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Mahjong design 'refresh' reignites debate over cultural appropriation

January 12, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 19.7%. 2 min read.

From Kim Kardashian West's "kimono" to last week's mahjong controversy, alleged appropriation of Asian cultures continues to spark outrage in the US. But the question remains the same: Where do you draw the line between appreciation and appropriation?

Mahjong, the centuries-old Chinese tile game, became embroiled in controversy last week over a debate about cultural appropriation.

The artwork featured on traditional tiles, "while beautiful, was all the same," the company said on its website, adding that "nothing came close to mirroring (the founder's) style and personality. " The new tiles offered a "respectful refresh" of American mahjong, which differs slightly from traditional Chinese mahjong in its rules and gameplay, the company said.

Social media users, including those from the Asian American community, accused the founders of cultural appropriation, disrespectful language and ignorance toward the game's cultural significance (while profiting from it -- each set costs $325 or $425).

"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," it said in a statement.

"We stand by our products and are proud to be one of the many different companies offering a wide range of tiles and accessories for the game of American mahjong," said co-founder Kate LaGere in a statement to CNN.

"That being said, we take full responsibility that in our quest to introduce new tiles we unintentionally recreated an experience shared by many Asian Americans of cultural erasure and are working to correct this mistake. "

In 2019, for instance, a New York restaurant sparked uproar and accusations of racism and cultural appropriation, after its White owner said it would serve "clean" Chinese food that wouldn't make people feel "bloated and icky. " The restaurant closed just eight months after opening.

"I think people are tired of the history of cultural appropriation," she said.

Besides, she said, most people who call out appropriation aren't demanding that only Chinese people can play mahjong.

As for The Mahjong Line, the founders said they had been aware of the cultural sensitivity of the game, and tried (however unsuccessfully) to pay proper tribute.

They researched "the evolution of the tiles over the history of the game for both Chinese and American mahjong," as well as consulting with instructors, and seeking feedback from "a broad range of people" when creating the brand, LaGere said in her statement to CNN.

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