Chinese Lucky Numbers

Although nowadays beliefs in lucky and unlucky numbers are often regarded as superstitious, millions of Chinese people, from various social and ethnic groups, still hold such beliefs. Number is an important tool in accessing Chinese culture. Knowing the implicit meanings behind numbers will not only help you explain some unique situations in Chinese society but will also lead you to the wellspring of ancient Chinese wisdom.


How Do Chinese People Distinguish Between Lucky and Unlucky Numbers?

Numbers in China range between auspicious and ominous mainly depending on their pronunciation and on their meaning in feng shui (a Chinese philosophical system for harmonizing people with their environment). For individuals, lucky numbers are also related to their date of birth.



Whether a number is considered lucky or not is often related to the similarity between its pronunciation and that of another word which carries a positive or negative connotation. For example, the number 8 is considered lucky because its pronunciation is similar to that of the word‘发’fa in ‘发财’ (‘to make a fortune’).




Feng Shui

Feng shui was first described in the Book of Changes, a book of divination dating back more than 2,500 years, which had profound influence on Chinese thought. The ancient Chinese who wrote this book combined numbers and symbols to explain how things change. The result was the emergence of the famous Eight Diagrams. In the Eight Diagrams, numbers from 1 to 9 are given different meanings.

In The Book of Changes, things are comprised of two forces: yin and yang. These forces can also be found in the vibration patterns of numbers. Odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) are yang while even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) are yin. When a yin number is combined with a yang number, it forms a balanced number pair.

Read more about Chinese Feng Shui.

Chinese Fengshui

Lucky Numbers: 2, 6, 8, 9


2 Uses in China

2, pronounced ’er’, is considered lucky because 'all good things come in pairs'. In the theory of feng shui, 2 is important. The theory posits that the TWO features yin and yang are complementary forces of all things in the world. Among young people in China, the number two has become a popular adjective to describe frank, innocent, reckless personality. They believe ‘er’ reflects a positive attitude towards life.

In a traditional Chinese wedding, the new couple’s house and the restaurant will be decorated with 囍 paper-cuts, symbolizing double-luck.

‘Er bai wu’ is Chinese for ‘two hundred and fifty’. On most occasions, it is not used to praise, but to refer to someone as stupid. This is unrelated, however, to the general luckiness of the number 2.   


6 Uses in China

6 is pronounced ‘liu’ in Mandarin Chinese, and this sounds like the Mandarin Chinese word meaning ‘flowing, smooth, or frictionless’. Therefore the number 6 is considered lucky, especially where it occurs in multiples. In feng shui, the number 6 represents authority and power.

So highly is the number 6 prized that a motorcycle dealer in Zengcheng of Guangdong Province paid the net sum of RMB 272,000 (USD $34,000) for the motorcycle license plate AW6666.

Young Chinese netizens widely use ‘666’ to express admiration for people or things.  


8 Uses in China

8 is considered extremely lucky, because as mentioned above, in Mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘eight’ is close to that of the phrase meaning ‘to make a fortune’. The number 8 is also uniquely symmetric, and when laid on its side, resembles the Greek symbol for infinity.

In Chengdu the telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for a sum corresponding to USD $270,723.

The Chinese government complied with euphoria over the number 8 in the year of the Olympic Games, 2008: the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on the eighth of August (08/08/08), at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time!

Bagua (八卦) literally means Eight Symbols. People now use it to refer personal information. It can also describe someone who likes gossip.  


9 Uses in China

9 is considered especially propitious. This is partly due to the fact that the pronunciation of ‘nine’ is close to that of the word ‘long-lasting’. In feng shui, 9 is highest on the number scale and represents the ‘ultimate masculinity’. It used to symbolize the supreme sovereignty of the emperor. So 9 or some multiple of 9 were often used in imperial architectural designs (e.g. the 9,999 rooms supposed to exist in the Forbidden City).

Unlucky Numbers: 4, 7

4 in China (and in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam) is considered terribly unlucky, because it sounds like the word for ‘death’. It’s really a bad idea to assign the number 4 to anything. Generally, door numbers and car registration numbers do not contain any 4s, especially not in the last digit-place. 

Although the number 4 is replete with ominous overtones, it still crops up in various contexts in China. For example:

Four popular plants in painting: plum blossoms, orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum.

Four classic novels of ancient China: A Dream of Red Mansions, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey to the West.

Mah-jong, one of the most popular Chinese games, needs four players.

