Three white women are being accused of appropriating Chinese culture and ‘colonizing’ Mahjong by redesigning the tiles to be more ‘stylish’ and selling them for up to $425 a pop.
The Mahjong Line is a Dallas-based company that sells colorful Mahjong sets with reimagined designs — which the founders claim give it a ‘refresh’ to ‘elevate your game’ and will ‘bring Mahjong to the stylish masses.’
But critics on social media say it’s just another egregious example of white people ‘colonizing BIPOC’s cultural heritage’ and that their ‘gentrification’ of a centuries-old game is offensive and unwelcome.
Uproar: Three white women are being accused of appropriating Chinese culture and ‘colonizing’ Mahjong by redesigning the tiles to be more ‘stylish’ and selling them for $425
New look: The Mahjong Line is a Dallas-based company that sells colorful Mahjong sets with reimagined designs — which the founders claim give it a ‘refresh’ to ‘elevate your game’
Founders: Kate LaGere, Annie O’Grady, and Bianca Watson launched The Mahjong Line in Dallas in November
The Mahjong line launched on November 5, 2020 selling several sets of Mahjong tiles priced between $325 and $425.
According to screengrabs from the brand’s website — which has since been deleted — the company was founded by Kate LaGere, who likes the game but said the traditional tiles ‘did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends.’
‘And nothing came close to mirroring her style or personality,’ the site went on.
She teamed up with her friends and Mahjong partners Annie O’Grady and Bianca Watson, and together the three ‘hatched a plan to bring Mahjong to the stylish masses.’
The women say their line gives Mahjong a ‘modern makeover’ and is ‘not your mama’s Mahjong.’
They claim their tiles, which feature original artwork, can ‘elevate your game to a new level of giddiness,’ and are also easier to identify.
Bored! Kate likes the game but said the traditional tiles (pictured) ‘did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends’
Inappropriate? The website also explained that Katie couldn’t find anything that ‘came close to mirroring her style or personality’
They’re on it! The three women ‘hatched a plan to bring Mahjong to the stylish masses’
But when social media users became aware of the company, many were not impressed.
The women of The Mahjong Line have been accused of cultural appropriation for taking license with the game, bad taste for the redesigns, gentrification for charging so much per set, and ignorance for whitewashing the history of the game.
Fashion watchdog Diet Prada shared a lengthy post about the controversy, writing: ‘It never ceases to amaze how white people can find new ways to colonize BIPOC’s cultural heritage.
‘They invite you to “celebrate the joie de vivre of mahjong” for no reason beyond white women loving French phrases?’ Diet Prada’s post went on.
‘Meanwhile, references to Mahjong’s origins are scant, a mere three links under “history” and lines in the FAQ that do more to justify the whitewashing of the game than provide any history. ‘
Twitter users have piled on the criticism as well.
In trouble: The women of The Mahjong Line have been accused of cultural appropriation for taking license with the game
Not into it: Others have slammed them for bad taste for the new designs
Though the women claim the new design improves legibility, critics point out that they make it harder because all the sets are different and unrecognizable
‘American’? They’ve also been accused of whitewashing the history of the game, referring to ‘American’ Mahjong — though all Mahjong is Chinese in origin
‘So a bunch of white ladies decided to redesign mahjong for wHiTe GiRL aEsThEtiC (because traditional Chinese tiles were too boring and didn’t match their star signs), and had the caucasity to charge $425 for horribly design sets that make the game HARDER to play,’ wrote one.
‘I can’t believe I’m watching the gentrification of MAHJONG. I know my lola is screaming somewhere in heaven rn lmao,’ tweeted another.
‘If you want a Mahjong set, instead of wasting $400 on that disgusting ABOMINATION consider getting one from local craftsmen that are traditionally made if you can afford it! It’s a dying art, but hand-made tiles last forever,’ ranted a third.
One Twitter user said her mother complained, ‘Why are they saying “roots in both Chinese and American cultures”. Just because the Americans adapted it doesn’t mean it is rooted from Americans. The American mahjong is still rooted from Chinese.’
Called out: Fashion watchdog Diet Prada shared a lengthy post about the controversy
Gone: Other critics have slammed them on social media, prompting The Mahjong Line to delete it’s website
Another griped: ‘Colonizers Annie, Bianca and Kate have discovered a new and improved tile game, once known as mahjong but now is a reflection of their individual style and fun. This is a textbook example of #culturalappropriation so happy 2021 everyone.’
‘They really said “mahjong is fun but the traditional art just isn’t aesthetic enough for my trendy western self” like… How can you say that and not see something wrong with it jeez,’ one more Twitter user pointed out.
One shared a promotional image of the set surrounded by props, including a copy of Murder on the Orient Express, writing: ‘LMAO not the Mahjong Line using the Agatha Christie book because it has the word Orient in it.’
One more complained: ‘”Mahjong didn’t reflect HER interests and HER fun personality so she changed it to suit her white aesthetic” is peak cultural appropriation.’
Since the furor reached a fever pitch online, The Mahjong line has deleted its website and issued an apology on Instagram.
Sorry: They issued an apology for ‘failure to pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage’
‘We launched this company in November of 2020 with pure intentions and a shared love for the game of American Mahjong, which carries a rich history here in the United States,’ they wrote.
‘Our mission is to combine our passion for art and color alongside the fun of the game while seeking to appeal to novices and experienced players alike.
‘American Mahjong tiles have evolved for many decades and we’d like to be part of this evolution int he most respectful and authentic way possible.
‘While our intent is to inspire and engage with a new generation of American mahjong players, we recognize our failure to pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage. Using words like “refresh” were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry.
‘It’s imperative our followers know we never set out to ignore or misrepresent the origins of this game and know there are more conversations to be have and steps to take as we learn and grow.
‘We are always open to constructive criticism and are continuing to conduct conversations with those who can provide further insight to the game’s traditions and roots in both Chinese and American cultures.
Even pricier: Meanwhile, several fashion luxury brands sell their own ultra-high-end versions of the game. Tiffany & Co.’s mahjong set costs $15,000
Brunello Cucinelli has a simpler $11,615 Mahjong set which was ‘constructed from walnut wool in neutral hues’ and will ‘look great in your living room’
Wow! In October, Louis Vuitton unveiled limited-edition Mahjong sets with engraved jade tiles. They appear to only be available in Taiwan and cost over $82,000
Meanwhile, several fashion designers and other luxury brands sell their own ultra-high-end versions of the game, though they all seem to feature the original artwork.
Tiffany & Co.’s mahjong set costs $15,000, and is described as being made with ‘elevated materials and luxurious details.’
Brunello Cucinelli has a simpler $11,615 Mahjong set which was ‘constructed from walnut wool in neutral hues’ and will ‘look great in your living room.’
And at its its Savoir Faire Universe showcase in Taiwan in October, Louis Vuitton unveiled limited-edition Mahjong sets with engraved jade tiles.
According to Mothership, they’re priced at NT$2.3 million, or $82,120 USD.