Mahjong X Glocalization

Mahjong X Glocalization


We name ourselves Glocal Mahjong not only to acknowledge that mahjong is known globally but played locally with different rules in different places. It actually has some deeper meanings behind the name. Let’s first understand this new word “Glocal” which Google translates as 全球本地 in Chinese.


The term Glocalization combining the word Globalization and Localization, is invented to describe the tendencies in contemporary social, political, and economic systems about the "simultaneous occurrence of both universalizing and particularizing”. In business, it means a strategy of “think globally, act locally” by multinational enterprises adapting their products or services to suit the local culture of different places apart from having their brand names in local languages.

Glocalization of Barbie could mean dolls in local costumes and looks appealing to the local beauty standard. For MacDonald, it could mean milk tea on Hong Kong’s menu, a wide variety of vegetarian burgers on India’s menu, or beer and sausage on Germany’s.

Apart from adapting to the culture of different countries, for large countries like China with vast regional differences, it could mean further adjustment to suit local habits and culture. Successful brands in China like KFC while keeping their core products unchanged, include soy milk and rice bucket in their menu, and innovate with local dishes to create the “Old Beijing Chicken Roll”, which is similar to the way of eating Beijing roast duck or various kinds of porridge such as “Seafood egg porridge” in Shanghai and fried dough sticks.
Mahjong, which originated in China in the nineteenth century, has been spread and modified to give many local variations in different places. Mr Tom Sloper has given a very detailed account of these variations and represented these variations in this tree. Each of these variations will probably require a separate episode to explain.

Among these variations, there are core elements that are almost global to all, which include the fact that mahjong tiles are made up of three suits numbered from one to nine, the basic rules of playing through drawing, matching and discarding, and the winning hands made up of a combination of sets of tiles.
However, there are a lot of local variations from the type of honour, season and flower tiles, the total quantity, the total number of tiles in each hand, the winning hand and the scoring method. Among these Hong Kong Mahjong is considered pretty classic and elementary with the most commonly shared features, and the winning hand and scoring method are relatively simple. So it is a good starting point to learn and understand the game before more complex variations like the modern Japanese, Riicci or other very localized variations played by small groups of people or specialized designs to suit special purposes, such as gambling or for playing by less than four persons.

On the total number of tiles, the most common one is 144 or 136 with or without the seasons and flower tile, it can be as few as 108 in Hunan or Xichuan to 176 in Modern Vietnamese. The extra tiles beyond 144 are often joker, seasons or flower tiles. For example, the Singaporean mahjong got four extra animal tiles while the Vietnamese got 8 kings and queens tiles plus 8 jokers in the classical version giving a total of 160 or 24 jokers giving total of 176 tiles in the modern version.

While the number of tiles in hand is mostly 13, the number of tiles in Taiwanese and Filipino mahjong got an extra set of three giving a total of 16.
For the winning hands and scoring methods, they can vary so much or even be changed to suit the habits of individual groups. Among these, the Japanese Riichi mahjong is adopted for international league for its flexibility to the players who can use their skill better than relying on luck. For the Americans, these can be changed from year to year subject to the scorecards issued annually by the American Mahjong Association.

Taking advantage of mahjong being known and recognized globally, we see it as an ambassador to connect people around the world across nationalities, genders, ages or generations. It also got an inherent design language that inspires people to create something that can speak to and amuse different people. Being in Hong Kong, we see our role in bridging the increasing polarized worlds of the east and west. We believe a better understanding of others’ cultures will help to achieve a more cohesive and peaceful world.
Hope in near future, we will succeed in “Bringing local ingenuity to global enthusiasm” and with Lui Yan mentioned in our earlier episode on mahjopreneur, we can run a Glocal Mahjong Day on which international and local games and other thematic events are run, and we bring people from different parts of the world to Hong Kong and appreciate our local mahjong culture and creativity.

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