Mah Jong Symbols

The symbols and artwork on Mah Jong tiles are often exquisitely beautiful. The game of Mah Jong is not only a game, it can often be considered a work of art. Many designers have taken a turn designing Mah Jong tiles. The wall created in the game is actually meant to stand for the Great Wall of China itself.

The tiles themselves are full of symbolism, and by understanding the deeper meanings of the tile artwork, it is perhaps easier to understand the game itself. Conversely, one does not need to know how to play Mah Jong in order to appreciate the loveliness of the artwork and tile design.

To begin with, there are the winds tiles. These tiles denote winds from the four directions, north, east, west, and of course, south.

There are dragon tiles with three different colours: Red, white, and green.

There are three different tiles numbered one through none. These are the bamboo, circles, and wan tiles.

There are also eight special tiles that are used for scoring bonuses in the game. These are called the flower and season tiles.

Colour Symbolism

In Chinese culture, just about everything has a symbolism. This means that there is a shape or a drawing that represents something else. Through the study of symbols, we can delve into the deeper meanings of the tiles.

Red The first colour is red. In Chinese culture, the colour red most distinctively symbolizes blood, as blood is red. Looking into the deeper symbolism of blood, we learn that it also represents life itself, and taking it one step further, it refers to mankind in general.

Red is also considered to be a lucky colour. On Chinese New Year, red envelopes are often exchanged, as red means luck and good fortune.

Blue Blue symbolizes the beautiful and expansive sky, in all its glory. The sky, like the colour, is blue. Going deeper into the meaning, blue also represents the Heavens. When we study the positive aspects of the heavens, we come to understand that this also has a further definition of purity and, prized by Chinese, dignity.

Lastly, we have green. Green in this case symbolizes the great, wide earth. People might not think of the earth at first as green, but when you consider the lush grasses, plants and trees that give bounty to us as humans, it becomes more apparent. Green is earth. In addition, the symbolism is expanded to include nature in all her radiance, fertility, and all forms of natural richness. It is a verdant and vibrant colour.

The Compass and Winds Symbolism

When you are looking at the compass in Mah Jong you will see that the winds on the compass are actually reversed. It is all a matter of perspective. While you would see the winds in one direction from a vantage point on earth, the winds ore drawn as if they were being seen from the heavens, and being looked down upon.

There is some interesting symbolism to the winds in Mah Jong:

The East Wind represents spring, the colour green, the dragon, and the element of wood.

The South Wind represents summer, the colour red, the phoenix and the element of fire.

The West Wind represents autumn, the colour white, the tiger and the element of metal.

The North Wind represents winter, the colour black, the tortoise and the element of water.


Each one of the bamboo tiles has a different picture with each picture having its own unique meaning which is as follows:

1. Peacock success

2. Duck enduring partnership

3. Toad healing and over-ambition

4. Carp peace and contentment

5. Lotus flower new birth

6. Water communication and travel

7. Tortoise progress and longevity

8. Willow tree - diplomacy


The circles, too, have none different meanings, one for each circle and they are:

1. Pearl luxury and wealth

2. Pine tree firmness and strength

3. Phoenix happiness, joy and splendor

4. Jade lasting values

5. Dragon luck and fortune

6. Peach feminine beauty, extravagance, and indolence

7. Insect busy activity and short period

8. White Tiger authority and bravery

9. Unicorn ability to foresee events


There are nine individual wans, with specific symbolism shown here:

1. Bar of a door and new opportunities

2. Sword balance and decision

3. Earth stability and land

4. Lute performing arts and relaxation

5. House building or any dwelling

6. Fire intelligence, inspiration and danger

7. Seven stars imagination

8. Knot tying or untying

9. Heaven achievement and fulfilment

Seasons Symbolism

Each of the four seasons has its own symbolism, shown below:

Spring Fisherman, represents common sense and patience.

Summer Woodcutter, who represents success through activity

Winter Scholar (some say Confucius), who represents a cultured mind and prudence.

Autumn Farmer, who represents physical, arduous labor and rich rewards.

Flowers Symbolism

There are four flower tiles, each representing a different flower which has its own characteristics:

Orchid refinement, symbolises things that are rare and precious.

Chrysanthemum Leisure and entertainment

Plum Blossom Spring, Innocence, inexperience and happiness

Bamboo writing, learning and scholarship is symbolized by this plant.

Dragons Symbolism

The three dragons are symbolized by design and colour, which are explained thus:

Red Represents the centre or middle, hitting a target and achievement.

Green means to commence or to begin.

White Blank, representing the mysterious or the unknown.

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