This lecture looks at the Chinese roots of the popular game. With special focus on the designs and symbols that found their way from traditional Chinese decorative traditions to the surfaces of the game pieces, we will explore the meanings that underlie the distinctive floral patterns found on many mah jongg tiles. From bamboo and orchids to dragons and directional characters, the symbols found on most mah jongg tiles have both literal and associative meanings anchored in Chinese belief and folklore. Knowledge of the associations present in these symbols serves to enhance the experience of playing the game by bringing Chinese thought into the social experience of play.
Robert Mintz is Chief Curator at the Walters Art Museum. He joined the Walters in 2006 as Assistant Curator of Asian Art, with expertise specifically in the study of 18th century Japanese painting. While at the Walters he has developed exhibitions and installations exploring points of intersection between Eastern and Western art.