Tag Archives: bone and bamboo mahjong



This bone and bamboo Mahjong set of Flowers bears studying.

Some of the images are somewhat difficult to really understand but a few come readily to mind.

Ray Heaton has helped with translations of these Mahjong tiles.

"Top row with the green Chinese characters are the Four Noble Professions: 漁樵耕讀, Yu, Qiai, Geng, Dou or Fisherman, to Gather Wood (an abbreviated way of saying Woodcutter), to Plow and Read (or to Study). These represent Fisherman, Woodcutter, Farmer and Scholar.  The images on the tiles representing "tools of the trade".
You can see the fishing creel and line on tile 1, the axe in the lower left corner on tile 2, the rake on tile 3 and symbols of reading and writing on 4. What's also fun is to see other images in the background: the umbrella used to shade the fisherman on 1, the trees, twigs gathered into a bundle and birds on 2, perhaps crops (rice?) growing in the foreground and trees in the background on 3, and what appears to be a lamppost in the back and candle burning on tile 4.
"Bottom row with the red Chinese characters are 琹棋書畫, Qin, Qi, Shu, Hua; these are the Guqin or Zither, Chinese chess or Go, Calligraphy and Painting.  The last character is more like the simplified character 画.  "

These Mahjong tiles also are intriguing. Tile 1 clearly is a musical instrument, but it appears with what looks like a steaming pot on a stand with other pots behind. Tile 2 has a real teapot, mugs and part of a board for the game of Go. Tile 3 looks like an abstract desk used for calligraphy. Tile 4 is quite interesting. Clearly there is an abacus, what looks like a ruler, a building and a pennant. It is very hard to make out what is written on the pennant, but it may be all about pursuing knowledge, as this is what is associated with the work of the scholar. Note the use of the diagonal going from lower left to upper right on all four Mahjong tiles.

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This is a wonderful bone and bamboo Mahjong set, with thick bone tiles. Many of you will remember seeing this Phoenix before.  It probably was the big selling point for the set. Phoenixes were only "seen"in times of good fortune, so they are strongly associated with good luck. This one seems to be quite prideful, with a fabulous strut.

From Wikipedia:
The fenghuang has very positive connotations. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. The fenghuang also symbolizes the union of yin and yangShan Hai Jing's 1st chapter “Nanshang Jing” records each part of fenghuang's body symbolizes a word, the head represents virtue (德), the wing represents duty (義), the back represents propriety (禮), the abdomen says credibility (信) and the chest represents mercy (仁).[4]

In ancient and modern Chinese culture, they can often be found in the decorations for weddings or royalty, along with dragons. This is because the Chinese considered the dragon and phoenix symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, another common yin and yang metaphor.

In some traditions it appears in good times but hides during times of trouble, while in other traditions it appeared only to mark the beginning of a new era.[5] In China and Japan it was a symbol of the imperial house, and it represented "fire, the sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity."


The other Mahjong Bams have an unusual quality as well, with a cross between the columnar Bams we saw recently and the more rounded ones we often see.

The One Dots have a lovely plum blossom center, set within a floral outer circle. The remaining Dots have a modern circular look. The Craks have the elaborate Wan and green Arabic numbers with greatly decorative flourishes.

Each flower vase is unique, and each has a different plant. It is believed a scholar's rock is next to each vase. Notice how the plants almost interact with the rocks at their side, with echoing designs on each Mahjong tile. The Flowers have Chinese words for seasons on the left and plants on the right.

The phoenix remains an important symbol in China today. At the Cathedral of St John the Divine, a huge sculpture by Xu Bing is going on display.




This lovely bone and bamboo mahjong set features a One Bam bird perching on a branch.


Attention was given to depicting the different feather patterns. You can clearly see the claws holding onto the branch, and a graceful twig echoing the curve of the bird. The other Bams are of the barbed variety and here  they are much more sturdy looking than others. Notice the number of strokes used to make each Bam. There is something that always delights on this type of 8 Bams.


The Craks have elaborate wans, and green Arabic numbers.


The One Dot is the flower within a flower, with the outer flower looking like a sunflower, and the other Dots continue the flower pattern. The 2 Dot has eight petals and the rest of the Dots have six. Note the Arabic 5 is carved with a unique style, and the One Dot has a red number and the others have blue ones. This same arrangement is seen on the One Bams. We have seen this on other sets too.

The Winds, Dragons and Flowers will be shown tomorrow.

