Note: For the most part, this is a direct transcription of the paper by Culin. His spelling and sentence structure have been maintained, but some punctuation has been altered. Words in Chinese and Japanese with diacritical marks are transcribed from his text, and are presented within the limitations imposed by HTML. The paper was scanned from a photocopy of the printed text, edited in a wordprocesser, then created as a Webpage. The graphics are slightly edited copies from sketches accompanying the original text.
[Page 3] This paper is intended as the first of a series on Chinese games, to be continued by similar accounts of dominoes, playing cards, and chess. The games described in it, as in those intended to follow it, are chiefly those of the Chinese laborers in America, a limitation found as acceptable as it is necessary, since even among these people who all come from a comparatively small area, there exist variations in their methods of gambling, as well as in the terminology of their games. The latter is largely made up of slang and colloquial words, and presents many difficulties. The gamblers are usually the most ignorant class, and those most familiar with the games are often least able to furnish correct Chinese transcriptions of the terms employed in them, and literal translations of these, even when obtained, are misleading. My thanks are due to Mr. C. H. Kajiwara, of Tokio, for translations of the Japanese texts, and to Li ch‘un shán, Sin shang, of Hohshan, for valued information about the Game of Promotion. S.C. - 127 South Front Street, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
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[Page 5] Chinese dice1 consist of small cubes of bone marked on each side with incised spots from one to six in number, which are arranged in the same manner as the spots on modern European dice, as well as on those of Greece and Rome of classical antiquity; the six and one, five and two, and four and three, being on opposite sides.
The four and the one spots on Chinese dice are painted red, and the six, five, three, and two are painted black. The one is always much larger and more deeply incised than the other spots, possibly to compensate for its opposition the six.
The origin of the custom of painting the ‘fours’ red is accounted for, according to the Wa Kan san sai dzu e2 by the following story: An emperor of the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1643) played at sugoroku with his queen. He was almost defeated by her, but had one way of winning through the dice turning fours. He cried and threw the dice and they came as he desired, whereupon he was exceedingly glad and ordered that the fours thereafter be painted red, in remembrance of his winning.
A Similar story was related to me as a common tradition among the Cantonese, by intelligent Chinese who gave the Emperor's
[Page 6] name as Lò Ling Wong,3 who reigned under the title of Chung Tsung (AD 684-70l-710). Mr. Herbert A. Giles tells me that the story is mentioned by a Chinese author; but I am inclined to regard the account as merely fanciful, and think it is probable that the color of the fours was derived, with the dice themselves, from India.4
Several sizes of dice are used by the Chinese, varying from a cube of two-tenths to one of seven-tenths of an inch. Different sizes are employed in different game according to custom. Dice are usually thrown by hand into a porcelain bowl, the players throwing in turn from right to left, and accompanying their efforts with cries of loi! ‘come!’ The Chinese laborers in the United States play several games with dice, but they are not a popular mode of gambling, and are generally neglected for fán t’án, and Chinese dominoes.
The best known of these games is called sz’ ‘ng luk, ‘four, five, six’, commonly contracted to sing luk, and is played with three dice of the largest size. The throws in it in the order of their rank are:
The first player is determined, on throwing around, to be the one who throws the highest number of red spots. The other players lay their wagers, usually in sums divisible by three, before them. The first player throws until he makes one of the above mentioned casts. If he throws sing luk (four, five, six); three alike; or two alike, six high, each of the players at once pay
[Page 7] him the full amount of their stakes; but if he throws mò lung or yat fat, he pays them the full amount of their stakes. If he throws two alike, five, four, three, or two high, the next player on his left throws. If the latter makes a higher cast, the first player must pay him, but if a lower cast, he must pay the first player. The amounts thus paid are usually proportionate to the difference between the throws with the odd die. If it is four or three, the full amount; if two, two-thirds, or if one, one-third of the stakes must be paid. The third player throws in the same way, and the game is continued until the first player is out-thrown.
