Many Chinese people are very superstitious, particularly among the elderly and I would include myself in that. If you read the blog post that I wrote earlier this year on the meaning of 15 days of Lunar New Year, you will recall that some Chinese (Taoism and Buddhism) would pray to the God of Wealth for blessing. For this blessing money in Chinese, we called it 偏财 (Piān cái). It is an expected income or floating assets such as bonuses, lottery winnings, stock benefits, etc.
Today, I am writing about mahjong taboo: the things you can and can’t do when playing mahjong. I gathered this information through my relatives, listening to Singapore Love FM 97.2 Mr Zhou’s Ghost Stories, Feng Shui writer Lillian Too’s book and my own experiences.
On my last trip to Singapore, my uncle gifted us a mahjong set. However, it took months before I was able to buy a mahjong table to play on, at £90 from the Vanguard Chinese supermarket in Birmingham. I was super excited as it had been a long time since I last played.
My parents and relatives love playing mahjong whenever there is a gathering at my grandparent’s house. It is their favourite pastime game. I remember that they always have at least one to two tables in the background and it was so noisy! People would rotate and take turns to play until midnight, and some would continue until 2 or 3 am. Before my grandmother passed away, they also liked to play the Chinese four-colour cards with her.
Anyway, these are the mahjong taboos or superstitious things to avoid (some of us will believe), while playing mahjong.
1. Are you losing a lot of money during the games or have not had the luck to win a game? Need to change your luck? If you are continuously losing money, some will choose to go to the toilet to wash their hands and some will choose to walk around their chair three times. Washing hands is to wash away your bad luck away. As for walking around the chair, according to Mr Zhou’s Ghost Stories podcast (17th February 2023), he mentioned his dad told him that when the game starts, the ‘Good friend / mahjong ghost’ will come near the table and if he is near this person, he will bounce to lose his game. Walking around the chair is to chase the ‘good friend’ away! I had suggested it to my son and he indeed won twice after that.
2. Never discard ‘West’ (西 Xī) tiles consecutively at the start of the game. If the other three players have discarded ‘West’ tiles, you must discard other cards instead and not the 4th ‘West’ tile. Placing all four ‘West’ tiles (Four Go West 四人归西) means all four are dead. West in Chinese means to go to heaven or death. Please listen to a true story told by Warwick, from Mr Zhou’s Ghost Stories podcast on 3rd September 2021.
Also, don’t discard one circle/dot (一筒 Yī Tǒng) straight after all players have played ‘West’ at the same time. It means 一同归西 Yī Tóng Guī Xī – all four dies together.
3. When somebody discards a green tile 發 Fā (or 發财 Fā Cái), you should not immediately discard the South (南 Nán) tile next. It means hard to win (難發财
Nán Fā Cái).
4. Do not read a book while playing mahjong. Book (書 Shū) means to lose in Chinese. Or having a backpack near or behind or around you is considered bad luck. Backpack is associated with a book, and it means losing.
5. Don’t pat anyone on their back if they are playing or going to play as it is considered bad luck. They believe that you are patting their luck away! Some naughty people will do that to their victims before the game starts.
6. Some would say don’t draw to win (不要自摸 Bù Yào Zì Mō) 13 Wonders/Orphans (十三幺 Shí Sān Yāo) as it will add up to 14 tiles (In Cantonese dialect means one will die). Anyway, not many would believe it as it is very hard to get these tiles! It is once in a blue moon. My uncle did win with it last month (March 2023) and he even won a lot of money on 4D (4 digits in Singapore) after that. So it is not all bad. The reason for not drawing to win is that sometimes players are not paying attention and would see the wrong tiles and try to win it. The ‘winner’ ends up having to pay all three other players after he/she games with the wrong tile.
Others believe not to game 13 Wonders on the first day of Chinese New Year as they will have bad luck for the whole year. Who knows!
Would you like to enhance your luck by playing mahjong via feng shui? Then read on. These are the tips from Lilian Too’s Personalised Feng Shui Tips book – Tip 51, 2005.
Sit facing one of your auspicious directions. You want to sit in a way that ensures that even if you do not win, you will at least not lose. Please see below how to calculate your KUA number.
Do not allow anyone to sit on your right. This brings bad luck. An observer on your left is acceptable.
Sit in a well-lit place as a bright light directly above you brings good luck as long as it is not glaring. Avoid sitting under spotlights as they can be too yang.
Wear your lucky colour clothing.
Keep three coins tied with red thread in your purse, and also on the table directly in front of you. It helps to attract good luck. Placing the coins amongst your chips to energize them.
Don’t sit directly facing a toilet door, the door into the dining room or underneath an overhead beam or a protruding corner.
How to know what is your auspicious direction? You need to know your KUA number. Use your lunar* calendar year of birth and add the last two digits. Keep adding the digits until you get a single-digit number.
Then: For men, deduct 10. For women, add 5. If you get two digits keep adding until you reduce it to one digit.
* this means if you were born before the lunar New Year each year, you must deduct 1 from your year of birth (you need your date of birth to determine this). For example, if you were born on 15th February 1980, your year of birth is 1979 as the Year of the Sheep starts on 28th January 1979 to 15th February 1980. If you were born on 16th Feb 1980, your year of birth is 1980 as the Year of the Monkey starts on 16th Feb 1980 to 4th Feb 1981.
This is an example for men born in 1985, 8+5=13, 1+3=4, 10-4=6. Six is his KUA number.
This is an example for women born in 1979, 7+9=16, 1+6=7, 5+7=12, 1+2=3. Three is her KUA number.