Chinese Lucky Numbers
Last updated by david at 2013-10-10
In China , whether a number is considered lucky or not is often related to the similarity between the pronunciation of the number (i.e., its sound byte) and the sound byte of another word which carries a positive connotation. Though such association may seem silly to an outsider, the question is whether this is any sillier than any other justification for holding a particular, non-scientific belief about the luckiness or unluckiness of any given number (think of the number 13 in Western culture, and how potent is the belief associated with its negativeness).
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The role of numbers in determining luck
The role of numbers in determining luck has a long history in Chinese culture. For example, it is said that in the Forbidden City there are 9999 rooms. When buying a house or choosing a telephone number or a license plate number for one's automobile, the choice is generally made with an eye to the perceived luckiness of the available numbers.
The number 2 is considered lucky because 'all good things come in pairs', it has been observed. The number 6 is an example of the sound byte association mentioned above: "six" is pronounced "liu" in Mandarin Chinese, which sound byte is close to the sound byte for the Mandarin Chinese word which means "flowing, smooth, or frictionless", therefore the number 6 is considered very lucky, especially where it occurs in multiples. So highly is the number 6 prized, in fact, that a motorcycle dealership in Zengcheng in Guangdong Province paid the net sum of RMB 272,000 (USD $34,000) for a motorcycle license plate bearing the number AW6666.
The Number 8
The number 8 is considered extremely lucky, perhaps partly owing to its unique symmetry, and perhaps partly owing to the fact that the 8, laid on its side, resembles the Greek symbol for infinity. Additionally, in Mandarin Chinese, the sound byte for "eight" is close to that for "prosperity, wealth", while in Cantonese it is similar to the sound byte for "fortune".
To give an idea of how highly the number 8 is prized, the telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for a sum corresponding to USD $270,723 in Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan Province. Even the Chinese government got caught up in the euphoria over the number 8 in this olympic year, 2008: the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on the eigth of August (08/08/08), at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time! Learn how to speak eight in Chinese
The Number 9
Though even numbers are generally considered luckier than the odd ones, one odd number, the 9, is considered especially propitious. This is partly owing to the fact that the number 9 has traditionally been associated with the emperor (viz. the number of rooms in the Forbidden City) and partly owing to the fact that the sound byte for "nine" is close to that for the word "longlasting". Learn How to Speak Nine in Chinese.
Unlucky Numbers in Chinese Culture
While the focus in China is overwhelmingly on lucky numbers, there are certain numbers that are considered unlucky and which belief, or superstition, has real consequences, much as similar beliefs/ superstitions sometimes have real consequences in Western culture, where the 13th floor is occasionally missing from a tall building.
In China (and in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam), the number 4 is considered ghastly unlucky because its sound byte is almost identical to that for the word "death". Consequently, Nokia phones in China do not have a series beginning with the number 4, and similar electronic devices, from PDAs to digital cameras, are lacking a series that is either designated "4" or begins with a "4", and some high-rise buildings lack a fourth floor.
There are a few other numbers that are considered outright unlucky in Chinese culture, but these often depend more on a local dialect, via sound byte associations, than do the lucky numbers, which are the main focus in today's China. Learn How to Speak Four in Chinese
Numerology in China
Numerology has always been an important consideration to the Chinese. When a Chinese buys a house or a car he makes sure its number is auspicious, because an auspicious number is believed to bring good fortune and an inauspicious number ill luck.
Some numbers are more significant than others and some combine harmoniously with others while causing disharmony when used with some other numbers. Odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) are yang while even (2, 4, 6, 8) yin. When a yin number is combined with a yang number it forms a balanced number pair.
The odd numbers are generally less favourable than the peers because the Chinese consider that the good things must be always repeated. So, it is needed to offer two presents when people are invited to a dinner or to a birthday. The Chinese also never choose the second day of the month calendar to organize funeral. Indeed, they consider that the burial is a very sad event and that it should not thus arrive twice in a brief interval of time. If a sad event takes place the second day of the month it means that it will reproduce a second time during the day.
The number 3 is significant since there are three important stages in a man’s life (his birth, his marriage and his death). But the sound of a number is also important. For example, the number 4 is inauspicious because it sounds like “si” (die), while 8, which sound like “fa” (luck), and 9, which sound like “jiu” (longevity), are lucky.
“Yi” (1) is a yang number representing the direction north and the water element.
“Er” (2) is a yin number symbolising the fire element, the south and the two complementary forces, yin and yang.
“San” (3) is a yang number categorised with wood and the east. It sounds like “sheng” (growth), and therefore is a popular number.
As mentioned earlier, “si” (4) sounds like “si” (die) in Cantonese and is avoided. It is for the Chinese the worst of all the figures.
It is in fact really terrible to attribute the figure 4 to something. Generally, the numbers of doors as well as the number of cars plates do not contain such a figure and especially not on the last place of a number! In Hong-Kong, it is possible to choose its phone number in a list of available numbers. The numbers containing the figure 4 are thus often given to foreigners, little or not conscious of the meaning of this figure for the Asian.
