Real Chinese Opera as Seen on Mahjong Tiles

Scenes from Ruse of the Empty City, from Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Although I have written about this before, I thought you would enjoy seeing the same story on a couple sets of tiles, and the actual opera.There are many scenes on Mahjong tiles that are parts of Chinese operas. For those of you who do not know, Chinese operas are very different from others. Of course there is some singing, but the singing is minimal. Operas have a lot of music, dancing, pantomime, acrobatics, and always fabulous costumes and sometimes facial painting. Both the costumes and make-up help the viewers understand the status and personality of each character.

On today's post you can see scenes from two different sets of tiles, seen above and in the lower row below, all telling the same story.

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Ruse of the Empty City on the bottom row, courtesy of


Chinese operas celebrate stories known to all Chinese, often taken from the 14th Century book Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The above story, Ruse of the Empty City, from that book, is based on Zhuge Liang, the Prime Minister of Shu State who, during wartime, was left in a city far from the battlefield. The only people in the city were old and incapable of fighting or defending the city. It had been thought they were safe, but the enemy general, not knowing the city was basically empty, decided to attack it. Zhuge Liang decided the only way to survive was to act non-plussed, welcoming the enemy, hoping the enemy would feel they were walking into a trap. Zhuge  got up on top of the city wall and played a musical instrument, and had some of the old men sweep the street, as if preparing for the enemy to walk into the city. The enemy, startled by what they perceived to be an invitation into a trap, quickly left, and the city was saved.

I thought you might enjoy seeing a real opera, showing this story-line. You can see how closely the tiles mimic the real opera scenes, costumes, head-pieces, city walls and all. You will see the people sweeping the fans, the headpieces, etc.These scenes start around the 1:08 mark. Just click on the triangle in the middle of video to start it. You might even want to start the video from the beginning to take in all the unusual costumes, masks, and props.