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Mahjong oral history collection

 Collection — Container: Digital
Identifier: 121.8246
The Mahjong oral history collection is a compilation of audiorecordings, transcripts, and notes collected by Annelise Heinz for her book Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture (2021). As of March 2022, the audio files are accessible online to researchers through the museum’s Preservica-Universal Access portal; transcripts to these recordings will be created and added at a later date.


  • 2011 - 2017


Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. Though the donor has not transferred intellectual property rights (including, but not limited to any copyright, trademark, and associated rights therein) to The Strong, she has given permission for The Strong to make copies in all media for museum, educational, and research purposes.


1.5 Gigabytes (Digital only. Series I is accessible online via Preservica-Universal Access.)


The Mahjong oral history collection is a compilation of digital audio recordings and notes created by Annelise Heinz during the course of her research on mahjong play in modern American culture. The bulk of this information was captured in 2012.

Historical Note

The Chinese tile-matching game mahjong (also spelled “mah-jongg”) enjoyed an immense spike in popularity in the United States and Europe during the early 1920s. A set of rules published in 1923 by Joseph P. Babcock (known as “The Red Book”) simplified the game for Americans and led to the spread of mahjong to Western audiences. Though the game’s ubiquity waned in the following decade, the National Mah Jongg League (a group of mostly Jewish women in New York and other major cities) kept the tradition alive for later generations by standardizing its rules.

At its core, mahjong is a fast-paced game of chance and skill played by four people with 144 tiles. Mahjong sets often also include counters to keep score, dice for deciding how to deal the tiles, and a marker to indicate the dealer and round. The American variation of mahjong utilizes score cards, eight all-purpose tiles called jokers, and several distinct gameplay mechanics. Players are dealt a number of pictographic tiles of different suits, and they take turns drawing and discarding tiles with the goal of making melds (certain combinations of tiles). In 20th century America, mahjong developed into both a popular leisure activity and a cultural form; it became associated in particular with Asian immigrant communities and Jewish American women.

For more than a decade, Dr. Annelise Heinz, a historian of modern America, has been researching and writing about mahjong. In 2021, Oxford University Press published her book project, Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture. As of March 2022, Heinz is an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon, where she teaches courses on women’s history, gender and sexuality, consumerism, and ethnicity and immigration.

System of Arrangement

Series I: Oral history recordings, 2012-2017

Series II: Transcripts and notes, 2011-2012

Custodial History

The Mahjong oral history collection was donated to The Strong in December 2021 as a gift of Annelise Heinz. The digital collection was accessioned by The Strong under Object ID 121.8246 and were received via digital transfer.

Revision Note

Revised in June 2022 to include additional recordings.

Processed by

Julia Novakovic, March 2022


Finding Aid to the Mahjong Oral History Collection, 2011-2017
Julia Novakovic
28 March 2022
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.423.1886 (Fax)