In Hong-Kong, numerous buildings do not possess the floors of which the numbers can contain the figure 4. You pass directly from the 3rd floor to the 5th! And "if unfortunately", there is the fourth floor in a residence, it has strong probability to be at a cheaper rental fee. What makes the happiness of all those who are not superstitious!
“Wu” (5) is a yang and lucky number and it has been used to classify many aspects of Chinese things such as the elements, the senses and the basic colours.
“Liu” (6) is a yin number symbolising the element water, and the north.
“Qi” (7) is a yang number and it sounds like “shi” (sure) in Cantonese. It is related to the five elements and the south.
“Ba” (8) symbolises the element wood, east and it sounds like “fa” (luck).
It is the “lucky charm” figure of the Chinese. You will thus understand why, the figure 8 was in honour of the Olympics of Beijing which began the 08/08/08 at 08:08 am! According to a belief from Canton, where the figure is pronounced "fa", it brings prosperity and balance.
“Fa cai” means “accumulate some money ". Chinese are ready to put the full price to pick up the famous 8 and see representing one or even some 8 on the license plate of their vehicle, in their phone number … Mineralogical plates carrying a combination of 8 are moreover sold by auction by the Hong-Kong government. In 2006, a license plate wearing the figure “888” was sold about 30.000 dollars.
But be careful! 8, is good but not for all the occasions! Indeed, the Chinese character which represents 8 is constituted by two lines which form an elbow downward and which go in the opposite direction one of the other one. In Chinese, it means "separation" or "divorce". Although the figure 8 is favourable for almost everything in China, it carries misfortune to the married or loving women. In Guangdong and Hong-Kong, the figure 8 is moreover used to appoint an old woman …
“Jiu” (9) symbolises longevity, the element metal and west.
It is a very popular figure for its long-term character. It is appropriate to sign a contract the 9th, 19th or 29th of the month; it will be seen as sign of sustainable relation with the partner. Many weddings in China take place in September, in the hope the marriage can continue as long as possible.
The figure 9 had a particular meaning in ancient China. Indeed, the Chinese of this period considered the odd numbers as male and the even numbers as feminine. 9 being the number in the highest figure, it represented for them the “ultimate masculinity” and symbolized the supreme sovereignty of the emperor. So, 9 or its multiple are often used on the imperial architectures.
The Forbidden City of Beijing counts according to the legend, 9, 999 rooms (in reality, 8, 704, according to a study led in 1973). The number 9,999 is understandable because according to the tradition, only the divinities had the right to build a palace including 10 000 rooms. The human beings, therefore, tried to get as near as possible from their ideal of perfection. While the figure 9 is symbol of longevity, the number 10 000 represents symbolically “a countable infinity.
The symbolic meaning of numbers inclined the design of monuments, such as the bridge shown below, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge: seventeen is the sum of nine plus eight. As already mentioned, the nine symbolized the emperor, whereas the eight was and still is regarded as a very lucky number: a Chinese architect would never suggest a four-arch bridge, because number four is a very unlucky number. In this specific case the influence of numbers led to the design of a very elegant bridge which is characterized by the gradual reduction of the size of the arches.
The important or 'lucky' numbers in Chinese numerology 3 and 9 are repetitive in the layout and design; once again, the number 9, being the highest value digit, is associated with the emperor. Its square root, 3, has a natural resonance in terms of beginning, middle and end; introduction, development and conclusion.
We find everywhere in the conception of the temple the 9, in the number of steps, balustrades, circles of paving stones, nails on doors and probably other details which are always a multiple and especially in the design of the Circular Mound Altar圜丘坛 (Yuánqiū Tán): a single round marmor plate is surrounded by a ring of nine plates, then a ring of 18 plates, and so on for a total of nine surrounding rings, the outermost having 9×9 plates.
“Shi” (10) is a yin number.
Influenced by the western faiths, 13 also became a misfortune figure in numerous Chinese spirits although this did not become a "standard" yet. Numerous upper-class hotels of Hong-Kong lack a thirteenth floor.
Although the faiths in good and bad numbers are considered as superstitions today, numerous of Chinese, coming from various social origins, still respects them.
Chinese dragons are often associated to the number 9. For example, a Chinese dragon is generally described in terms of nine attributes and has usually 117 scales - 81 (9x9) males and 36 (9x4) females. It is also why there are nine forms of the dragon and that the dragon has nine children.
The idea of numbers in Feng Shui is also an important concept as part of the tradition and practice.
Literally meaning “wind and water”, Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese practice of positioning objects and buildings in harmony with nature to ensure good fortune. Often referred as geomancy, its origins lay in an ancient Chinese respect for the environment, a belief that cosmological influences strongly affect our lives.
The meaning of the Feng Shui numbers is as follows:
- #1 means frequent trips and fluctuations in fortune throughout the year;
- #2 denotes illness, sadness, depression;
- #3 leads to quarrels, law suits, financial loss, conflicts, robbery;
- #4 is conductive to success in studying, examinations and promotions, interpersonal relationships, competitions and elections;
- #5 symbolizes disaster: illness, bad health, traffic accidents, surgery, divorce, bankruptcy;
- #6 represents authority and power;
- #7 is neutral and depends on prevailing dominant star;
- #8 connotes prospects, wealth, good for everything;
- #9 signifies marriage, romance, and giving birth.
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