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The Superstitions of Numbers in China

Popularity 10Viewed 6771 times 2014-4-19 00:55 |Personal category:Chinese Culture|System category:Life| 1314, Chinese, customs, culture, superstitions



China is a land of many popular beliefs, customs, and superstitions. They may have their own merits and demerits, but no matter of how silly or ridiculous they sounds for us, foreigners, those beliefs have been an inseparable part of Chinese daily lives since hundreds years ago. A basic understanding of those superstitions, customs, and beliefs will make it easier for us to appreciate the culture of social life in China.


In Chinese traditions, certain numbers are believed to be auspicious (吉利) or inauspicious (不利) based on the Chinese word that the number name sounds similar to.


0 - Zero (Líng)

Zero is a neutral number and doesn't have any special meaning. But because the pronounciation "Líng" sounds similar to "Nǐ" (you, informal) or "Nín" (you, courteous), so this zero number is often associated with "Nǐ" or "Nín"


1 - One (Yī)

Number one is a neutral number and doesn't have any special meaning. But because in Chinese language there are so many words with a similar pronounciation with "Yī", to avoid ambiguity, Chinese often pronounce number 1 (One) as "Yāo" (幺) which have the same meaning, "One". Because the sound "Yāo" (幺) similar with "Yào" (要) which meaning is "want to / going to", so number one is often associated with the word"Yào" (要).


2 - Two (Èr)

There are a Chinese sayings that "Good things come in pairs" ("双喜临门"), so this number two is often associated with luck or fortune. For example, at a traditional Chinese wedding, we would often see the character 囍 (Xǐ) which is formed from the combination of two characters of 喜 (Xǐ) "Happiness".


3 - Three (Sān)

Number three is considered as a lucky number because the sound was similar to "Shēng"() which means "Life / Birth"


4 - Four (Sì)

Number four is considered as an unlucky number and were hated by many because the sound is similar to 死 (Sì) which means "Death". Chinese people will try to avoid this number in so many way, for example, don't get confused if you found out that the "4th Floor" of any building (Shopping Mall, Apartment, or Office) is "missing" because Chinese often label Third Floor as 3A and Fourth Floor as 3B.


Trivia : In some provinces of China, the local government forbid them to use a vehicle number that ends with number "4" 


5 - Five (Wǔ)

Number five in Chinese sounds similar to 无 (Wǔ) which means "nothing/none", so the meaning could be good or bad depending on the number that follows.


Example :

53 (无生 - "wu sheng") which means "No Life", inauspicious.

54 (无死 - "wu si") which means "No Death", auspicious.


6 - Six (Liù)

Many considered number six could bring good fortune for their business because the sounds is similar to  流 which means "to flow / to circulate / to spread". People in the West believed that 666 could bring misfortune, but in China, it's considered lucky and auspicious.


7 - Seven (Qī)

Number seven in China could be good or bad, depending on the context. In the past, number seven was considered unlucky because they believe that the spirit of the dead people will linger on human's world for 49 days (7x7) after he died. The seventh month on Lunar Calendar was often associated as "Ghost Month".


Nowadays, people often associate number seven with love. People consider number seven symbolized "Togetherness" because the pronounciation is similar to "一起" (Yīqǐ) which means "together". The character 起 (Qǐ ) alone have the meaning "Rise". Number seven also often associated with 气 (Qì) which means "energy" or "the essence of life". And don't forget, Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine's Day) falls on the seventh day on the seventh month every year (according to Lunar Calendar).


8 - Eight (Bā)

Chinese love number eight very much. The pronounciation of number eight in Cantonese is "Fā" instead of "Bā", and is often associated with 发财 (Fācái) which means "Prosperity". Number eight also often associated with the teaching of Buddhism because The Lotus Flower is often potrayed with 8 petals. Other than that, visually, number "88" looks similar to character 囍 (Xǐ) that is formed from two characters of 喜 (Xǐ) which means "Happiness"


Number eight have a big influence in Chinese society, such as

- Chinese believed that it's auspicious to start a new business (open a new shops, restaurant, etc) at the 8th day of every month.

- Opening ceremony for Beijing Olympic was started at 8 August 2008, 8 : 08 PM Beijing Time.

- Chinese netizens often ended their conversation with 88 that means "Bai Bai" (Bye Bye), which also means that we send off our chatting partner with a good wish.

- When buying apartment in China, the rooms in 8th floor will be more expensive compared to the rooms in another floor.

- In Chinese restaurant, a default set is 8 chairs surrounding a round table.


9 - Nine (Jiǔ)

Number 9 was considered auspicious because the pronounciation is similar to 久 (Jiǔ) which means "long-lasting". In ancient time, the Emperor's outfit was often decorated with nine dragons that symbolizes "balance" or "harmony".