Four Famous Buddhist Mountains: Mt. Wutai in Shanxi, Mt. Putuo in Zhejiang, Mt. Emei in Sichuan, Mt. Jiuhua in Anhui.

is a yang number and its pronunciation in Chinese is close to the pronunciation of the word meaning gone (去qu). Seven also relates to ceremonies that release dead souls from purgatory. In some parts of China, the 14th or 15th of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar is the date for holding sacrificial ceremonies.

Neutral Numbers: 1, 3, 5

1- is a yang number associated with wood and with the east. It is often associated with the meanings united, beginning, independent, complete and infinite.

3- is a yang number associated with water and with the north. In feng shui, 3 has a natural resonance in terms of beginning, middle and end; introduction, development and conclusion. You can see this number widely used in Chinese culture: the Three Gorges, the Three Kingdoms in Chinese history, and the three halls of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

5- has been used to classify many things in Chinese, such as the five elements in astrology, the senses and the basic colors. It is a neutral number. In feng shui, the 5th level of life sometimes means the best.  


Use in China

Five has been widely used in classifying things, for example:

Five cereals: rice, wheat, soybeans, proso millet, foxtail millet.

Five flavors:sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty.

Idioms involving five(五)to describe colorful things: 五花八门 (wu hua ba men),五颜六色 (wu yan liu se),五彩缤纷 (wu cai bing feng) 

Other Interesting Facts about Chinese Numbers

Odd and Even Numbers

Odd numbers are generally less popular, because the Chinese consider that good things must be always repeated. The Chinese never choose the second day of the month to organize a funeral. If a sad event takes place on the second day of the month, it means that it will recur a second time.


Purchasing Lucky Numbers

When a Chinese person buys a house, a car or a SIM card, she or he makes sure its number is auspicious, even if it means paying extra money; because an auspicious number is believed to bring good fortune and an inauspicious number bad luck.


Popular Numerical Lingo on the Internet

Numerical lingo on the internet is popular among young people. For example, ‘520’ sounds a bit like ‘Wo Ai Ni我爱你’, so is used as shorthand for ‘I love you’. The number 88 in Chinese sounds like ‘bye-bye’. So 88 is frequently used in instant chat to say ‘see you later’.

Top Attractions with Numerical Interest


The Forbidden City, Abode of Chinese Emperors

According to legend, the Forbidden City in Beijing has 9,999 rooms (in reality, it has only 8,704, according to a study in 1973). The number 9,999 is understandable in the light of tradition that only the gods had the right to build a palace with 10,000 rooms. Human beings tried to get as near as possible to their ideal of perfection. Learn more about this legend maker – the Forbidden City.  


The Temple of Heaven, a Place for Worshiping God

You can find the number 9 everywhere in the construction of the temple: in the number of steps, balustrades, circles of paving stones, nails on doors and especially in the design of the Circular Mound Altar圜丘坛 (Yuánqiū Tán), where a single round marble plate is surrounded by a ring of nine plates, and then a ring of 18 plates. Read more about the Temple of Heaven.



Chinese Dragon

Chinese dragons are often associated with the number 9. For example, a Chinese dragon is generally described in terms of nine attributes and usually has 117 scales – 81 (9x9) males plus 36 (9x4) females. There are nine forms of the dragon and the dragon has nine children. There is a famous Nine-Dragon Screen in the Forbidden City.


Seventeen-Arch Bridge – Sum of Nine and Eight

Numerical sensitivity led to the design of an elegant bridge in Beijing’s Summer Palace, characterized by the gradual reduction in the size of the arches. A Chinese architect would never suggest a four-arch bridge. You can find many numerically neat bridges in southern cities like Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guilin.  

Explore Further the Numerical Culture of China

Superstitions involving numbers can easily be detected in ancient Chinese buildings, especially royal buildings, which used to represent the honor and orthodoxy of the empire.

Almost every empire pursued immortality and security, whether the first (Qin) dynasty (246 BC–207 AD), beginning with Qin Shi Huang, or the last (Qing) dynasty (1644–1912 AD), ending with Puyi. The cities of Xian and Beijing, both rich in culture, witnessed the history of these two most important dynasties in China.

The role of numbers in the Book of Changes has influenced the thoughts of Chinese people down through the centuries, right up until today. Even citizens from large metropolises, like Shanghai, avoid using numbers associated with bad luck.

The Essence of China Tour, including sites like the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an and the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai, reveals to visitors the essence of the Chinese ideology of numbers.

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