Manuals and booklets

The oldest printed book about the game is a collections of songs describing the game and its characters : 初刻花會新歌 (清道光七年-1827 福建刊本) (the title : New Songs about Hua-Hui seems to imply that it's not the first version)
It contains half a dozen songs composed a dozen verses citing the 36 names, as a way to memorize them, but these is no biographic detail about the characters.

From the second half of the 19th century, some booklets relating to the game were published :

▶ Manuals

There is a lot of variability in the contents of the manual, some manuals have a dozen pages, some more than one hundred. The contents of these manuals may include:

▶ Bodies

The 36 names are written on the bodies' parts. This is one of the most specific characteristic of the game, and probably one of the reason of its success. In China, all versions have this kind of diagram, and most versions outside China have one too. In China, the Min version and its descendents, the man is always naked, in the Yue version and its descendents, the man is dressed.

▶ Groupings

Depending on the region, different groupings are used. Gamblers use them to bid on several names at the same time.
In the Yue version, a grouping by social category is used: four scholars, five soldiers, seven merchants, four lucky-ones, four women, five beggars, four buddhist priests, two taoist priests, and a buddhist nun.
In the Min version, a grouping in 6 is used (the first 2 groups correspond to the Chan and Cheng families, the third to the Lin and Li families). It will become in Zhejiang, a grouping in 9 or 10, the 4 groups of the top (see drawing) represent the 4 families (Chan, Lin, Cheng, Li).

▶ Dictionaries

There are two kinds of dictionaries.

Names classified by caracteristics

This is a list of the form "number characteristic names," for example: "4 thieves 坤山 茂林 三槐 逢春" or "3 emperors 太平 正順 福 孫". The characteristics can come from the biography of the characters, but also from the chinese characters that make up their name (for example: 3 yuan - 元 元吉 元 桂 青 元)

Dream dictionary

This is a list of dreams or events, each one being associated with some names of the list. Sometimes, a dictionary is divided in chapters - associated to themes -.

▶ Songs

Songs are used as a means of memorizing the 36 names. They vary from one dialect to another. These are very often "12 months' songs", they are composed of 12 verses, each verse being associated with a month of the year.

▶ Chinese Astrology

The names are linked to various elements of the Chinese astrology.
4 directions 四象 歸身 白虎 出門 青龍 (variant of the 四灵二十八宿:东方青龙 南方朱雀 西方白虎 北方玄武)
5 elements 五行 金木水火土
Bagwa 八卦 乾坎艮震巽离坤兑
Celestial Stems 天干 甲乙丙丁戊己庚辛壬癸
Earthly Branches地支 子丑寅卯辰已午未申酉戌亥
Sexagenary Cycle天干地支 60
Twelve constellations十二建星:黑黃道日 建满平收除危定執成開閉破
天罡掌訣 天罡掌訣 孟仲季
六種掌訣 六種掌訣 大安 留連 速喜 赤口 小吉 空亡

4 directions:歸身 白虎 出門 青龍

The names are divided in 4 groups. These groups are a variant of the distribution of the 28 celestial bodies (二十八宿) in 4 groups. The gambler, instead of betting on names, could bet on these groups. This groups exist only in the Min version and their descendants, probably because in South China another game allows gamblers to bet on 4 numbers : the Fantan.

Five Elements : 五行

The Five elements : metal (金), wood (木), water (水), fire (火) and earth (土), are associated with the names. In the Min et Wu versions, each name is associated with one element. The the north version, some names are associated with one or more elements, and others to none.

Bagua 八卦

Bagua i.e. the 8 trigrams are 乾, 坎,艮, 震, 巽, 离, 坤, et 兑. This kind of diagram is found in Zhejiang and in Jiangxi. Sometimes declined in 8 versions : one for each trigram.

Celestial Stems : 天干

The 10 celestial stems are : 甲, 乙, 丙, 丁, 戊, 己, 庚 ,辛, 壬, and 癸. This kind of diagram is specific to the Shandong and North versions.

Earthly Branches : 地支

The 12 earthly branches are : 子, 丑, 寅, 卯, 辰, 已, 午, 未, 申, 酉, 戌, and 亥. The association of these branches to the names can be found in every version of the game. Sometimes a diagram in the form of a hand is used (十二地支相刑掌诀图), sometimes a circle is used (十二地支羅盤).

Sexagenary cycle : 干支 / 天干地支

The hexadecimal cycle is the combination of the celestial branches and the terrestrial branches. It is associated with the Chinese calendar.

十二建星: 黑黃道日: 建满平收除危定執成開閉破

▶ Charms

Charms are present in the Wu versions, including Shanghai.

▶ Games' elements

In the Hakka version, the 36 names are associated with the 36 cards of the six tigers' game (六虎牌). In the Wu version, they are associated with Chinese dominoes (骨牌).

▶ Individual pages

For each character, a page gives these elements : a short biography, the associated dreams, Here are representations of 太平.

▶ The tales

Of the Yue version, we only know bits and pieces, deduced from the biographies presented in the manuals.

The three others versions have a lot in common, they relate the conflicts between the Cheng family on one side, and the Chan et Li families on the other side :

The major difference between the first version and the other two is the cause of the death of the son of the Cheng family :

As one can see, the Cheng family is cunning and treacherous after the death of their son in the first version, while even the son is evil in the 2 others.

This is the reason why the names of the two most "evil" Cheng characters were dropped from the game in Zhejiang.