And when those numbers were paired, they also generated a new meaning


1314 is one of the most romantic numbers in China. The pronounciation "Yīsān yīsì" is similar to "Yīshēng yīshì" (一生一世 - one life, one world) which means "Forever and ever" or "Everlasting"


521 is also considered romantic because the pronounciation "Wǔ'èryī" is often associated with "Wǒ ài nǐ" (我爱你) which means "I love you"


Nowadays, Chinese youngsters often write 5211314 to express their love. “我爱你,一生一世" (Wǒ ài nǐ yīshēng yīshì - "I love you forever and ever")


Okay, let me give you a riddle to see if you're paying attention to my explanation or not


Friday, January 4th 2013 was a very special day. Hundred thousands of Chinese couple was getting married that day. Can you guess why? Look for the answer in the bottom of this article.





510 is also often associated with love. The pronounciation "Wú yāo líng" is similar to "Wǒ yào nǐ" which means "I want you"


3399 was often used as a greetings for newlyweds. The pronounciation "Sānsān jiǔjiǔ" is similar to "Shēngshēng jiǔjiǔ" (生生久久) which means that we wish the couple would "grow old together"


514 is considered unlucky because the pronounciation "Wǔ yāo sì" is similar to "Wǒ yào sǐ" (我要死) which means "I want to die". There are a time when Chinese netizens used to make fun of their friends who live or study in Montreal, Canada, because the area code is 514.


748 is often used to insult people. The pronounciation "Qī sì bā" is similar to "Qù sǐ ba" which means "Just go to die" or "Go to hell!"



Okay, that's all for today. Feel free to comment and add some more meaningful number combinations in Chinese if you know some that I haven't mentioned above.


And for the riddle that I mentioned above, this is the answer


Friday = 5 (Day number 5 in a week)


January 4th 2013 = 201314 (when Chinese write dates, they start from year, to month, to day)


So, Friday, January 4th 2013 would be written as  5201314 in Chinese




“我爱你,一生一世" (Wǒ ài nǐ yīshēng yīshì - "I love you, forever and ever")



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Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-4-19 09:33
A very nice post. I am not saying I am influenced by Chinese number beliefs .. But the last four digits of one of my Beijing cell numbers are 9988 and of my Shanghai number are 8808 . Another of my Beijing numbers after beginning 1500 goes to 6633 . I try to get the good luck!    no fours in any of my cell numbers!  One number combo you did not mention but friends told me about. 250 meaning stupid. So if a market seller has a cheap item he wants to con foreigners by high prices he asks for 250'rmb to see if you are stupid!
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-4-19 10:24
ColinSpeakman: A very nice post. I am not saying I am influenced by Chinese number beliefs .. But the last four digits of one of my Beijing cell numbers are 9988 and ...
Yeah, er bai wu, hahaha. I know a lot of dirty Chinese jokes with number but I feel it would be inappropriate to post it here =)
Reply Report 财神 2014-4-19 21:02
nice and useful research.enjoy to read.good job.well done.
Reply Report idorun 2014-4-19 21:54
That's  nice but I believe you don't know any thing about the real superstitions of zhonguo numbers . You have to be born Chinese .
Reply Report austinong 2014-4-20 15:48
very helpful! finally a clear note on these!
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-21 23:55
I just wish they would stop using 8 in their telephone numbers...I hate the adverts 我们的热线号什么什么什么八八八八 it sounds like the noise sheep make :p
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-4-23 14:46
idorun: That's  nice but I believe you don't know any thing about the real superstitions of zhonguo numbers . You have to be born Chinese .
Yes, there are still so many things I don't understand. But all I've written above is what I learned from classes, books, and also discussion with my Chinese friends. As flawed as it is, I hope it's still can be useful for all the readers here =)
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-4-23 14:47
seanboyce88: I just wish they would stop using 8 in their telephone numbers...I hate the adverts 我们的热线号什么什么什么八八八八 it sounds like the noise sheep ma ...
Hey, at least it's cute. Baaaa baaaaa
Hahaha
Reply Report AlexisFW85 2014-4-23 16:31
Had a parent cancel a student interview with me because it was scheduled on 4/14! Don't know how that slipped my mind when I made the booking...
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-4-24 10:58 (Pending for approval)
Validation failed
Reply Report claudeckenni 2014-4-25 09:21
AlexisFW85: Had a parent cancel a student interview with me because it was scheduled on 4/14! Don't know how that slipped my mind when I made the booking...
Wow, it surprised me that they would even go that far because of this o_0
Reply Report AlexisFW85 2014-4-27 16:31
claudeckenni: Wow, it surprised me that they would even go that far because of this o_0
Me too! But it didn't put us out too much. :)
Reply Report Winmie 2014-5-26 17:15
Haha,so good.   Even though I'm Chinese,I didn't know some of the meaning before.

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claudeckenni

I am interested in all forms of perception, of seeing through the eyes of another. I love the rain, and colours your eyes change with the sunset behind you. Randomness flows through my veins, as does a sense of self-discovery. I\'m curious in finding where I fit into the grand scheme of life. I\'m just interested in finding someone who wants to enjoy the ride with me.

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