Origins of chinese playing cards and dominoes and their south-east asian variants.
象棋 Chinese chess - XiangQi, existed in 100 AD (maybe it is much older), the pieces are :
  • general
  • official
  • minister/elephant
  • horse
  • chariot
  • cannon
  • and soldiers.
骰子 Dice exist in China since 200 AD.
Around 700 AD, dominoes appear in China, they are an extension of dices, they correspond to the 21 different combinations resulting from throwing 2 dices.
Dices and dominoes were originally used for divination ... each dominoe/combinaison of dices were associated with a symbol, and then, become games. Dominoes are split in 2 groups : military and civil.
Basic sets of dominoes consist of one of each military domino, and two of each civilians.
纸币 At the same period, Chinese used woodblock printing on paper to make pages for books and paper money ... which they use for gambling.
Values of bank notes were of 100 to 900, 1000 to 9000, 10000 to 90000, etc...
A value of 100 was represented by a coin, a value of 1000 by a string of coins, a value of 10000 by a group of 10 strings of coins.
Finally banknotes were used for games and so evolved in playing cards.
These cards have suits corresponding to hundreds, thousands etc and are numbered from 1 to 9.
There is no 10 because it would be a duplicate of the 1 of the next suit.
banknotesplaying cards
汉字 Later, cards based on chinese characters were invented, they are called Han Cards.
Each card is associated with a chinese character, often highly stylized.
These 4 sources are the origin of the 4 families of chinese cards :
  • Chess
  • 象棋Chess cards象棋牌
  • Dice
  • 骰子Domino cards骨牌
  • Bank notes
  • 纸币Suits cards纸牌
  • Characters
  • 汉字Han cards汉牌
    All the games played with dominoes exist as cards as well as tiles : in the chinese language, cards are litterally "paper tickets" 纸牌 and dominoes "bone tickets" 骨牌.
    Chess is still very popular in China and coexist with the chess cards.
    麻將 Mahjong is a kind of fusion of the suit cards' pattern with the domino's form and is youngest of all these games ... born in the late 1800's.
    東南亞 The diffusion of chinese cards and dominoes in south-east asia followed the waves of immigrations of chinese people.
    In the Malay Archipelago (now Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Borneo...), this was mainly Hokkien and Hakka people.
    In Burma (Myanmar), it was Hokkien and Cantonese people.
    In Siam (Thailand), it was Hakka and Teochew people.
    In Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), it was mainly Cantonese people.
    In each of these zones, the cards and dominoes were customized and adapted....