Mah-Jong: a Game of Jewish and Chinese Obsession

A seed by: Valerie Sing Turner
Project: Calling our Ancestors Home
Valerie is a multidisciplinary artist who performs, writes, directs, dramaturges, and produces. She was artist-in-residence at Shadbolt Centre and Urban Ink for her 2012 playwriting debut, CONFESSIONS OF THE OTHER WOMAN (Urban Ink, Vancouver Playhouse, Visceral Visions); and artist-in-residence at National Arts Centre to develop her 10-actor play, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAINS, which centres 3 generations of an Indigenous (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), Chinese-Canadian, and Japanese-Canadian family. Her writings have appeared in Canadian Theatre Review,, and online publications. She is currently co-directing an animated film adaptation of a chamber operetta, DID I JUST SAY THAT?, for which she wrote the libretto; and collaborating with Chroma Mixed Media on VOICELESS, an opera-based augmented reality project. With a background in critical writing, studio dance (ballet, tap, jazz), B.Mus degree (distinguished honours), editorial training in magazine publishing and dramaturgy (Arts Club Theatre Dramaturgy Lab), and 25+ years’ experience performing onstage, onscreen, and voiceover, Valerie brings an interculturally-informed and interdisciplinary lens to storytelling. She is the founding co-artistic producer of Visceral Visions, and founder of CultureBrew.Art. Awards: Enbridge playRites Award; John Moffat + Larry Lillo Prize; UBCP/ACTRA International Women’s Day Award; 2022 BC Lieutenant Governor’s Platinum Jubilee Arts & Music Award for exceptional contributions to the arts.


Music, Theatre, Interdisciplinary Arts, Dance, Literature
This is an original seed

Seed Images --Click on the thumbnail to enlarge

Provocation: A series of archival images of Jewish-American women playing the Chinese game of mah-jong.

As a third-generation Chinese-Canadian who grew up surrounded by family and friends enjoying the game of mah-jong (my maternal grandmother taught me the basics when I was a kid, my parents had a regular Tuesday-night game with 3 other couples for decades, I still play the occasional game when visiting family in Victoria), I am resigned about the cultural appropriation and bizarre yellowface documented in these images of Jewish-American women playing the game; more than a little outraged (but not surprised) upon further research to discover that several white people made fortunes selling game sets and a trademarked Americanized version of play to their fellow Americans (ah, capitalism!) while Chinese in Canadian Chinatowns were being arrested for playing the game; yet also extremely curious as to how this game – so quintessential to community connection for Chinese Canadians in order to survive 19th- and 20th-century white supremacist British Columbia – became such a pastime and cultural touchstone for Jewish-American women.

An additional parallel or connection: my paternal grandfather is Hakka, one of the many ethnic groups of China, and I grew up understanding that he immigrated from southern China to Victoria, BC in 1900. However, just recently, my brother claimed that the Hakka were the “Jews of China”, as they are the only ethnic group without their own homeland or territory in China. This lack of territorial loyalty meant the Hakka were apparently entrusted with high-level court or government positions (mandarins), no matter who was in power. Obviously this is not the same experience as Jewish people in Europe; however, the theme of the lack of homeland – the sense of not truly belonging anywhere – is an ongoing aspect to my artistic explorations, and I am particularly interested in seed responses from artists with Jewish heritage.

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