We thank Mahjongmahjong for sharing these photos with us. To see more of their Mahjong Collection, click here


flower-BB33 flower


These Flowers are from the set discussed yesterday. The color palette is somewhat muted, with softer greens. Interestingly there is a 4th color which we often see on these thick bone sets, a burgundy perhaps made by mixing the blue and the red.  

Ray Heaton has once again translated and interpreted the tiles

"They are two stories from the book The Romance of The Three Kingdoms.

Bottom set are 琴退司馬, Qin, Tui, Si, Ma.  The first character looks more like 琹, which is the same as (a variant of) the first one I have shown.

 Qin, the Guqin, a musical instrument often called the zither or lute.

Tui, to retreat

Si, to take charge of, or the surname Si

Ma, horse, or the surname Ma.

The last two make the name Sima, this is Sima Yi from the Three Kingdoms

This is better known as the Empty City Ruse and is where Zhuge Liang (great military strategist persuaded to join the cause of the three sworn brothers to return the Empire to its rightful dynastic rule) fools Sima Yi into believing the apparently empty city is a trap.

 Sima Yi is the military strategist of one of the opposing armies.

Following the Shu defeat at the Battle of Jieting, Zhuge Liang retreated with a small garrison force to Xicheng but was exposed to being attacked by the much larger overwhelming forces of the Wei army led by Sima Yi.  In the face of disaster, Zhuge Liang came up with a ploy to hold off the approaching enemy.

 Zhuge Liang ordered all the gates to be opened and instructed soldiers disguised as civilians to sweep the roads while he sat calmly above the city gate playing his guqin. When the Wei army led by Sima Yi arrived, Sima was surprised by the scene before him and he ordered a retreat after suspecting that there was an ambush inside the city. "

If you see Flowers with people holding brooms, and a man on the wall, it is almost certain they refer to this beloved story from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

"The top set say 智取四川, Zhi Qu Si Chuan

The first two mean "to take by strategy" and the second two are Sichuan (a southern province in China).  I'm taking this to mean in part that the capital city of the Shu empire, Chengdu (which is now the capital city of Sichuan province) was captured through the strategic advice of Zhuge Liang rather than by force.  You can equate Sichuan with the Shu Kingdom.  The "strategy" here probably refers to the Longzhong Plan, and so the tiles may well be referring to the establishment of the Shu kingdom, rather than specifically to its capital.

Sichuan province was called the Yi Province and is referred to in the Three Kingdoms as here...


 ...the Longzhong Plan was developed by Zhuge Liang to establish the Shu Kingdom under Liu Bei (the Shu, Wei and Wu are the three Kingdoms within the story) as a precursor to the reunification of China under the Han dynasty. (A plan that eventually failed in the longer term, as the Han was not restored).

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longzhong_Plan "

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was written in the 14th Century, and is a historical novel with more than 1,000 different characters and 800,000 words. For more information about the book, please click



The Winds seem to have a certain flair, and the green and blue colors are lively. The Dragons are the traditional Chinese Characters.

Our thanks to the people at Mahjongmahjong for providing these photographs. To see more treasures from their collection, click here

To see another version of Ruse of the Empty City previously discussed on this site, click here





This is another treasure from the private collection of Mahjongmahjong. The bone and bamboo Mahjong tiles are finely carved, with long thin rounded Bams. This set was meant for export because of the Arabic numbers which are beautiful and delicate.


Look at the wonderful expression on this peacock, with twelve dots on his tail. (In Mahjong, these dots originally started as coins, but morphed into dots of the tail instead.) The colors used in the paint for this set are unusual, perhaps more subtle in hue than what we see more often. Both of the birds feet are on the ground, and this often can be an indication the set was made in Japan.


The One Dot is especially detailed, with many different circles going from the head of a flower in the inner most circle into almost a sunflower outside circle. The other Dots are simpler, although the 2 Dot has many more petals in its floral center than six the others have.


The Craks have the elaborate wan. Here the Arabic numbers are green instead of the blue seen on the other suits.


Green is used again for the Western wind letters, and the Dragons are the traditional Chinese characters.


The delicate carving continues on these Flower tiles. The top row of Flowers is the usual flowers: plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum, and the lower row are the seasons starting with spring.There are also four Singapore capture tiles: the cat catches the mouse, and the rich man the silver shoe. In China, shoes can symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to that of a silver ingot. I believe the circle in the shoe to be a pearl, with the trident like shapes symbolizing luminescence, somewhat similar to what we saw on the Dragon and pearl box earlier this week. Click here to see that article Dragon and pearl

To read about the symbolism of shoes:


From wikipedia you can see this ingot:


and to read more:


To see more of the wonderful private collection of mahjongmahjong click here