Is this 'Respectful Refresh' of Mahjong Cultural Appropriation?

By Barnaby Lofton, January 6, 2021

0 0

A Dallas-based company, called The Mahjong Line came under fire on the internet this week for its tone-deaf copy and narrative surrounding its customized mahjong sets.

According to the About Us page (which now has been re-edited), one of the founders Kate LaGere felt that “traditional [Chinese] tiles... did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends,” and that “nothing came close to mirroring her style and personality.” She then enlisted two of her friends, Annie O’Grady and Bianca Watson, to help develop their own “respectful refresh” of mahjong, something which many have deemed as ‘cultural appropriation.’ For a proper definition of the phrase, we turn to the folks at verywellmind.com:

“Cultural appropriation refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression.”

Screen-Shot-2021-01-06-at-10.36.54-AM.jpg
The sets on offer. Screengrab via The Mahjong Line

tiles.jpg
Traditional mahjong set. Image via Taobao

The Mahjong Line released five limited-edition sets last November that sell at a whopping USD325-425, while a quick search on Taobao shows sets starting at RMB30 (around USD5). The creative agency behind the redesign of the centuries-old game has also quickly distanced itself from the controversy. On their website, a pop-up message reads, 

“We are deeply and sincerely sorry for the role we played in the creation of The Mahjong Line tiles and brand. There was a clear lack of awareness, cultural appreciation and respect on our part during our design process. We own that and apologize for it. We must do better, and we are taking steps to educate ourselves so that we do not make these types of mistakes again. We have also begun the process of researching ways to learn from the Asian-American community in our city and region so that we can better understand, respect and honor it moving forward. We have also terminated our relationship with The Mahjong Line. While our apology can not change the work we did, we humbly ask for the opportunity to improve both as a company and as individuals moving forward.”

Many outlets have covered the unraveling story such as The CutNBC News and, of course, Twitter. If you’d like to read the Mahjong Line’s half-baked apology on Instagram, click here

Would you buy these sets? We’ll leave that up to you.

[Cover image via The Mahjong Line]

more news

US Designates 4 More Chinese Media Outlets as 'Foreign Missions'

Four more Chinese media organizations that operate in the US have been designated as foreign missions by the Trump administration.

We're Hiring: Social Media Editor

Want to work for China's number one lifestyle media company?

WIN! ¥500 Dinner for 2 Voucher at Commune Social

Contemporary Western Restaurant of the Year at the That's Shanghai Food & Drink Awards 2019.

Shanghai Schools, Cultural Venues Close in Fight to Contain Coronavirus

As the coronavirus epidemic in China continues to rage on, local officials in Shanghai have announced a level one response.

We’re Hiring: Social Media Intern (Shanghai)

Want to work for China's number one English-language media company?

Ivy Haldeman Talks Hot Dogs and Cross-Cultural Symbolism

Haldeman brings her quirky hot dog figures, banana phones and empty suits to Capsule Shanghai.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at Thats_Shanghai for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in Shanghai With thatsmags.com

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

Subscribe

Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's Shanghai!

Visit the archives