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In the 19th century, two brothers supposedly became bored with their game of Ma Tiae (Hanging Horse) and decided to come up with something new. They wanted a game that used more chips than the cards of the old game and had a better name. Of course, almost anything could possibly improve upon the name hanging horse.
It is easy to see that Mahjong has a basis in Ma Tiae. The card game had four suits of cards numbered one through nine and four flower cards for a total of forty. There is good reason to believe that Ma Tiae borrowed from an older game called Ya Pei, proving that nothing is really new.
When the brothers established their game, it must have caught on very well. About a hundred years after they started Mahjong, the communist government banned the play of games because they represented gambling. Mahjong survived and flourished in the Western world during that time.
In 1985, the Chinese government rolled back the ban on the game, which people had probably been playing behind closed doors for almost forty years anyway. The game is one of the most popular pastimes of the Chinese people in the present day. No one seems to know if the two brothers ever realized any monetary gain from their creation.