Tag Archives: hand carved majong



This continues the discussion of Bill's lovely tile set seen yesterday. The Green, Red, and White Dragons are the types that we normally see on Bone and Bamboo tiles. The use of red paint on the Winds letters is somewhat unusual.

The Flowers are really special. You will note that the flowers being held by the people on the top row are the same we saw in the center of the One Dots. (Click here) Thanks to Ray Heaton, we have an understanding of the tiles.

Starting with the bottom row of Flowers:

"The four noble professions, (green Chinese characters, simplified characters), 渔樵耕读, Yu, Qiao, Geng, Dou.  (The way the characters have been written simplifies them further.)

Tile #1,  渔 (traditional character is 漁), Yu, Fisherman
#2, 樵, Qiao, to Gather Wood, an abbreviated way of saying Woodcutter
#3, 耕, Geng, to Plow (Farmer)
#4, 读,  (traditional character is 讀), Dou, to Read or to Study (Scholar)

So these represent Fisherman, Woodcutter, Farmer and Scholar


The four seasons, (red Chinese characters), 春夏秋冬, Chun, Xia, Qiu, Dong

Tile #1, 春, Chun, spring
#2, 夏, Xia, summer
#3, 秋, Qiu, autumn
#4, 冬, Dong, winter. 

I guess (again) the flowers are Peony, Lotus, Chrysanthemum and Plum Blossom.  The 1 dots show the same flowers (in a different order in the photo), though the Lotus has the seed pod and leaf too (an auspicious symbol of fertility)."

You can see how the objects normally associated with the four noble professions have been very much simplified in the lower set of Flowers.

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




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This set lives in the box shown February 9th.


The tiles are very thick bone, and were created by Master Carvers.

The Craks are the elaborate Wan, the Bams have the swooping crane One Bam with the rounded other Bams, and the Dots are floral.  The green numbers on the Craks are somewhat unusual.

DSC_0855 dots

All the Dots are plum blossoms, seen by the five petals. The 2 Dot is especially lovely.


Often when sets are purchased there is a bit of history included in them. Here we have a small piece of paper that was hidden among the bone counters, indicating some meaning about the set, and who found it for the last lucky owner. These bits of set provenance and history are valued by collectors. Note the lovely well shaped bone counters, also indicating the high quality of the set.

The Flowers will be discussed tomorrow.



There is something just lovely about this set. The 1 Bam swooping crane and the other rounded Bams, the simple wans, and the One Dot flower within a flower pattern that becomes a simple flower inset on the other Dots, along with the patina, make it quite delightful. The top Flower tiles are translated: Plum, Orchid, Bamboo, Chrysanthemum And the bottom ones are: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Those characters were carved with a bit of flair, making translations challenging for me. Thanks again Ray. A peach is the bottom #3, a symbol of longevity according to Patricia Bjaaland Welch. She goes on to further explain that peaches are often seen with the God of Immortality, Lao Shouxing, who carries a peach and is easily recognized because of his large forehead, big ears, and protruding stomach covered by a robe. In addition the Daoist goddess Xi Wangmu has a garden where peaches of immortality grow. Each year she distributes the fruit to her heavenly guests on her birthday. Here is a statue of Lao Shouxing taken from Wikipedia


You will note he has a peach in his hand, and another printed on his robe. He often appears on Flowers.


This thick bone and bamboo set recently sold at Addison's Auctioneers in the UK. Please forgive the quality of the photos taken from their website, but the Flowers are certainly worth the look. The people are much bigger here than we are used to seeing, and the images almost resemble portraits. The other tiles are lovely, with simple slightly rounded  Bams, elaborate Craks, and flower petal Dots.

Here is the same photo turned around


And here is another


And the last one of the Flowers in the set.


$_57-2This pristine set was recently auctioned on ebay. The One Bam is the familiar peacock, but all the bright red accents make it unusual. The other Bams are in the barbed style.

The Craks have the elaborate Wan, and the unusual green Arabic numbers.

$_57-1The green and red color palette seen here is quite lovely.


The Craks have the elaborate Wan, and the unusual green Arabic numbers.


