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The Mahjong Line/Instagram

White women face backlash for trying to reinvent classic Chinese game

Mahjong Line is selling redesigned game sets for up to $425.


Samantha Shaps


Posted on Jan 6, 2021

A Texas company turned off its Instagram comments and issued an apology after receiving backlash for its “modern makeover” of traditional Chinese game mahjong, the Cut reports. The company’s founders, who are white, are facing accusations of cultural appropriation.

Mahjong Line, a Dallas-based company that launched in November, redesigned the traditional four-player game using bright colors and new tile images. Kate LaGere, one of the company’s founders, said the traditional tiles “did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends,” per the Cut. As a result, she established Mahjong Line with her friends Annie O’Grady and Bianca Watson.

Mahjong Line’s website previously stated that the founders “decided the venerable game needed a respectful refresh,” according to Gear Patrol. The website has since been updated but still advertises Mahjong sets ranging from $325 to $425. The higher-priced sets are named “Botanical Line” and “Cheeky Line.”

In deleted Instagram posts, the company released “player Profiles” of mostly white women, Diet Prada reports. The company has since disabled comments on all of its Instagram posts.

Although the company said it intended to give the traditional Chinese game a “respectful refresh,” critics are accusing its founders of whitewashing, gentrification, and cultural appropriation.

One user tweeted, “pThree white women with no respect for chinese culture or the traditional game of mahjong are out here making $325 trendy mahjong sets. in 2021. sorry traditional symbols aren’t ‘fun’ or ‘stylish’ enough for you. how did this get made??? FIND ANOTHER GAME!”

Another user wrote that the traditional tiles are designed in a purposeful way to be recognized “in just a glance to make faster choices.” One added that they could rub their thumb over the pattern for easier identification of the tile in traditional mahjong sets.

Mahjong Line, which did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment, issued an apology on its Instagram Monday acknowledging its “failure.”

“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,” the post said. “Using words like ‘refresh’ were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry.”

A user tweeted “I can’t believe i’m watching the gentrification of MAHJONG. i know my lola is screaming somewhere in heaven rn lmao.” Another tweeted, “Forget the white ladies, admire the mahjong set my aunt made outta jello.”

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*First Published: Jan 6, 2021, 11:52 am CST