Kaohsiung, Taiwan — As Taiwan rushes to become a “super-aged” society, a new political party has emerged with an unusual and somewhat singular platform, making mahjong great again.
The centuries-old Chinese tile game is popular in Taiwan, especially among older people, but thanks to a quirk of the island’s martial law-era legal history, it occupies a kind of place. gray space.
Although playing mahjong is legal, the game is treated with suspicion by authorities as gambling in public places is prohibited.
Organized crime groups have long maintained a lucrative secondary agitation by running illegal betting matches, while gambling parlors, both legitimate and more shady businesses, often find themselves raided or inspected by police.
Come on Kuo Hsi, the 65-year-old owner of a saloon in the southern city of Kaohsiung who decided it was high time to allow betting on mahjong games and started a new political party to achieve that goal.
The largest Mahjong niche party wants the game declared “legitimate recreation” and gambling and cash prizes allowed.
“Let’s face it. You can bet on anything if you want to gamble. Even rock, paper, scissors. Why do we insist on mahjong being considered a form of gambling?” he told AFP from his living room, the unmistakable clink of mahjong tiles creating a hypnotic soundtrack.
“Any form of competition, game, golf, tennis, badminton, they all have some form of prize at the end. They all have prizes. When there are prizes, competitors will do their best to train physically and mentally. Playing Mahjong is exactly the same,” he added.
Max Chang, 31, a games consultant who has been playing mahjong with his family since he was young, is among the party’s earliest members.
“I identify very much with Kuo’s ideals. As a young man who frequently plays mahjong, I am always wary of people calling the police on us,” he told AFP.
Echoing that sentiment, 62-year-old housewife and party member Amy Huang said, “I can’t wait to play mahjong openly and not have to hide.”
Huang said her stepmother, who taught her to gamble, was once taken to the police station for betting in a game with friends, an incident she called “ridiculous”.
Kuo knows he still has a long way to go to break into Taiwan’s political mainstream.
The current membership of the largest Mahjong party – which was founded last month – is 120, but it is “optimistic” that it can achieve 10,000 registered party members by the end of this year.
Kuo has asked the authorities to register the party and hopes it will be approved soon.
He aims to gain enough political momentum to secure a referendum next year to change the law.
Taiwan’s vibrant democratic system allows for regular referendums to decide key decisions.
On November 26, Taiwan holds local elections and one of the referendum questions on the ballot is whether to lower the voting age from 20 to 18.
Kuo also hopes to secure at least one deputy seat in 2024 when Taiwan elects a new president and parliament.
As a parlor owner, Kuo has strong business reasons to see the game of mahjong licensed and regulated.
But he also has a more altruistic goal, believing that bringing mahjong out of the gray space will help Taiwan’s elderly live happier, more sociable lives.
Nearly 17% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people are over the age of 65.
The island is expected to join Japan and achieve “super-aged” status in 2025 when this proportion reaches 20%.
“Taiwan is an aging society with more and more elderly people, especially in remote areas, and they mostly stay at home watching TV,” Kuo said.
“If they can get together with people their own age to play mahjong, to chat with others, it will help improve their quality of life and bring happiness. It is a good activity for them.” —AFP