Mahjong’s losing the phoney war


Think of England and to many it will conjure up images of warm ale and a game of cricket on a village green. Turn to China and an equivalent image likely evoked is of pots of piping hot green tea and the clack of mahjong tiles being placed on a table. Mahjong is a quintessentially Chinese game, but as the South China Morning Post reported this month, its popularity is waning steeply, most especially in Hong Kong.

A new study shows that only one in 50 young people in the city now play the traditional Chinese table game at least once a week, down from one in 12 around five years ago. And in 2017 only 18% of Hongkongers between 18 and 64 years-old played the game at least once a month, versus 28% in 2012.

For decades gathering four players around a square table has been a favourite social activity for Hongkongers (the opportunity to gamble on the game’s noisy outcome helps too). Families bonded over the game during festival like the Chinese New Year celebrations.

However, the findings by the Ipsos market research firm suggest the game’s popularity is evaporating, especially among the young. The survey of 5,074 locals showed only 6% of Hongkongers played the game weekly, versus 10% half a decade ago. Older people remain the greatest devotees but it is thought mahjong is losing out where younger players are concerned because of competition from smartphones, online games and social media apps.

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