Mahjong body stakes claim to heritage list

Updated: 2011-11-28 14:42

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)

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Players seeking recognition on the UNESCO culture ranking

CHONGQING - A semi-official organization under the Ministry of Culture has said it will work with the World Mahjong Organization (WMO) to prepare a new application for the game to be included on the world list of Intangible Culture Heritage items.

Mahjong body stakes claim to heritage list

Gao Xiuzhen (left) from the Shaanxi Xijing Team and Tina Christensen (right), 39, president of the European Mahjong Association, at the Fifth China Mahjong Forum and Championship - the qualification game for the Third World Mahjong Championship - on a cruise in the Yangtze River's Three Gorges region in Yichang, Central China's Hubei province, on Nov 22.[Photo/China Daily] 

Ma Xiaomei, president of the Chinese Promotional Committee of World National Culture Exchange, said that as many local mahjong associations have worked to promote the culture behind the sport and standardize the game rules, the environment will be favorable for a new application.

In 2007, the committee submitted an application to the ministry to include the game as an item of China's national intangible cultural heritage - a first step before applying to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to seek designation as an international heritage item. But the committee received no reply.

The new application will be innovative, in that it will engage Western and Eastern countries as joint applicants directly to UNESCO.

The measure will not affect the small quota that each country has for direct applications to UNESCO.

The secretary-general of the WMO, Jiang Xuanqi, said that the body consists of more than 20 national associations in the United States, Europe and Asia that will support the committee in the attempt.

"The goal is to raise people's awareness that mahjong has valuable cultures that could be beneficial to people's minds and health, and elevate the quality of life," said Ma.

"The essence of mahjong has been reduced, and its image distorted. We need to reverse that trend," said Ma. "This is more difficult than protecting some other dying cultural heritages.

"So long as our application is not rejected outright, it will be a victory."

Ma said mahjong is worthy to be listed because it is an implied metaphor of the universe and has logical and philosophical elements.

Chairman Mao Zedong once said that mahjong is one of three Chinese national treasures contributing to the world.

Former Sports Minister Li Menghua, and former vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Yu Guangyuan, who is also chairman of the WMO, have stressed the urgency of promoting mahjong culture and making sure it isn't seen as a mere sport, like the martial arts.

"The combined application reflects compatible and harmonious development of the Western and Eastern cultures," said Yu.

Henrik Leth, a Danish player, said that the move is worth trying "with the argument that mahjong is close to Chinese culture".

Yukari Kugimiya, a member of the Japan Mahjong Sports Association, said she supports China, where mahjong was born, to apply for inclusion on the list.

"We need to include a social image for mahjong. I sometimes think Chinese people have the gene of mahjong. It's in their blood."

Rui Quanbao, president of the Mahjong Association of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, said the game is also good for national unity, for "people of different ethnic groups love playing the game together".