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Asia Minute: Mahjong Criminals in China?

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There is a growing controversy in China about one of the country’s most popular games. It’s often the focus of small social gatherings, but in some cities it’s now coming under the watch of police.

The clacking, clattering tiles of mahjong are a familiar sound in many parts of the world. But they’re coming under closer scrutiny in a small number of Chinese cities.

The South China Morning Post reports that announcements came out last month at a couple of locations in the central Chinese province of Hubei — where officials said mahjong parlors corrupt social morals. This week, two local jurisdictions in the eastern province of Jiangxi said mahjong parlors would be closed to “purify the social environment.”

But while online criticism of the central government is vigorously curtailed in China, there was much uncensored outrage about an impending crackdown against would-be mahjong criminals.

Several complaints echoed those of a 70-year old asking how he is supposed to pass the time now — while others pointed out that mahjong provides face to face social interaction in a way that’s disappearing for many – especially seniors.

The BBC picked up on this story, and reports that some officials have backed off a bit on their threats — at least in the eastern county of Yushan — where police clarified that only unlicensed mahjong parlors would be targeted.

Large stakes gambling is illegal in China — except in the former Portuguese colony of Macau.

But authorities generally tolerate small amounts of money passing hands in mahjong, poker and other casual games.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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