◦ last updated:

As the probable country of origin of playing cards, China has a long history of card-playing and many different varieties.

The pan-Chinese word for playing cards, (Standard Chinese: pái), does not distinguish between different forms of card-like games and equally applies to paper or cardboard cards, bamboo sticks, or bone, ivory, or plastic Mahjong tiles. In many adjacent countries and languages adjacent to China, a derived or related term is used in the local language. Below I list some examples, ordered by number of speakers:

  • Chinese: pái (Mandarin)
  • Vietnamese: bài
  • Thai: ไพ่ (pâi)
  • Burmese: ဖဲ (hpai)
  • Lao: ໄພ້ (pʰâi)
  • Khmer: បៀ (bie)
  • Zhuang: bej or paih/paij₂ (Nong Zhuang)A
  • Bouyei: pai²B[p. 365]
  • Tai Lue: ᦘᦻᧉ (pʰaaj⁶)C
  • Bru: ບາຍ (bai)D
  • Kayan: phaǐ₁E
  • Dungan: пэ (pe)
  • Chin: phe₂ (Falam)F; phe₁ or phe₃ (Bualkhaw)G
  • Rawang: pàyH
  • Kayaw: be₁I

Unusually, Japan does not use cards derived from Chinese examples, but instead from European (specifically Portuguese) cards (see the page about Japanese cards for more).

Types of cards

The many types of Chinese and Chinese-derived cards can be broken down into several broad categories, as follows.

⚠️ The categorization here is a work in progress and may change, especially the last section.

Those derived from Xiàngqí (“Chinese chess”):

  • Four-Colour cards (四色牌 sì sè pái)
  • Two-Coloured chess cards, including:
    • Red cards (紅牌), also called Double Gold cards (雙金牌 shuāng jīn pái)
    • Malaysian Chap Ji Kee
    • Vietnamese Chrysanthemum cards, bài tam cúc

Those derived from dice:

  • Chinese dominoes (天九牌 tiān jiǔ pái)
  • 15-Point Cards (十五湖 shíwǔ hú)
  • Sichuan domino cards (川牌)

Those derived from paper money/banknotes:

  • Four-Suited money cards, of which most types are extinct:
    • Ma Diao (馬弔牌 mǎ diào pái)
    • Kitty cards (貓貓牌 māo māo pái)
    • Hakka playing cards (六虎牌 liù hǔ pái ‘six tiger cards’)
    • Six red cards (六紅牌 liù hóng pái)
    • Vietnamese bài bất
  • Three-Suited money cards:
    • The standard type (usually called 東莞紙牌 dōngguǎn zhǐpái); Thai money cards are essentially identical
    • Ceki cards, used in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia
    • Mahjong tiles and cards
    • Nantong long cards (南通长牌)
    • Vietnamese bài tổ tôm

Those that are numbered or use characters (字牌 zì pái):

  • Shàng Dà Rén Pái (上大人牌), from Hubei province
    • 3–5–7 cards (三五七), from Hubei province
  • 2–7–10 (二七十), from Hunan province?
  • Luzhou Big Two cards 泸州大贰, from Luzhou city, Sichuan province
  • Leshan round cards 樂山圈牌, from Leshan city, Sichuan province


  1. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  2. and (). ⁨⁩. La Société des Missions-Étrangères⁩: Hong Kong.

  3. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  4. (publisher) (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  5. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  6. Luai⁩, ⁨Than Bil and Timothy Mang (editors) (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  7. Thangpi⁩, ⁨Peter and Bawiuk Thang (editors) (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  8. LaPolla⁩, ⁨Randy J. and David Sangdong (editors) (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. Nanyang Technological University⁩.

  9. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Webonary.org. SIL International⁩.

  10. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Journal of the International Playing-Card Society vol. 31 (6), : pages 273–277. Edited by Michael B. Cooper.

  11. (). ‘⁨⁩’. Journal of the International Playing-Card Society vol. 31 (5), : pages 230–236. Edited by Michael B. Cooper.


Expand to show comments