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History of Gambling in China

Gambling is a very popular activity in China, even women and children get participated.  What is Gambling?  No one answers satisfactorily at all.  In Chinese society, gambling serves as a tool of social activity.  It has been spreading around over thousands of year, during which experienced in a variety of changes.


In Tang and Song Dynasties, it was the first time the word‘gambling’appeared in China history.  In the article “Gambling Bet Property”of “Tang Code”, word of ‘win’and‘bet’was the first time put onto legal provisions.  The definition of Gambling excerpted from The Encyclopedia Dictionary of The Chinese Language published by The Academy of Chinese Studies in Taiwan is that “gambling is, in a game, winner receives property and loser gives the same.”  Nowaday, gambling is a game about the money.

In studying Chinese gambling history, it has to be tracked back to Qin Dynasty.  At early Qin, kinds of gambling mainly include ‘Lu Bo’, chess, fighting game and kickball, etc.  At that time, professional gamblers were appeared in some districts.

Historically, gambling became the most popular activity in economically developed cities.  The typical district is in the vicinity of Jiangnan Jervois in Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Following the economic focus had began moving to southern areas of China since the South Song Dynasty, the centre of culture had graduately moved to the South.  The vicinity of Jiangnan Jervois was known as ‘Heaven’in Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Economically it was not only an important city, it was also in the leading in culture in China.  At that time gambling was extremely popular, as universal phenomenon, then spreaded to the whole country.  Many forms of gambling such as ‘ma diao’created by literati were appeared.  In Han and Tang Dynasties, both of Chang'an and Luoyang cities were the political center of the country as well.  Therefore, written reports relating to gambling activities were focus on these two cities.  In recent days, the modern European style shifts into many coastal cities in China including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Tianjin and etc.  Gambling activity becomes spread in these areas.

Throughout the four thousand years of Chinese history of gambling and prohibition of gambling, there was an interesting social and cultural phenomenon, in one hand gambling prohibition was in pace.  As time goes by, gambling business was significantly expanded with numerous of variety.  Meanwhile, gambling technique was filled with new concept with improvement.

The evolution of gambling tools in ancient decade :–

Horse Racing : Warring States period to the present.

Soccer : kickball organized by the Qin Dynasty to the present.

Pai Gow, Tian Gow : Hsuan-ho cards (ivory cards) was invented long before Song Dynasty but was standardized in 1120 AD.

Mahjong : ‘Ma Diao’has been popular since Qing Dynasty.

Western gambling tools including roulette, poker, horse racing and pinball machines were spreaded to China in 1840 until the present.

It was a time of prosperity in the feudal dynasty.  The society was stable, economical movement flourished.  The nobility, ruling class, started to kill time by means of gambling.  They served gambling as life excitement.  The gambling activity moved from the rich to the poor gradulately.  To the poor, they thought that gambling was a means and shortcut to get rid of poverty.  Once they got into the bad habit of gambling, they became gambling addicts.  As a result, the more they gambled, the more they got poor.  As they got more poor, they gambled more.

The gambling activity was a reflection of the negative aspects of the historical development of the country which was bad habit of the community.  Such habit was harmful to entire country.  The statements, measures and laws of gambling prohibition were formulated in every dynasty.  Gambling and prohibition of gambling existed in China history over thousand years.  Why did gambling phenomenon not able to be controlled so far?  Rulers of every dynasty could not make a good example for their civils.  Although it was one of the reasons to make the execution of the relevant laws in failure, the most importance was gambling itself satisfied with human needs which meant ‘greedy’.

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