Mahjong as part of Chinese influence in Filipino culture

Mahjong is a Chinese tile-based game of skill, strategy, and luck, which can be fun but can also be deadly.

Mahjong was used as one of the games in the Japanese Netflix series Alice in Borderland.

The Japanese science fiction series is based on a manga where gamers trapped in an imaginary abandoned Tokyo were forced to compete in dangerous games, the type and difficulty represented by playing cards, where losers are executed.

Mahjong was shown briefly in episode 7 involving the Jack of Diamonds. The player who has the most points by the end of the game received a Game Clear. All players who placed second or lower received Game Over then their electric collar exploded.

Mahjong is commonly played by four players with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols wherein the aim is similar to poker in making matching sets and pairs.

The goal of the mahjong game is to complete a winning hand, which consists of five sets and a pair. Sets are combinations of tiles as Pongs (three-of-a-kind), Kongs (four-of-a-kind) and Chows (sequences, or straights).

Mahjong was also shown in several scenes of Oro Plata Mata, a 1982 film directed by Peque Gallaga, which traces the changing fortunes of two affluent families in Negros during World War II.

The title roughly translates to “Gold, Silver, Death,” which depicts the travails of the families as they struggle and learn to survive during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines.

Mahjong had an important part in the lives of the characters as they try to deny the realities of war. By preserving their pre-war lifestyle, mahjong kept the women connected to their upper-class identity despite the hardship of the ongoing war.

Still surrounded by luxury and servants, the wealthy characters were privileged and spoiled, and reliant on their workers to survive the practicalities of daily life.

Playing mahjong at the balcony as they exchange sarcastic and juicy gossip was their coping mechanism while the maids would peel butong pakwan.

In the film Maid in Malacañang, there was a controversial scene showing the late President Cory Aquino playing mahjong with nuns, which many netizens found to be insulting to both the late president and to the sisters.

Mahjong is part of Chinese influence in the Philippines as cards and tile games are played when Filipinos attend wake or to have fun with friends.

Mahjong has a special place in our family as we grew up with weekend gatherings of aunts and uncles for mahjong sessions while we (cousins) play traditional games.

It is an interesting side of Filipino culture that is taken from the Chinese.

I was among those who converged along the streets of Binondo last week in celebration of Chinese New Year for the special performances (Dragon/Lion dances), cuisine, lucky charms, prosperity fruits, and boxes of “tikoy.”

Considered the world’s first and oldest Chinatown, Binondo was established in 1594 as a permanent settlement for Chinese immigrants, particularly those who had converted to Catholicism and intermarried with indigenous Filipinos.

It was positioned near Intramuros, but across the Pasig River, so that colonial rulers could keep a close eye on their migrant subjects amid fears of an imminent invasion from China.

In the years that followed, Binondo became the first stop for Chinese immigrants who arrived in Manila in search of a new life. It is the foundation of the Filipino-Chinese community amidst multiple occupations by our colonizers.

At present, the number of Filipino citizens who happen to be ethnic Chinese is not more than 1.2 million, or 1.2 percent of the total population of the Philippines.

Teresita Ang See of the Chinese-Filipino NGO Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran (KAISA) said in a paper that historically, there have been Chinese immigrants to the Philippines since the era of Spanish colonial rule.

However, the contemporary influx of Chinese immigrants into the Philippines started in the 1970s, especially after the establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 1975. It escalated in the 1980s with the market reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping and the opening up of China to foreign markets.

The term “Tsinoy” was created by KAISA in 1992 as an alternative to “intsik,” which is quite harsh to the Tsinoy ear. Tsinoy is Tsinong Pinoy or Chinese Filipino, not Filipino Chinese (Filipino is the noun, Chinese is the adjective).

Ang See stressed that while the Tsinoys may recognize and take pride in their ethnic cultural heritage, they are simultaneously assimilated into all aspects of Philippine socio-economic and political life.

For the Tsinoys, Ang See added, their loyalty is first and foremost to the Philippines.

This sentiment is best encapsulated in the KAISA credo, which states that “Our blood may be Chinese, but our roots are deep in Philippine soil and our bonds are with the Filipino people.”

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.


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I HAVE always enjoyed reading Dean West’s blogs, which are insightful and laced with a bit of humor. Dean is founder and president of Association Laboratory Inc., a US firm that provides quality information and strategic insights to association leaders.