Kon mín yéung, ‘pursuing sheep’, is played with six dice of the largest size. It is a game played for small stakes, usually for something to eat, and is seldom resorted to by professional gamblers. In it the player throws until he gets three alike, when the sum of the spots on the other dice is counted. The throws in the order of their rank are:
The throws, tái mín yéung and mín yéung kung, take all the stakes. If mín yéung ná, or any other cast of three alike, is made, the next player throws until he gets three alike, when he pays if his throw is lower, or is paid if it is higher, as in sing luk.
The throw of three 4’s is called wong p‘ang fúi, concerning the origin of which name the following story is related: ‘A boy and a girl were betrothed by their parents. The girl's father died, and the family having been reduced to poverty, her brother sold the girl to become a prostitute. This she resented, and anxious to find her betrothed, whose face she well remembered, she caused it to be advertised that she would yield herself to the man who could throw three 4’s with the dice. Many, attracted by her beauty, tried and failed, until her husband, Wong p‘ang fúi, who had obtained the rank of , or senior wrangler at the provincial examination, presented himself. For him she substituted
[Page 8] loaded dice, with which he threw three 4’s whereupon she disclosed herself, and they were happily united.’
Chák t’in kau, ‘thawing heaven nine,’ is played with two dice. In this game the twenty-one throws that can be made with two dice receive different names, and are divided into two series or suits, called man, and mò, ‘military.’
The eleven man throws in the order of their rank are figured on the right of Plate 1. They are:
The ten mó throws in the order of their rank are figured on the left of Plate I. They are:
The first player determined, the other players lay their wages on the table. The first player then throws and his cast determines the suit, whether man or mò, for that round. No other throws count and the players throw again, if necessary, until they make a cast of the suit led. If the first player throws the highest pair of either series, that is the ‘double six’ of the man, or one of the ‘nines’ of the mò, each player at once pays him, but if he leads
[Page 11] the lowest of either suit, that is the 5, 1, or 1, 2, he pays them the amount of their stakes.
If he throws any other pair than the highest or the lowest of either suit, the second player throws, and is paid his stakes, if he throws higher by the first player, or pays him if he throws lower. The game is continued until the first player is out-thrown, when he is succeeded by the second player and the others lay their wagers as before.
Pát chá, ‘handful of eight,’ is played with eight dice, preferably of the smallest size. In this game, the banker is provided with a diagram (Fig.1) numbered or dotted, like the six faces of a die, upon which the players lay their stakes. It bears the legend pat t’ung, ‘unlike,’ which expresses the desire of the banker as to the manner in which the dice shall fall. A player throws eight dice. If at least three fall like the number bet on, the game keeper pays him eight times, or if six or more are like the number bet on, sixteen times the amount of his stakes. In any other event, the player loses. A similarly marked tablet is used in playing with the ch’é mé or teetotum. This implement is made with six dotted sides. The players lay their stakes upon the numbers on the tablet, and win four times the amount if the one played on turns uppermost, or lose, if another number comes up. The ch’é mé is said to sometimes have its sides decorated with pictures of fish and animals instead of numbers or spots, and the diagram, which is called the ch’é mé pái, or the ‘tablet for the teetotum’ is then similarly inscribed.9
[Page 12]Chong ün ch’au is a game played with tallies, ch’au, the highest of which is called chong ün, the name given the Optimus at the examinations for the degree of Hanlin, whence I have styled it ‘The Game of the Chief of the Literati.’ Two or more persons may play, using six dice and sixty-three bamboo tallies. The latter receive the following names:
The first, second, and third classes bear rude pictures and names, but the others are distinguished only by their size. Two or more persons can play. The players throw in turn from right to left, and after throwing, each draws the tallies he is entitled to according to the appended table. If the tally called for by a throw has been drawn, its value may be made up from the remaining ones; but the winner of the chong ün must surrender it without compensation if another player makes a higher throw than that by which he won it. The one who counts highest becomes the winner.
This game is said to be played by women and children, and is not played by the Chinese laborers in the Eastern United States, although they are generally acquainted with it.
[Page 13] The throws in chong ün ch’au in the order of their rank are:
Each of the above throws count as thirty-two, and take the chong ün.
Each count as sixteen, and take either the pong ngán or t’fám fá. Three 4’s with any combination except those mentioned, count as eight, and take one of the úi ün.
