regular traveler to Asia. Knowing Mah Jong has been his introduction to communities from far Western Tibet to Hong Kong, southern Yunnan Province to the Mongolian border. He has coached Mah Jong for senior citizen living on Capitol Hill and has seen the positive effects it has on maintaining community and social contact and in reducing memory deterioration.
Gregg Swain is the co-author of American Mah Jong for Everyone: A Beginners Guide, which introduces beginners to the game, and Mahjongg: The Art of the Game, which focuses on exploring the art and meaning behind the tiles. In addition to her interest in Mahjong, she has studied Art history and earned her Doctorate in Clinical psychology, both relevant to understanding the game of Mah Jong.
Moderated by Abbigail Hull, Program Associate, CIUS Center