Mahjong Set for the ‘Stylish Masses’ Accused of Cultural Appropriation

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a statement posted by the Mahjong Line on the company’s Instagram and Facebook on Tuesday. O&H Brand Design, which helped design the tiles, also released a separate statement saying they have since cut ties with The Mahjong Line.

The Mahjong Line, a company created by three women from Dallas, Texas, has stirred online controversy for its products that give Mahjong “a modern makeover as playable works of art.”

Background of the company: According to Paper City, Kate LaGere first learned how to play Mahjong in Dallas in 2018. LeGere wanted to own a unique set of tiles but could not find anything beyond those with traditional designs. She eventually teamed up with friends and fellow Mahjong players Annie O’Grady and Bianca Watson to create The Mahjong Line. 

  • According to the company’s About Us page, LaGere decided Mahjong “needed a respectful refresh.” LeGere, O’Grady and Watson “hatched a plan to bring Mahjong to the stylish masses.”

Facing backlash: Several Facebook users expressed outrage over the products by commenting on The Mahjong Line’s Facebook posts. Users accused the company of not having any employees of Asian descent and profiting off the whitewashing of a game with Chinese origins.

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Several Twitter users also shared their opinions on The Mahjong Line:

Response to outrage: The Mahjong Line has yet to release a statement addressing the allegations of cultural appropriation, and the company has disabled comments on their Instagram posts. Their Facebook page is still currently active.

NextShark has reached out to The Mahjong Line for comment via email, their Facebook page, and their Instagram account. Below is a statement posted to the company’s social media accounts on Tuesday evening:

“We launched this company in November of 2020 with pure intentions and a shared love for the game of American Mahjong, which carries a rich history here in the United States. Our mission is to combine our passion for art and color alongside the fun of the game while seeking to appeal to novices and experienced players alike. American Mahjong tiles have evolved for many decades and we’d like to be part of this evolution in the most respectful and authentic way possible.

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While our intent is to inspire and engage with a new generation of American mahjong players, we recognize our failure to pay proper homage to the game’s Chinese heritage. Using words like ‘refresh’ were hurtful to many and we are deeply sorry.

It’s imperative our followers know we never set out to ignore or misrepresent the origins of this game and know there are more conversations to be had and steps to take as we learn and grow. We are always open to constructive criticism and are continuing to conduct conversations with those who can provide further insight to the game’s traditions and roots in both Chinese and American cultures.”

O&H Brand Design, a full-service branding, advertising and graphic design agency based in Dallas, also released a recent statement for their part in creating The Mahjong Line tiles. They have since cut ties with The Mahjong Line.

“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.

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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.

– The O&H Team”

Featured Image via themahjongline.com

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