[Page 14] Four 6’s, four 5’s, four 3’s, four 2’s, or four 1’s with any combination of two dice, except those already mentioned, count as four, and take one of the tsun sz’. Two 4’s count as two, and take one of the kü yam. One 4 counts as 1, and takes one of the sau ts’oi.
The Chinese game similar to backgammon, which that accomplished scholar, Dr. Robert Hyde, described in his work on Oriental games under the name of Chimensium Nerdiludium (‘The Nerd Game of the Chinese’)10 is not played by the Chinese laborers in America, nor do any I have met appear to be acquainted with it.
According to Dr. Hyde, it is called by Chinese, Çoan K’î, which he translates as erectus ludus, or erectorum ludus, but which might be rendered as ‘the bottle game’ or ‘bottle chess’, Çoan (tsun) meaning a vase or bottle, and K’î (k’í) being a generic term for games played on lines as chess.
This game is played with dice and small upright pillars, from which the name is derived. The board is divided into eight equal parts by transverse lines, and the pieces, which are from two to three inches high and number sixteen on each side, are arranged upon it when the playing commences, as seen in Figure 2.
The pieces are moved line by line, according to the throws with the dice, from the places on the left to the eighth place on the right, and from thence ascending to the opposite side and back to the starting place; the player who first gets all his pieces there winning the game.
[Page 15] Two dice are thrown, and the pieces are moved to the places which the number of the throw directs. One may move whatever piece or pieces one chooses, according to the number, either pieces which have been moved before or those which have not yet been moved. If, instead of upright pieces, one plays with small flat discs, which is also permitted, they may be placed side by side or piled on top of each other, as seems most convenient.
A throw of two 1’s causes a piece to be set aside and delivered up as lost; or, if the game is played for money, it loses the player the tenth part of his stakes. Whoever throws 2’s or 3’s begins moving to the second or third lines, and so on. If doublets are thrown, one may move to the place corresponding to the half number of such doublets; and this may be done by moving one piece once to such half number, or two pieces at the same time to the place corresponding with such whole number, for in this case either one piece or two pieces together may be moved. If 5 and 6 which make 11, are thrown, one may move one piece to the fifth place and another to the eleventh; or else move two pieces at the same time to the tenth line or place, and then one of them to the next line, which is the eleventh. And thus with respect to other throws: if single (as 2 and 4), for the single numbers move as many places, but if joined (as 5 and 6), then otherwise, as already stated.
The game thus described by Dr. Hyde agrees, in some respects with the Japanese game of sugoroku, as illustrated in native encyclopaedias. In Fig.3, reproduced from the Kum mö dzu e tai sei11,
[Page 16]the board is represented as being divided into twelve parts by longitudinal lines, which are broken in the middle by an open space similar to the ho kái, or ‘dividing river’ of the Chinese chess-board. According to the same work, the twelve compartments called in Japanese, me or ‘eyes’, symbolize the twelve months, and the black and white stones with which the game is played, day and night. The moves are made according to the throws with dice; the name being derived from that of the highest throw, sugoroku (Chinese, shéng luk), or ‘double sixes.’12
This game appears to be of great antiquity in Japan. The Wa Kan san sai states that it is recorded in the Japanese Annals that sugoroku was forbidden in the time of Jitö Tenuö (AD 687-692), and that it is probable that it was played in Japan before the game of go13 was brought to that country. The same encyclopedia, in the careful manner usual in such works, makes a number of citations from Chinese authors with reference to the origin of the game. It says it is recorded in the Suh sz’ ch’í,14 that Ts’ao Chih of Wei15 invented sugoroku, and used two dice for it, but at the end of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-913), the number of the dice was increased to six.
It is written in the Wú tsáh tsú that sugoroku is a game that was originally played in Hú (Japanese, Ko), the country of the Tartars. It relates that the king of Hú had a brother who was put to death for a crime. While in prison he made the game of sugoroku and sent it to his father, writing with it a few words in order to make known how men are oppressed by others when they are single and weak. The Ngán lui yán states that sugoroku came from T'ien Chuh, ‘India’.
