In China, It’s All About the Numbers

Posted on August 25, 2008

Why are the Chinese so attracted to numbers? Do they hold the key to ancient secrets or are they merely an odd fixation?

The Chinese believe that some numbers are lucky and some aren’t, as do their counterparts throughout the world.

The difference is that lucky numbers are a big industry in China where people can actually select their own phone numbers, license plates, and other random things, which is an expensive, as well as lucky, purchase.

In China, numbers are often integrated with sounds and have associative meanings. For example, the number eight is considered the luckiest number of all because it is pronounced “ba” which sounds like “fa”, the Chinese word for prosperity.

House numbers and telephone numbers containing the number eight are extremely sought after, and it is no coincidence that the Beijing Olympics began on 08/08/2008 at 8pm.

Conversely, the number four is considered bad luck because it is pronounced “si” which is similar to the Chinese word for death.

When ordering dishes in a Chinese restaurant, the courses are usually even-numbered, such as four, six, eight, etc. It is also customary if a guest visits a home bearing a gift of fruit the number will be even.

When buying apartments in China, those that are on even numbered floors are always the first to sell out. The fourth floor, on the other hand, is usually the cheapest, and usually foreigners, oblivious to the number’s connotations, occupy it.

The number six is considered very lucky, because the pronunciation sounds like the word for “flow”, suggesting that everything will go very smoothly.

The car license plate “AC6688″ recently sold for 80,000Y ($11,700 US dollars).

The number two is lucky as well, because it suggests harmonious existence and reproduction.

Some odd numbers are also considered favorable. Five is very significant because it relates to the five elements of Feng Shui (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), the five basic colors (red, green, yellow, black and white) and the five tastes (sweet, sour, salty bitter and pungent).

The number one is favored by young lovers and is exemplified in the Chinese idiom, “one heart and one soul.” A man will usually send one flower to his beloved to express undivided love or he may send nine (jiu), which is a homonym for the word denoting forever.

The number seven has experienced a bit of a renaissance as it was traditionally associated with anger. In recent years it has become more acceptable as it sounds a little bit like the words for “wife” or “family”.

What’s in a number?

Who can say, but do YOU dare to find out?

MDeeDubroff

MDeeDubroff

M Dee Dubroff is the penname of this freelance writer and former teacher originally from Brooklyn, New York. A writer of ghostly and horror fiction, she has branched out into the world of humorous non fiction writing and maintains eight web sites covering a wide variety of topics. She also writes feature articles for several local newspapers. Her book entitled: A Taste of Funny, and her website, Eat, Drink And Really Be Merry (http://www.ingestandimbibe.com) feature many well researched and humorous articles on the subject of food and drink.
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25 thoughts on “In China, It’s All About the Numbers

    1. Kaya

      It sounds like the characters for “going to die” in Cantonese, but in this case, a direct translation would be “definitely going to die”.

      Reply
    2. ah sha

      13 – going to live
      14 – going to die
      520 – i love you
      1748 – lets go die together <-they kiss again Ariel Lin exam number!

      X_X,,,,, nvm

      Reply
      1. ?Jasmine

        lol so true. i watched too ^^

        but anyway, question here:
        how come 520= i love you?
        it’s (wu er ling) and isn’t it supposes to be (wo ai ni)

        what does it mean actually?
        so confusing XD

        Reply
  1. Kenten

    I’m local China guy, almost all things in this article is right except the figure 4 and 8.
    In traditional saying, only 6 and 10 is very nice figure for people, 6 stand for success, and 10 stand for perfect–all in good in full.

    but 4 and 8 is meaningful in nearly 20 years which come from Cantonese. you can not find 4 for death and 8 for prosperity on 20 years ago in China culture.

    Reply
    1. Kyra

      but the number four does sound like death in cantonese.
      also, interesting post. What IS with chinese people and numbers? lol

      Reply
  2. Gee-Man

    To people wondering what is with the Chinese peoples’ obsession with numbers, it’s because China’s cultural history of fortune telling and such has often lied in numerology. It’s sort of like how in Western culture, we have those little superstitions like don’t walk under a latter, don’t break a mirror, black cats are bad luck, etc. It’s just that in Western culture, we don’t really care about luck as much as the Chinese and many Asian cultures in general.

    Reply
  3. squall

    Good article!, Also in cantonese, 5 sounds like “won’t”, so you don’t want to mix 5 with good numbers like 8. eg. 58 – won’t get rich

    Reply
    1. cg

      er……actually 5 means ‘I’. it is a very good thing to connect 5 and other good numbers. e.g. 518 means i will get rich. of course, when you connect 5 with bad numbers; it is bad. such as 514 means that i am going to die.

      Reply
      1. squall

        are you talking about mandarin? (although 5 doesn’t sound that close to ‘I’ in mandarin either). 5 is definitely not ‘I’ in cantonese.

        Reply
  4. Eli

    I have a question, I live in an apartment number 600 and my unit number is 104, what would those numbers mean?

    Reply
  5. cher

    hi my dog gave birth on the 15/04/2009 around midnight…..can u predict whats the number for this situation?email me plssss

    Reply
  6. kelly

    i'm originally from Japan and I think you are talking worng about 4 is bad number in China.
    I heard 4 and 8 are luck number in China.
    4 is bad numer in Japan because 4(si) is exactly same way to pronunce as death and 8 also is luck number in Japan.
    i think the chinese character you are showing on your article is more often using in Japan not China i guess.

    Reply
  7. kelly

    sorry i meant,
    i'm originally from Japan and I think you are talking worng about 4 is bad number in China.
    I heard 4 and 8 are good luck number in China.
    4 is bad numer in Japan because 4(si) is exactly same way to pronunce as death and 8 is also good number in Japan.
    i think the chinese character you are showing on your article is more often using in Japan not China i guess.

    Reply

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