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Mahjong was evolved from the card game Ma
Diao, where Ma means 'horse' and Diao means 'hang or lift'. Ma Diao
got it's name because it involved three players teaming up against the
banker, like a horse with three hooves (three players) on the ground and
lifting the fourth leg (banker).
As the game evolved, the name Ma Diao (a horse lifting
a leg) became Ma Que (sparrow), because Diao (as in 'hang' or 'lift') has
the same pronounciation as Diao (as in 'birds') in the local dialogue of
Wu (area of Shanghai), where the game became extremely popular. As a matter
of fact, the name Ma Que is still used widely in southern part of China,
for example, in Canton (or Guangdong). In north China however, the name
became Ma Jiang, or better known as Mahjong or Mah Jong in the West.