Chinese Lucky and Unlucky Numbers Explained

Ben Hadges
By Ben Hadges
December 12, 2016Latest

A lot of people will be familiar with the number 8 being a lucky number for Chinese. 8 is pronounced bā which sounds similar to the word fā as in fā cái or emit wealth. And people are really serious about using the number 8.

For example, the Beijing Olympics started on august 8th 2008 at eight mins and eights seconds past eight. And that is local time which is GMT plus 8 by the way.

If your building is number 8, you’re gonna really want to show it off, just look at how big the number 8 is on this building on Siu Fai Terrace, the road I used to live on in Hong Kong. They are probably charging higher rent because of it too.

Telephone numbers and license plates containing lots of 8’s have all been sold for high prices and foreigners are even getting in on the act when marketing products to the Chinese too. British Airways’ flight from Chengdu to London is numbered BA0088 for example.

Now let’s look at a number that isn’t so lucky and that would be 4. In Chinese it is pronounced sì in the fourth tone, but because it sounds so similar to sǐ or to die which is third tone, it is bad luck.

For this reason many buildings in China and Hong Kong don’t have a fourth floor, in fact they may even omit any floor with the digit 4 in it like 14, and maybe also 13 to please western visitors.

Many products names and serial numbers have the digit 4 removed for the Chinese market. In many places in Asia busses will not use the number 4 in their numbers either.

So 8 and 4 are the most talked about, but there are a lot of other numbers with significance in Chinese culture.

For example the number nine 九 is considered 吉利 or auspicious, and was often associated with the emperor. It is a homophone with the character meaning “long lasting” also pronounced jiǔ. It is also an important number in 風水 or Chinese geomancy.

Let’s now look at a bigger number 萬 or 10 thousand. This is also a number used to represent longevity, for example people used to wish the emperor to live 萬歲 or 10 thousand years. Here you can see the characters 萬歲 repeated several times on this banner above the head of the Empress Cixi, at the end of the Qing dynasty, they wrote from right to left at that time by the way. This number can also be used to express the vastness of the world or the universe, like in the phrase 萬事萬物 the ten thousand affairs and ten thousand objects. This phrase is often used in Taoist philosophy.

This Buddhist symbol known as 萬字符 has the same pronunciation as the character 萬. Although you may know it as the Swastika, from Hitler, this symbol has actually existed for thousands of years, Hitler kind of stole it, turned it black and had it pointing at an angle. The original symbol is associated with the Buddha, many Buddha statues in Asia have the symbol on the chest of the Buddha. The symbol is also associated with the shape of our milky way galaxy, and is pronounced wan.

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