It has been said many times that the Chinese are a nation of gamblers. The stereotype is deeply embedded in not only western attitudes toward the Chinese, but in Chinese perception toward themselves. It is supposed to be because of this inclination to gambling that an entire genre of film, unique to the region, has grown around master gamblers. Which brings us to a question which has been asked many times: Why do the Chinese love to gamble?

One answer, noted by many casual observers, is that throughout Chinese history, a large percentage of the Chinese population has been dirt poor. So they hope for a miracle, a streak of luck, a big win.


H.A. Giles, the noted but now terribly dated Sinologist, wrote in his Chinese Sketches that the Chinese are constantly at gambling because of a general ennui and simple lack of anything better to do. They had, in his opinion, no national game, they aren’t big on athletics, and their chess is nothing to speak of. Apparently Giles is a strong believer in the maxim “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools.”


A more probable theory is based on the idea that gambling is …