3 white founders of Dallas-based company the Mahjong Line are being criticized for giving the tiles of the ancient Chinese game a "midcentury modern design" and charging $425 for the sets.
According to the company's website, they intend to give the game a refresh because traditional tiles "did not reflect the fun" they were having while playing, making no mention of the game's traditions and origins in China during the Qing dynasty, where its popularity disseminated throughout East and Southeast Asia.
They claimed that the artwork on the tiles was always the same and didn’t reflect personality, which is why they added motifs of their own to their tiles, with redesigns of a "white girl aesthetic" and giving their sets names like "Minimal Gal" and "Skylight Blue Cheeky Gal". Touting them as "incredibly chic".
However, tiles themselves are full of symbolism in the artwork, numbers and colors used, like the winds tiles, representing the 4 directions, the dragon tiles with three different colors, red, white, and green. The three different tiles numbered one through none. The bamboo, circles, and wan tiles, or the flower and season tiles.
Also, it has a degree of superstition, even though both skill and chance play a fundamental role in the game, like players believe where they sit, how they hold their pieces or objects they have on their person will affect the outcome for the best Feng Shui. Some believe that specific pieces bode bad luck if received in their opening hand.
After people online accused the company's founders of cultural appropriation, they released a statement saying: "While our intent is to inspire and engage with a new generation of American mahjong players, we recognize our failure to pay proper homage to the game's Chinese heritage," and plan on "having conversations with experts closely tied to the game’s origins to ensure its rich history and cultural significance is properly represented" in their product.