The internet is rightfully outraged over The Mahjong Line, a brand whose cringey aim is to “bring Mahjong to the stylish masses.” They accomplish this through an unnecessary fusion: traditional Chinese cultural heritage, blended with all that stuff by the counter at Urban Outfitter’s.
Somehow though, it’s not the 400USD+ price tag that has people upset. Rather, it’s the “self-important op-ed” that catalyzed the blowback.
I don't think the issue is that they re-skinned or made a custom deck. I think the self important op ed that accompanied it is. Its one thing to make a custom theme, its quite another to take an aspect of culture and whitewash it and then claim it as something new and "improved"
— Heather Vaughan (she/her) illustrator (@H_vonn) January 5, 2021
“On a quest to purchase her first Mahjong set,” reads the advertising copy, “Kate discovered that the artwork of the traditional tiles, while beautiful, was all the same — and did not reflect the fun that was had when playing with her friends. And nothing came close to mirroring her style and personality.”
After a moment of reflection on Kate’s style and personality, the text continues to explain that “the venerable game needed a respectful refresh” — the kind that could only be done with the help of her “partners in crime,” Annie and Bianca.
Understandably, Twitter was not thrilled. Taking a “flawed” piece of respected Asian culture, “fixing” it, and repackaging it without any Asian identity to bank a quick 400USD… is not how we’re starting 2021.
The Mahjong Line somehow managed to become the Lucky Lee’s of mahjong — potentially a new frontier in unnecessary acts of cultural appropriation. They also referred to the game at certain points as “mahj,” which feels utterly unforgivable. After they went viral, the brand turned off comments on Instagram.
What's happening? Colonizers Annie, Bianca and Kate have discovered a new and improved tile game, once known as mahjong but now is a reflection of their individual style and fun. This is a textbook example of #culturalappropriation so happy 2021 everyone. pic.twitter.com/EYNpwmeRFR
— “it’s allergies not Covid19, dear Caucasian” (@mskathykhang) January 4, 2021
So if you’re going to make your own custom mahjong set, maybe don’t charge 425USD for it, and definitely don’t approach it with a white savior complex.
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