Last week, nothing could be more breaking than the passing of Queen Elizabeth the second on September 8. She was very well respected throughout the world and for Hong Kong people, she was very much part of our life with places named after her like Queen’s Road, Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wanchai, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yaumatei, and Queen Elizabeth School. During the colonial period before 1997, her head was on coins and stamps. Tthe Queen visited Hong Kong twice, the first time in May 1975 and the second in October 1986 on her way back home from a visit to China after the signing of the Joint Declaration between Britain and China.
Hong Kong being colonized by the British because of the Opium War may be a dark page of Chinese history, but because of this, Hong Kong people are exposed to the Western world and culture and most people pick up English and become bilingual. It is also because of the financial success and commercial experience of Hong Kong under the capitalist systems that many Hong Kong merchants can contribute to their motherland since the 1980s, help to groom the city of Shenzhen and become an engine or catalyst of China's modernization.
Under the one country two system, we can access both the eastern and western technology worlds, which unfortunately becoming more and more segregated. Hong Kong people use the What’s app to message but most people also have weChat installed. We use the full range of applications from Google such as search engine, email account, Google map and YouTube. It is also because of our bilingual ability that I can do this Youtube in English despite my mother tongue being Chinese. Because of this historical advantage, I hope, through Glocal Mahjong, we connect the two worlds in culture and foster mutual understanding.
Back to mahjong, the Queen reminds me of a woman in Chinese history who like to play mahjong, she was Empress Dowager Cixi, the mother of the last emperor in the Qing Dynasty. According to folk history, she received a gift set of mahjong in gold, but more often she played with the set named 吉羊, which in Chinese, is from the Chinese words for “auspicious” 吉祥, but with the last word replaced by her birth year of goat 羊.
As documented by Mr Tom Sloper, there were early versions of mahjong around 1911 that used the dragon and phoenix instead of the later 中and 發. In Chinese, the dragon and phoenix are the symbols of the King and Queen. Not sure whether it is just a coincidence or a direct descendant that the American mahjong use the green dragon instead of發and the red dragon instead of中. In this set, the character suit from one to nine was replaced by the rank of government officials 品 and the four wind were replaced by the high official ranks – 公候將相 (Duke, Marquis, Marshal and Premier).
Around this period when Qing transited to Modern China, mahjong seems to be a very popular game and apart from Cixi, there are many leaders and celebrities in love with the game, such as 袁世凱、 孫中山、 李鴻章. To tell this part of history, the creative theatre company in Hong Kong, Zuni Icosahedron 進念。十二面體 has created a series of dramas, the Modern History of China around the mahjong table.麻雀枱上的中國近代史.
Apart from these earlier figures, the founder of the People's Republic of China, , Chairman Mao毛澤東 was also a fan of mahjong and has said that ＂China has three major contributions to the world, one is traditional Chinese medicine; the other is Cao Xueqin's "Dream of Red Mansions"; the third is mahjong tiles. ＂Apart from politicians and leaders, academic scholars like梁實秋、梁啟超、徐志摩 all had high regard for mahjong. Hope in future, we can do an episode on this subject.
Back in modern times, we often called the lady who champions the mahjong game a Mahjong Queen and mahjong was considered a woman’s game in early America. The historian, Annelise Heinz in her book tells how mahjong shapes the Modern American culture and how it connects different American communities such as the expatriates in Shanghai, Jazz Age white Americans, Jewish American suburban mothers and Air Force officers' wives in the postwar era. It proves again that mahjong is a great tool for connecting people.
As the title of Mahjong Queen honours ladies who are great at the game, the theme is popular among mahjong thematic products like clothing, mugs, bags and accessories. Our key chain Mahjong Queen in Chinese is also a popular gift item to customers’ lady friends.
To end this episode, we share the special mahjong tiles we designed to commemorate the passing of the Queen who was very well respected around the world and friendly to China before the recent negative sentiment among the current British politicians.