Stewart Culin
Director, Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology, University of Pennsylvania

Chinese Dice

This paper appeared in the Annual Report of the US National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, for the year ending June 30, 1893, pages 491-537.  It included 45 illustrations. While the text primarily concerns Dice and Dominoes, there is also considerable information about Backgammon and Playing Cards. In addition to information about these games as played by people in China and the Chinese in the US at the time, information about related games in Korea, Japan, Siam, India, and elsewhere are also included in this "report". Culin introduced the paper with the following comments.

This paper,1 of which a preliminary study was printed in 1889,2 is the first of a series on Chinese games, to be continued by similar accounts of playing cards and chess. It has been considerably extended, through recent studies in connection especially with the collection gathered by the author in the Anthropological Building in Chicago, and that in the National Museum.3

The games described 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 came from a comparatively small area, there exist variations in the methods of gambling, as well as in the terminology of their games. The latter is made up largely of slang and colloquial words and presents many difficulties. The gamblers are usually men of the most ignorant class, and those most familiar with the games are often the least able to furnish correct Chinese transcriptions of the terms employed in them, so that the task of interpretation would have been extremely difficult but for the assistance received from Chinese and Japanese scholars.4


Following these comments, Culin presents detailed descriptions of the equipment (many with illustrations) for over 30 games, along with instructions for play. Some instructions are elaborate with translations of the names of each "play" within a game.  In describing some of the games, he comments on their similarity to games in other countries during this period in time. The list of the games with instructions, uses Culin's organization of the information. Click here for the clickable list of the games and topics for which Culin presents information.


  1. This paper has been prepared at the request of the authorities of the US National Museum, to illustrate a portion of its extensive a collection of games.
  2. Chinese Games with Dice by Stewart Culin, read before The Oriental Club of Philadelphia, March 14, 1889, Philadelphia, 1889, pp. 1-21.
  3. This collection, though the author modestly refrains from mentioning the fact, owes much of its completeness to Mr. Culin's own generous contributions. G. Brown Goode.
  4. The Chinese words printed in italics are transliterated according to Dr. Williams' Tonic Dictionary of the Chinese Language in the Canton Dialect, Canton, 1856. Dr. Hepburn's Japanese-English Dictionary has been followed for Japanese, and the Korean words, in the absence of any native standard of orthography, and for the purpose of convenient reference, have been made to accord with that admirable work, the Dictionnaire Coréen-Français, Yokohama, 1880.

Last update January 31, 2010