A few weeks ago I was fortunate to localize a 12-page "article" by Sir
William Henry Wilkinson that bore the date 1925. Of Wilkinson I only
knew his article of 1895 published in "The American Anthropologist",
VIII, 1895, plus his contributions to Culin's "Korean Games" and to F
M. O'Donoghue's "Catalogue of the Collection of Playing Cards
bequeathed to ... the British Museum by the late Lady Charlotte
There was only one copy in one library, namely the Field Museum
library in Chicago. An e-mail was sent enquiring about reproduction
fees, apparently to no avail. However, **a few days later** the
photocopies were in my letterbox in Paris!!
(Once again many many thanks to Benjamin Williams, Head Librarian, who
was so efficient and fast -- perhaps with the help of the American and
French post-offices which too realised I was getting nervous about
it... :-)) )
The document is entitled: "Mah-Jongg [Babcock's logo -- with the
Chinese characters 'ma que' below, as they appear on all Mah Jongg
Sales Company of America Catalogues]: A MEMORANDUM by Sir WILLIAM H.
WILKINSON", copyright by The Continental Mah-Jongg Sales Co. Amsterdam
1925 (which, as far as I understand, might have been a subsidiary of
Parker from the takeover of Babcock's company a few months ago). The
title page has the caption "NOT FOR PUBLICATION".
This memorandum seems to have been asked to Wilkinson in order to help
Babcock (or Parker?) protecting their rights on Mah-Jongg against
someone, most probably in Holland, who denied them.
The interesting thing is that Wilkinson draws on his "unpublished
MSS.", in other words his 1890 field-notes taken when he was touring
China collecting Chinese playing cards. We know from the British
Museum catalogue that he had bought a game he called Chungfa "In
tablet (domino) form". In fact it clearly is a Mahjong set!
For those who have not O'Donoghue's Catalogue at hand, here is the
description of the game:
O.C. 26: "Chungfa. "Hit and Go." No. 26. Box from Ningpo. In tablet
(domino) form, bone and blackwood. The game consists, like Khanhoo, of
the ace to the 9 in three suits […] all quadrupled. The pieces of
Redflower, Whiteflower, and Old Thousand, however, are taken by four
each of the following cards, North, South, East, West [...], Chung ["a
hit"] and Fa ["go"]. There are in addition, 8 blanks, 4 only of which
are as a rule used in play. Thus the total number of cards in a Chung
fa pack is [...] 140, 136 of which are to be used." (p.193)
Of course these four blanks that "are as a rule used in play" are the
Now the only indication we have regarding the rules is this very short
reference to Khanhoo (or "K'anhu", as Wilkinson also writes it in a
more Chinese way). The preceding numbers in the same catalogue are
devoted to "Khanhoo" cards, that is "Cards derived from Coins"; but we
only hear that "the cards do not take one another"..., which we may
call an brief description. ;-)
But Wilkinson's field-notes, as published in his 1925 Memorandum,
offer a little more. Here are what I think are the earliest rules of
Mahjong (then called 'zhong fa'), largely predating all known sources:
(b) From another of my MSS., 1890:
Chungfa. The game is one for four players, neither more nor less.
These bear as names the points of the compass, the leader being East,
the player to his right South, the third player West, and the fourth
North. The same number of cards (viz. 15) is dealt to each player as
in Kanhoo*, and the object of each (to "fill" his hand) is the same.
The tricks [sic] and their values, however, differ. These are, in
order of merit, as follows: —
(1) 4 blanks, 4 'chung' or 4 'fa';
(2) the 4 cards of the player's point of the compass (e.g. the 4 East
in the East hand);
(3) 4 aces, or 4 nines, of the same suit;
(4) 4 Easts, 4 Souths, 4 Wests, or 4 Norths, not of the player's
(5) 3 aces, or 3 nines, of the same suit;
(6) 3 blanks, 3 'chung' or 3 'fa';
(7) 3 cards of the player's point (e.g. 3 Souths in the South hand);
(8) any 3 aces, or any 3 nines (not all of the same suit);
(9) 3 Easts, 3 Souths, 3 Wests, or 3 Norths, not of players's point;
(10) 2 blanks, 2 'chung' or 2 'fa';
(11) 2 cards of player's point (e.g. 2 North[s] in North hand);
(12) 2 Easts, 2 Souths, 2 Wests, or 2 Norths.
Sequences help towards filling a hand, but are not regarded as tricks,
and score nothing. The tariff, so to speak, is not fixed, but is
determined by the players before commencing. Trick (12) for instance,
would be 2 "cash", tricks (10) and (11) 4 cash, tricks (7) to (9) 8
cash, (4) to (6) 6 cash, (2) and (3) 32, and trick (1) 64 cash. But
trick (2) has the peculiar effect of doubling stakes all round (or in
some cases of doubling the value of all tricks in the holder's hand
* The rules of Kanhoo are described in Wilkinson's note (a).
I await comments...
Hello Thierry. No doubt about it. This piece of information is
extremely important and provides much data for further research.
> The interesting thing is that Wilkinson draws on his "unpublished
> MSS.", in other words his 1890 field-notes taken when he was touring
> China collecting Chinese playing cards.
For me, these field notes are certainly a most important priority to
find - assuming they still exist.
> We know from the British
> Museum catalogue that he had bought a game he called Chungfa "In
> tablet (domino) form". In fact it clearly is a Mahjong set!
I have handled the set myself and it is indeed what I would describe
as an 'Immediate Precusor Tile Set' to Mah Jong.
> Redflower, Whiteflower, and Old Thousand, however, are taken by four
> each of the following cards, North, South, East, West [...], Chung ["a
> hit"] and Fa ["go"]. There are in addition, 8 blanks, 4 only of which
> are as a rule used in play.
> Of course these four blanks that "are as a rule used in play" are the
> "White Dragons"!
I agree with you Thierry. I have gone to great lengths to describe
this set in my paper. I think it is prudent that the name 'Dragons' is
what I term a 'modern' invention and that the true nature of the three
tiles is still unknown. Sometimes they are labelled as the 'Three
Extremes'. But this refers, IIRC, to another triad called 'Heaven',
'Earth', and 'Man' which in some sets were used instead of the
> But Wilkinson's field-notes, as published in his 1925 Memorandum,
> offer a little more. Here are what I think are the earliest rules of
> Mahjong (then called 'zhong fa'), largely predating all known sources:
> I await comments...
I think this differs substantially in the details of the combinations
when compared to Khanhoo. This can be easily verified by comparing the
Khanhoo combinations in Culin's description in his 1924 paper titled
'The Game of Ma- Jong'. For anyone who has not got it, it is available
I largely agree with Thierry. I think the hypothesis is that this game
is an immediate precursor to the game we now know as Mah Jong, since
there are a few more modifications to be made before we have what is
called 'Classical Mah Jong'. (I exclude the scoring rules from this
I will await Tom's opinion or comments as to the comparision of the
combinations with modern era Mah Jong. Is there also any comparison of
the scoring tariffs with any of the different scoring methods used in
the modern era game (circa 1920 - present)?