How do we learn and read strategy, from games of strategy to real-life stakes?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
I finally learned to play mahjong!
My grandmother loved to play mahjong, but my mother did not like the game because she was always the one left to babysit her six little siblings whenever her mother, my grandmother, went out to play. So my mother never learned how to play, and she never taught me how to play. Still, there is something about the click of the tiles that feels very familiar.
My children all learned how to play mahjong from their Chinese school and college friends, and they are teaching me how to play an easy, basic version. No strategy nor keeping score. That would be too hard for this first round. Little Brother jokes that he does not know how to shuffle the tiles properly because he has only ever played at his friend’s parents’ fancy electric self-shuffling mahjong table.
Sandra Pan, co-executive producer and director of the 1990 Institute’s latest video, “Beyond the Tiles: Making Connections Through Mahjong,” recalled her memories of the game while working on the video. “During my upbringing, mahjong held a forbidden law, something I could only observe from a distance. Every Saturday afternoon, my grandfather would gather a group of male friends in the living room. Amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke, they would engage in this game, clicking together bone tiles, laughing, and enjoying themselves. But during the breaks between rounds, I would stealthily approach the table, grab some snacks, and dare to touch those forbidden tiles.
“Only years later, I came to understand that mahjong is truly a delightful, social, and culturally unifying game. The game can be very time-consuming and it now has truly caught on among the new generation. A lot of Gen Zers have made it a staple of game nights, using it as an opportunity to meet new people and dive into a game that is all about strategy, mental math, and observation skills. It is incredible to witness how much mahjong has experienced this new surge in popularity, breathing fresh life into this traditional game.”
As I play mahjong with my children, the jokes fly and I realize this both is and is not the same game my grandmother used to play. But one thing is for certain, this game draws four people into conversations and connections with one another that otherwise is lost in our fast-paced lifestyle. I wonder how different this game must look with stakes and strategy?
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was in China this week for talks – all stakes and strategy, but not in a game.
Janet Yellen's visit to China followed Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin's trip in June. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, is scheduled to visit Beijing from July 16 to 19 to discuss climate issues.
“We believe that the world is big enough for both of our countries to thrive. Both nations have an obligation to responsibly manage this relationship: to find a way to live together and share in global prosperity,” Yellen said.
She also met with a group of Chinese women economists and told them, “Our people share many things in common, far more than our differences.”
“These high level visits are the Biden Administration's effort to stabilize U.S.-China relations,” said 1990 Institute Board Chair Grace Yu. “Although these meetings have yet to yield concrete improvements, they mark a resumption of in-person communication that ceased resulting from the pandemic and geopolitical tensions. There remain deep differences between the two countries but as both Secretary Yellen and Blinkin have said, both sides agreed to develop principles to guide the bilateral relationship, manage areas of competition responsibly, and resume talks on addressing climate issues. We are encouraged by the efforts to seek common ground and bridge differences."