These are ‘not your mama’s mahjong’ indeed.
In place of evenly-spaced dots, bamboos and Chinese characters, painted on these unusual mahjong tiles are lightning bolts, leaves, Arabic numerals and… sacks of flour?
These mahjong tiles are part of The Mahjong Line‘s “refreshed” lineup, meant to mirror one of the three founders’ more “fun” style and personality, according to an earlier version of the brand’s “about us” page.
The website features five different yet equally eccentric designs, in various neon colours. And it comes with the whopping price tag US$325 (S$428) to US$425.
Despite the “minimal” description that they came up with, the hand-painted designs are anything but.
Mahjong, which originates from China, is one of the oldest and most beloved games for Chinese all over the world. And as they say, if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Can you even “pong” with them if the tiles say “bam”?
As none of the founders are of Asian heritage, the internet wasn’t having any of it.
Many netizens criticised them for being disrespectful by ignoring the cultural significance and origins of the game, and for treating the game as though it were “some cheap colouring book”.
Even Shang Chi star Simu Liu called them out for their insensitivity.
Some also felt that the company had completely missed the point behind the tiles’ uniform designs. As a game of mahjong can be rather fast-paced (see every Chinese movie about it), the designs are meant for quick and easy identification. It also serves to make the set of tiles familiar to players, as would any pack of poker cards.
Would you have realised the sacks of flour were meant to represent flower tiles? Not us at first glance.
One of the most common habits in playing mahjong involves mo pai (feeling the tile), which can only be done because the usual tiles have their designs carved into them. With The Mahjong Line’s painted, mo pai’s likely to rub off the paint more than anything.
Following the outcry and backlash from Chinese across the world, the brand’s website has since been made defunct, and the founders have apologised for their actions through a statement on Instagram.
“Using words like ‘refresh’ [was] hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry,” they wrote. “It’s imperative our followers know we never set out to ignore or misrepresent the origins of this game and know there are more conversations to be had and steps to take as we learn and grow.”
In a response to CBS News’ enquiries, the founders said they were “committed to working with those who can further educate us on the Chinese origins of the game so that its deep-rooted traditions are not lost in the American take on it moving forward.”
If you’re really looking to drop a pretty penny on a set of mahjong tiles though, perhaps you can consider these luxury sets from Tiffany and Co, Hermes or even the Singapore Airlines version. At least the tiles look right.
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.