The name of sugoroku is said to be applied at the present day in Japan to various games played upon boards or diagrams, in which
[Page 17] the moves are made by throwing dice.16 Of these there are many kinds, among which the most popular is called dô chiu, or ‘travelling’ sugoroku. It is played upon a large sheet of paper, on which are represented the various stopping places upon a journey; as, for example, the fifty-three post stations between Tokio and Kiyoto; and resembles the games of ‘ snake’ and ‘steeplechase’, familiar to English and American children.17 Such games are much played
[Page 18] by the Japanese at the season of the New Year, when new ones are usually published. This year (1889), Japanese newspapers report that two new games of sugoroku found much favor in Tokio.
The same general name would be given by the Japanese to the following Chinese game, which I have occasionally seen played by the clerks in Chinese stores in our cities.
Shing kún t’o, the ‘table of the promotion of officials’, is the celebrated game which is best known through Dr. Hyde’s account18 as ‘The Game of the Promotion of Mandarins’.
It is played by two or more persons upon a large paper diagram, on which are printed the titles of the different officials and dignitaries of the Chinese government. The moves are made by throwing dice, and the players, whose positions upon the diagram are indicated by notched or colored splints, are advanced or set back, according to their throws.19
The following story was related to me concerning the invention of the game: ‘The Emperor Kienlung (AD 1736-1796) was in the habit of walking at nightfall among the houses occupied by the candidates for the degree of Hanlin, who came up to Peking for the triennial examination; and hearing, night after night, the song of the dice issuing from one of them, he summoned the offender before him to explain his conduct. In excuse, fearing punishment, he told the Emperor that he had constructed a chart,
[Page 19] on which were written the names of all the official positions in the government, and that he and his friends threw dice, and according to their throws traversed the board, and were thus impressed with a knowledge of the various ranks and the steps leading to official advancement. The Emperor commanded him to bring the chart for his inspection. That night the unfortunate graduate, whose excuse was a fiction created at the moment, sat until daybreak, pencil in hand, and made a chart according to his story, which he carried to the Emperor. That august prince professed to be much pleased with the diligence of the scholar who improved his mind, even while amusing himself, and dismissed him with many commendations.’
This familiar sounding story cannot be accepted without question, especially since it will be seen that Dr. Hyde published his account many years before the period mentioned; but my informant, a clerk in a Chinese shop in Philadelphia, may not have stated the date correctly.
The paper charts for the game may be purchased at the Chinese stores in New York and San Francisco. The names of the different offices are arranged upon them in rectangular divisions, alongside of each of which is a tablet with the name of the board or class under which those within it are included. They ascend from the lowest to the highest in successive stages, arranged in order around the chart from right to left, and from the outer division, which is devoted to provincial officials, to the innermost, which has the titles of the members of the metropolitan administration. The centre is occupied with rules for playing. Four dice are thrown in turn by each player, instead of six, as formerly recorded by Dr. Hyde. Entrance is obtained by making a cast, either of four alike, by which the player is at once advanced to an ‘hereditary rank’; of ‘three, four, five, six’, called ch’ün fį; of three alike, or two alike. All of these throws, in descending order, enable the player to enter one of the positions from which advancement may be obtained. Subsequent promotion depends upon the throws; doublets enabling the player to move once three alike, twice; and four alike, three times. ‘Double fours’ count highest, ‘double sixes’ next, and so on down to ‘ones’, through which the player is set back. The appropriate move for each throw is indicated in small characters beneath each of the titles on the chart.
A curious contrast is presented between the little sheet reproduced by Dr. Hyde, upon which only the principal officials of the Ming dynasty are represented, and that now current, whereon may
[Page 20] be seen the innumerable ramifications of the Chinese ‘civil service’ under the present Tartar dominion.20 Nearly two centuries have passed since the learned Doctor, aided, no doubt, by the one to (Page 21) whom he refers as D. Shin Fo-cung, amicus noster Chinensis, published the results of his studies in Chinese games, and the subject, so far as it relates to dice, has remained almost unnoticed until the present day. To you I leave it, whether as one worthy of renewed observation and research, or best dismissed with the apt lines that often too well express the objects of the scholar's zeal: ‘The earth bath bubbles, as the water has, And these are of them.’
Last update January 29, 2010