After French players took home the top prizes at a recent mahjong tournament, with the Chinese teams only managing to come fourth and seventh, many Web users have questioned why the players were beaten at a game China invented.
Some experts have suggested that mahjong has an image problem in China, with the ancient game now being seen as a pastime for idle people.
French mahjong players swept the board, taking all three top places at the Open French Championship 2013, held in Toulouse in Southwest France from May 17 to 19.
According to mahjongnews.com, a Netherlands-based Internet mahjong newspaper, six out of the top 10 individual players came from France and only one Chinese player scrambled to seventh place in the tournament.
Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at the Renmin University of China, said he finds the criticism illogical. "Just because you invented the game doesn't mean you have to be the best. Besides, there is winning and losing in any sport."
Yao Xiaolei, assistant to the secretary general of the World Mahjong Organization, told the Global Times that mahjong is no longer exclusive to China. "The pleasure it brings about, as an intellectual game, should be enjoyed by all people around the world."
Mahjong competitions are presently judged by the Mahjong Championship Rules, which were first introduced by the State Administration of Sport of China in 1998 and made the world standard by the World Mahjong Association in 2006, according to Yao.
"Some of them have practiced at mahjong competitions for a longer time even than the Chinese citizens have played mahjong for fun," Yao said. He added that some top Chinese mahjong players could not make it to France this time and the jet lag also created distractions.
Zhao Jisheng, an associate professor at the College of Sports at Beijing Normal University, gave another explanation for the failure. "Anyone trying to excel at mahjong will be regarded as an idler in China, which makes it difficult to organize a professional mahjong team," said Zhao.
The two-day French championship was organized by the European Mahjong Association and the French Federation of Mahjong.
A total of 108 players from nine countries, including Russia, Austria, Spain, Germany, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands participated. The youngest was a 14-year-old student from France and the eldest, who is also French, was in his 80s, the West China City Daily reported.