Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture (Hardcover)
How has a game brought together Americans and defined separate ethnic communities? This book tells the first history of mahjong and its meaning in American culture. Click-click-click. The sound of mahjong tiles connects American expatriates in Shanghai, Jazz Age white Americans, urban Chinese Americans in the 1930s, incarcerated Japanese Americans in wartime, Jewish American suburban mothers, and Air Force officers' wives in the postwar era. Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture illustrates how the spaces between tiles and the moments between games have fostered distinct social cultures in the United States. This mass-produced game crossed the Pacific, creating waves of popularity over the twentieth century. Annelise Heinz narrates the history of this game to show how it has created a variety of meanings, among them American modernity, Chinese American heritage, and Jewish American women's culture. As it traveled from China to the United States and caught on with Hollywood starlets, high society, middle-class housewives, and immigrants alike, mahjong became a quintessentially American game. Heinz also reveals the ways in which women leveraged a game to gain access to respectable leisure. The result was the forging of friendships that lasted decades and the creation of organizations that raised funds for the war effort and philanthropy. No other game has signified both belonging and standing apart in American culture. Drawing on photographs, advertising, popular media, and dozens of oral histories, Heinz's rich and colorful account offers the first history of the wildly popular game of mahjong.
Annelise Heinz is an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio and international Chinese television. She has lived and played mahjong in the United States and Southwestern China.