In preparing the title of this video, I found difficulty in translating the original Chinese quotes 牌品好, 人品自然好, which comes from a famous Chinese New Year comedy movie called Fat Choy Spirit嚦咕嚦咕新年財 by two Hong Kong directors, Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai. The challenge lies in the keyword 品 as it has multi-layered meanings beyond manner or character. In the movie, the lead Andy Lau keeps stressing that the ways we play mahjong reflect our inner character.
As our brand positions mahjong as a vehicle of culture, we take this chance to share with you this interesting Chinese word 品 and why mahjong is a good test of people’s character.
The word 品 is quite often used in Chinese vocabulary. Originated from the graphic symbols of three vessels containing things, it means things in a larger quantity, just like when we put three words of wood together to become the word for forest 森.
In today's terms, things in large quantities mean products or merchandise. 產品、物品. When it combines with the Chinese word for create 作, it becomes 作品, the works by the creator. A famous book store chain from Taiwan named Eslite in Chinese is 誠品 meaning products done with sincerity and honesty.
Apart from the meaning of physical goods and products, it was developed to cover more abstract things like quality and character. When it is combined with the word human 人品, it means the quality, manner and character of people. For my own architectural and design practice, I have created a couplet 作品有形，作品即人品, 空間無形，空間即人間 to remind myself and the team of the responsibility of an architect or designer that our visible works are expressions of our personal quality and character while the invisible spaces we created in architecture are actually the world people live in.
When the word 品 becomes a verb, it starts to mean the action of ranking, grading or tasting. E.g. 品茗 and 品酒 are tasting tea and wine. In ancient China, government officials is ranked from one to nine 品, 一品 九品, In old historical records, there was a version of mahjong in China using these ranks for the character suit instead of the commonly used萬 which is the unit for 10 thousand. In this set of mahjong, the four directional winds were also replaced by grades of nobles and top officials. The two red and green tiles were engraved with the Chinese characters for the dragon and phoenix which could mean the king and the queen. So to a certain extent, it is a representation of the court in ancient China.
Mahjong is considered a good test of one’s character for the following reasons:
- Mahjong is a competitive game and how the winners and losers behave is a good reflection of their sportsmanship.
- Mahjong games usually last for hours and in the course, people play, chat and interact, and often subconsciously their true characters are revealed through their behaviour, words or body language. It is easy to tell whether someone is decisive or indecisive, patient or impatient, quick or slow, ……
- Luck is another element of the game and sometimes one could be pretty frustrated with bad luck like keep drawing bad tiles or your most wanted tile falling into other’s hands. Reactions to bad luck and failure tell a lot about a person.
- As explained in our earlier video, every player start off with a hand of 13 tiles. These could be very good and approaching the winning hand or very bad and almost no hope to win. Those who can still persist and work hard with a difficult hand reflect their ability to endure difficulty and challenge.
- While luck is involved, some players could become pretty superstitious and have some funny habits or taboos beyond reasons.
- On the other hand, the game allows people to make up their own strategies. One can have specific strategies against specific players. For example, to make three-tiles-in-sequence, one can only collect it from one's former player. So sometimes bad feeling develops if the former player deliberately holds up the suits of tiles the follower is collecting.
- In the game, players discarding a tile cause someone to win will be punished with a penalty. So, players can be very brave, aggressive and like to take risks or be very defensive, safe and conservative.
- How one discard tiles will have an impact on the others. An inexperienced or careless player may cause others to lose. So the games reveal how one can tolerate others in a group.
That is why people like to use the game to assess their potential partners or in-laws. It may potentially be used to train people's EQ or even teamwork ability.
There are so many things we can talk about on this topic. We hope we can share more with you in the near future.