Culture and history are interwoven to the point where any changes to one threaten a significant alteration to the other as well. A Dallas company created by Kate LaGere and two other founders, all Caucasian women, designed and manufactured a Mahjong line that, in their own words, “refreshed” the traditional Mahjong tiles that sport the same symbols and designs that have been carried on for centuries. In their view, these traditionally replicated tiles “did not reflect the fun” that younger Mahjong players experienced through the game.
The neon tiles with engravings including a bar of soap, bubbles or even Arabic numerals, faced intense backlash and criticism from members and supporters of the Asian community across America. It is seen that the company’s attempt to change the look of a culturally important game as whitewashing, as it displays a clear disregard for the historical importance of Mahjong in Asian culture and a lack of effort to understand the significance of their move. Although the game has changed and evolved across centuries and numerous geographical regions, the connection back to Chinese history could always be traced through them. However, the Line in question is an obvious departure from tradition with no attempts made to establish a clear link between culture and modernity. The company has since issued a statement of apology, and one hopes that they will find better ways to engage with a new generation of Americans and introduce them to the appeal of Mahjong.