Today's episode of "Weird-Ass Chinese Playing Cards" is going to start dealing with the great grand-daddies of every major form of western playing card including French-suited decks (a.k.a. "standard" playing cards), German-suited decks (a.k.a. the weird ones with the acorns), the myriad of Italian-suited decks, and Spanish-suited decks, not to mention Tarot decks.

(Keep in mind that all claims to the antiquity of Tarot are bullshit. Tarot appeared in the 15th centuryโ€”as playing cards.)


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So the great grand-daddies of western playing cards are the so-called "Money Cards" first referenced in Yuan China. (They were likely invented before this.)

These were so named because originally both the playing pieces and the stakes of the games played with them were literal paper money.

Early decks had four suits: Coins/Cash, Strings (of Coins), Myriads (of Coins) and Tens (of Myriads).

Most modern decks are "stripped" decks where the Tens suit is almost entirely removed.


One of the modern surviving four-suited decks are the "Six Tigers" decks of the Hakka peoples, used to play a fast-moving, trick-taking game.

The fist two pictures attached are the usual style: number on the top, suit on the bottom, **highly** stylized representations of both, and no illustrations. The first is the standard size thin cardstock, while the second is oversized, with thick cardboard cards for older people.

The final picture is one of the rarer illustrated decks.


Another surviving four-suited deck has even weirder iconography. Both pictures attached to this toot are the same cards. (Never mind that they look like they belong as playing cards of alien races in an SF RPG!) \

More to the point, however, they're the **same cards** as the Six Tigers cards, called "Red Six" or "Dog" cards. If you know what you're looking for, you can spot the cognates.

These cards are *very* localised and stem from Yibin prefecture in Sichuan province.


And that's pretty much it for surviving four-suited money cards I've found. The rest (including Mahjong) are three-suited money cards. I've already shown you Mahjong cards in the blurb on tiles vs. cards, but here I'll share the full set of cards (not tiles) spread out.

Both decks are, as mentioned, PVC, one being black and the other the lovely "crystal" pattern.


So this leads to the single most popular remaining set of money cards: so-called "Water Margin" decks. These come in a bewildering variety of shapes, sizes, and illustrations, yet are very similar at their core. As with Mahjong, most games played with these are of the rummy family, with occasional trick-taking games and even the rare climbing games peeking in from the wild.

The attached example is my first money-suited deck, and the beginnings of my obsession. Made of thick PVC.


I have a lot of these decks because they fascinate me and I find them pretty beautiful.

All the decks in this toot are made of plastic (not PVC) and are in different form factors and sizes (both frontage and thickness). The diversity of illustration and style is very apparent from this toot alone.


The final two decks are thin cardstock with a very narrow form factor.

One thing you'll note with all of these is the odd symbols at the top and bottom of each card. These symbols are an artifact of how such cards are held in play. Unlike the west, in which cards are fanned out in the hand, Chinese cards are held in a strip with the cards slightly offset against each other. Those weird symbols are the index used to identify the suit and number of the card.


This has been by far the largest single post on Chinese cards. My next one will be my final one (AT LAST!). I branched away from character cards to talk about money-suited cards, and will be going back to that with my next post. My reason for doing this?

The prides and joys of my collection are in the last batch of my playing cards.


@zdl Wonderful again! I noticed that last set included dice pips as illustrations for numbers. I haven't seen much of anything else in most of these cards that I can recognize immediately to understand the numbers. Do they make any as a conceit to westerners with Arabic numerals?

Not just these money cards, but anything in the long format.

@Mycroft They don't even make nice for *Chinese* readers! ๐Ÿ˜…โ€‹ The Leshan (from the number cards), the Six Tigers, and the Red Six (from this set) fonts are horribly stylized Chinese calligraphy that even natives can't read unless they already know what they're looking at. The iconography on the other money cards are also very localized without writing of any kind much of the time.

You've just gotta learn 'em.

The only really easily-accessible changpai are the dominoes ones.

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