Mahjong: many have played the game, but few are familiar with its rich and complex history. In Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture (Oxford University Press, 2021), Annelise Heinz (University of Oregon) follows this beloved pastime from the International Settlement in Shanghai, to the detention facilities on Angel Island Immigration Station, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, to Jewish American bungalow colonies in the Catskill Mountains—and beyond.
Heinz examines the intersection of leisure and Orientalism to show how the game shaped the lives and identities of Chinese and Americans alike over half a century. Equally fascinating is Heinz’s discussion of mahjong’s evolving materiality, from artisanal bone-and-bamboo production to mass-manufactured plastic. To tell this story, Heinz combines a wide array of sources, including not only manuscript material and newspapers, but also novels, popular music, and dozens of oral history interviews. Mahjong will interest scholars of American culture; women’s, gender, and sexuality studies; race and immigration; Jewish studies; and business history—as well as mahjong fans and players of all backgrounds. Pung!
Ian Shin is Assistant Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan.