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GLOBAL TIMES, SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (China)

Worldcrunch

BEIJING – “My fellow Chinese citizens, it brings me no pleasure to report to you this terrible news. A great calamity has befallen our nation. Our pride, our dignity, nay, the very integrity of our national soul is at stake,” writes the South China Morning Post in an editorial.

No, this is not about geopolitics or some disputed islands in the South China Seas. It's much worse than that.

Last week, French players took home the three top prizes at the Mahjong Open French Championship held in Toulouse, southwestern France, reports the Global Times. Worse yet, the first Chinese player ranked seventh place.

Mahjong. France beat China at mahjong – a game that is said to have been invented by Confucius in 500 BC. Shock. Disbelief. Humiliation. How could this happen?

News of the national humiliation went viral on China’s micro-blogging site Weibo. Mostly facetious comments on the humbling defeat were shared tens of thousands of times, reports the South China Morning Post. “We cannot let foreign devils beat us," one person commented.

A total of 108 players from nine countries, including Russia, Austria, Spain, Germany, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands participated in the tournament. Thirteen were Chinese citizens.

The eldest player was an 80-year-old Frenchman and the youngest one was a 14 year-old French secondary school student, according to the Global Times.

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Playing mahjong. Photo Romain Guy

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."

Mahjong has always had a controversial image in Chinese society. Amateurs of this ancient game call it fondly the “quintessence of Chinese culture,” whereas others regard it as a pastime for idle people. The game is very often associated with gambling by society matrons.

Indeed, this might actually be the reason why the Chinese players lost, according to Zhao Jisheng, an associate professor at the College of Sports at Beijing Normal University: "Anyone trying to excel at mahjong will be regarded as an idler in China, which makes it difficult to organize a professional mahjong team.”

Yao Xiaolei, assistant to the secretary general of the World Mahjong Organization, said that many top Chinese players could not make it to France and that jet lag could also be a factor in the defeat.

“This is a national disgrace,” writes the SCMP. “How did we end up with these losers who are clearly not fit to play this glorious national game of ours?”

“Any Chinese should be able to win even when half asleep against foreigners. A phalanx of Hong Kong housewives ought to have cleaned out the top prizes with their eyes half-closed.”

The newspaper concludes that it time for the Chinese government to “restore the national glory of this game,” and that it should be mandatory in Chinese schools.

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