$_57-3But the Flowers are what makes the set. Here a train and ship are captured while moving, as is evident of the smoke coming out of the smokestacks. Passengers are seen on both carriers. It is not really known what specifically these tiles were made to celebrate; some feel it is the opening of a commerce line linked by rail and sea.


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This lovely set with thick bone is elaborately carved. It was not intended for export as can be seen by the lack of Arabic numbers on these tiles. The Bams are in the elaborate, "barbed" form, with lovely shadings on the stalks. The crane, signifying longevity, is swooping on the One Bam.

Many of us feel these monochromatic sets are Japanese in origin, but Michael Stanwick, one of the best Mahjong historians, does not feel we can make that assumption. He feels this set was most probably made in Shanghai, and exported to Japan.

Michael's website can be seen by clicking here.


The One Dot is the flower within a flower we have seen before, and the other Dots continue in the flower design, with their centers being the five petaled plum blossom, a favorite of the Chinese. It symbolizes the five blessings: health, wealth, virtue, longevity, and dying a natural death.

This is a good online quick spot to find symbolism on tiles:



The elaborate form of the Wan is seen here. Craks (and Winds) are the hardest to "read" if the player is unfamiliar with Chinese writing, but a little bit of study to learn the numbers can really open up your play opportunities.D571_35

Here the Winds are laid out as they should be in play: East, South, West and North. You will note the Flowers are a slightly different color than the other tiles. This often happens in sets played with according to some Asian ways of play, because Flowers are often not used or are used as bonus tiles, thus they "age" differently.


This set opened up quite a few eyes when it appeared on ebay. The open drawer revealed elaborate framed Craks, similar to some seen in the collection of the former Japan Mah Jong Museum. It is easy to see why so many people looked to see what the other tiles looked like.



The Bams with their stylized leaves are fabulous. The winds have frames reminiscent of the strings of cash seen in some early sets.




The Dots change from a flower within a flower on the One Dot to a flower within a circle on the others. The One Bam is a very stylized phoenix. As is the case with some sets designed for Asian play, there are no Flowers, although it is possible that the Flowers were lost along with one of the other tiles.



The One Bam is delightful, and the bird almost likes like it could be singing. The other Bams are simple rods.



The Craks look like they are running off the tiles.



The One Dot is unusual in that it combines a flower blossom center with squares set at different angles in the circle. The red 8 Dots are seen from time to time.



The light touch seen on the Crak carving is evident here as well. The Green and Red Dragons are like those used in the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America, and this may well be one of their early sets. The Green here is the word for a male Phoenix, and the red is the word for Dragon.



The Flowers represent the four arts of the Scholar and the four plants of the seasons.

Our thanks to the people at Mahjongmahjong for providing these photographs.

To see more of their personal collection, click here.







There are some unusual details in these Flower tiles that belong to the set discussed yesterday. The gold numbers seen on the suits have continued onto the left hand Flower tiles.

The boats are delightful, and the fishing pole sticking out from the shelter of the boat's cover on tile 2 is a lovely touch. The two flying birds on the West tile are done with more precision than usual. Tile 4 shows us a lotus blossom and bud, and the blossom also appears over the stair railing (an especially detailed one.) The lotus is the symbol of purity, and is one of the Eight Buddhist precious things (Wolfram Eberhard A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols). According to Patricia Bjaaland Welch in her book Chinese Art: A guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, when the lotus flower and bud are shown together they symbolize "the union or marriage and fertility."  Orchids appear on the East and #3 tiles, and a chrysanthemum on the West.

The tiles can be translated as:

Right hand set are North=Winter, East=Spring, West=Autumn, South=Summer (Dong, Chun, Qiu, Xia).

Left hand set are 1=West, 2=Lake, 3=Beautiful, 4=View.  So that's "Beautiful view of the West Lake".  (Xi, Hu, Jia, Jing).

A mention of the West Lake appears quite frequently on Flower tiles

Click here to read more about West Lake



The gold letters continue here.

Our thanks to Ray Heaton for the translations and to Mahjongmahjong for the photographs.


To see more of this set, click here