The following account on the history of the game is an exerpt from Stewart Culin's paper published in 1891.
This game is an old establishment, and was first introduced by Chéung léung of the great Han Dynasty. When the city was hard pressed, and provisions were beginning to fail, they (the besieged) were anxious to increase the contributions, and to exhort the people to subscribe more for the army, but were unable to do so. Hence they established a game of chance (to guess characters), by which they hoped to tempt the people to hazard their property. In order to fix a method of losing or gaining at hazard, they chose 120 characters for the whole game and eight characters for one subdivision. If the people lost one (whole) subdivision they lost three lí of property; if they gained one division they were rewarded with ten taels. These regulations being once established, who would not sacrifice a little in order to gain much? The two games in the morning and evening were attended by men and women who tried their luck by guessing. They had only opened the game for about ten days, when they had accumulated more than 1000 pieces of silver; and after a few more decades their wealth was boundless. The money thus gained was considered a contribution to the army for the reduction of the empire….
At present the people practice the game as a profession. They borrow the characters from the Thousand Character Classic, of which eighty are chosen and arranged after a new plan, ten characters forming one division, which the people are permitted to purchase for more or less (for whatever they please.)
Three cash gaining ten taels makes the people covet the game without loathing. When they guess five characters they gain five lí; when six characters they gain five candareens; when seven characters they gain five mace; when eight characters they gain two taels and five mace; when nine characters they gain five taels; when ten characters they gain ten taels.
When this game was first established, the houses were often at a great distance, and communication being difficult and the people anxious soon to know the result respecting their gaining or losing, they employed letter doves to carry the news to the parties, whence the present designation: 'The Game of the White Dove.'