Readers’ Blog

Chinese Affinity for Numbers

Popularity 3Viewed 3079 times 2014-5-10 11:14 |System category:Life| chinese, numbers, websites, url, lucky

Most of the information in this blog comes from The Secret Message Inside Chinese URLs: Decoding 4008-517-517.com and from my personal experience here in China.

In my first semester teaching here in Beijing, China, I handed out a sign up sheet for my students--one column for their student number, one column for their English name, and one column for their email. I was really surprised and especially frustrated when it came time to transcribe their sometimes sloppily written information into my excel document. 

  • BY129383092 Jenny 3914809318@163.com
  • BY123890129 Ghost 3948290840@163.com
  • BY128937039 Optimus 34890234890@163.com
  • BY123849320 Santa 392480823@163.com
  • BY127345293 Anna 949852039@163.com
And on and on the list went. Needless to say, the first time I sent out a class email, I got a lot of returned emails because I misread or mistyped a number and there were so many numbers! I wondered why and more importantly how my students possibly remember all these numbers. They not only remembered their own students numbers, but they could identify their classmates by their student numbers as well. 

The first numbered website I encountered was 12306.cn. One of my friends had bought train tickets for me online and I thought how convenient is that?! So I asked her for the website to do so. When she told me "12306.cn" I could not comprehend. Is this a joke? I went to the website expecting a 404 error--this website does not exist, but sure enough there was a fully functional website and to this day I use it whenever I buy train tickets. 

So now here comes the helpful explanation from the aforementioned article, which claims that "[t]he digits in a domain name usually aren't random." Back in the days of dial-up, Chinese people had to enter the digits, 163, to get online, hence the xxxxxxxx@163.com email addresses. "The phone companies China Telecom and China Unicom simply reappropriated their well-known customer service numbers as domain names, 10086.cn and 10010.cn, respectively." This one makes a lot of sense, no explanation really needed. Alibaba is very famous, but I didn't know that their website was 1688.com, which pronounced with the Beijing dialect is "yao-liu-ba-ba." Arguably very similar! Another website I've never heard of 51job.com--"wu-yao-job"--"wo-yao-job"--I want a job. I have used McDonald's online delivery and I wondered why they have such a random URL, 4008-517-517.com, but "517"--"wo-yao-chi"--I want to eat.

Now that these seemingly random numerical website URLs have been decoded, lets talk about why?

I believe that there are several cultural and practical reasons for doing so. Firstly, despite the existence of the pinyin system, the roman alphabet is still very difficult for many Chinese people. Secondly, Chinese students are experts at memorization so what we may think is a very difficult string of numbers is easy for them to remember. I hear stories of my students having had to memorize long articles in both English and Chinese in high school and I just think, why? However, the Chinese education system is a completely different topic. Thirdly, Chinese students are accustomed to memorizing numbers and being organized by numbers due to their large population and rigid structural organization. Every Chinese student has their student number, their shenfenzhen number, their QQ number, their friends' QQ numbers, their numbered email address, etc. 

Finally, and most interestingly, is the Chinese association of meaning with certain numbers, the most prominent of which are 8 and 4. Some personal examples of this, in America, whenever my mother leaves a tip, she makes sure that the final bill will add up to $xx.88 or if possible, $x8.88. For my own wedding date, we chose 8/18 because 8 is a very lucky number. 4--"si"--means death so it is a very unlucky number. My then boyfriend, now husband, had on a sports jersey from his school team and his number was 44. When my mother saw this, she got very upset and made him put another shirt on to cover the unlucky numbers. Americans (and maybe other Westerners) lack this special appreciation for numbers and therefore we do not find numbers significant enough to remember or to use for a website. The only number that Americans will memorize are their own social security number (and sometimes not even that) and their phone number. 


If you liked my blog, please vote for me!

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


Passing

Eggs

Flowers

Shake hands

Ray
Like 0 Share
8.03K

Report

Comment Comment (8 comments)

Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-5-10 16:25
A very nice post. I find Chinese number fascination ..well.. Fascinating. Of course in the West we are not always able to choose any numbers we want. I was getting a new cell phone for use in visits to UK, as my main cellphones now are all China originating. The phone number was not chosen by me, it came with the SiM but I can always  remember it. I won't put the full number but after the service provider part and start came another 6 digits. The main bus from Beijing campus to metro station before newish line 6 was the 437 and the number read 437888. That was an amazing coincidence!   
Reply Report 财神 2014-5-10 17:51
Wow, its interesting! before i also very smart but now....why? don't know? even my cell number, QQ number and all kind of numbers need to write on diary or save on mobile.  
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-5-11 09:29
财神: Wow, its interesting! before i also very smart but now....why? don't know? even my cell number, QQ number and all kind of numbers need to write on dia ...
It is a sign of growing older and brain cells dying!      these are the jokes by the way!
Reply Report 财神 2014-5-11 12:30
ColinSpeakman: It is a sign of growing older and brain cells dying!          these are the jokes by the way!
Yea, yea, because Old is Gold.
Reply Report jiewei798 2014-5-11 12:41
ColinSpeakman: A very nice post. I find Chinese number fascination ..well.. Fascinating. Of course in the West we are not always able to choose any numbers we want.  ...
That's true, when I got my number in China, they asked what I wanted my phone number to be. I had no idea what to choose.
Reply Report jiewei798 2014-5-11 12:42
财神: Wow, its interesting! before i also very smart but now....why? don't know? even my cell number, QQ number and all kind of numbers need to write on dia ...
When I was younger, I had memorized all my friends and family's phone numbers as well as my bank card and library card, but now there really is no need because it is so convenient to save it on your phone.

facelist doodle Doodle board

You need to login to comment Login | register


Album

Recent comments

  • My grandfather’s best friend - 莫若愚 2015-12-28 15:54

    Try to learn about China. It is your root here. Knowing 莫若愚-Muo Ruoyu is a beginning.

  • Chinese is not the hardest language after all 2014-6-8 23:46

    jiewei798: I disagree. I think this study fairly evaluates all languages despite being written in English. You may argue the validity of using access as a variab ...
    alright... you dont have to agree ^^ but the lack of conjugation was the hardest thing for me in english, because it may be easier to understand but harder to make sentences, because i felt the lack of suffixes as determiners.

Star blogger

Anming

4124

views

Maierwei

2603

views

财神

4580

views

BACK TO THE TOP
Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email: blog@chinadaily.com.cn
Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.