Attract China Blog

Symbolic Meanings of Chinese Numbers

November 19, 2014

China is a land of superstitions where numbers are given significant symbolic meanings. It is believed that some numbers are auspicious and some are ominous. Chinese people take the numbers’ symbolic meanings into important consideration in daily life, such as on occasions when they buy houses, choose telephone numbers, select a date for a wedding, and pick a license plate number.

Lucky Numbers:

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A pair of Chinese paper cutting

2: The number 2 is the smallest even number with the meaning of ‘double’, ‘twinned’ and ‘again’ and is most often regarded as a good number in Chinese culture. To the Chinese way of thought number 2 suggests harmonious existence and reproduction of good things such as happiness, joy, and luck. There is a Chinese saying: “good things come in pairs”. On the Chinese New Year, for instance, people put up decorations symbolizing luck in pairs, usually one on each side of the window or the front door. It is also a custom in many regions of China to send duplicate gifts when married women visit their parents.

6: Some numbers are considered “lucky” in China because their pronunciations rhyme with the words that have “lucky” meanings. The number 6 is a typical example of the sound byte association: “six” sounds very much like the word that means “flow” in Mandarin, suggesting that everything will go very smoothly, therefore the number 6 is considered particularly lucky in China, especially where it occurs in multiples. Chinese people value the number 6 so much that they are willing to pay high prices for the good luck associated with it. In fact, a motorcycle dealership in the Guangdong Province of China paid the net sum of RMB 272,000 (USD $34,000) for a motorcycle license plate bearing the number AW6666. Phone numbers and house addresses with multiple 6 are also extremely sought after.

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The “luckiest” license plate

8: The number 8 in Chinese culture indicates prosperity and wealth because it sounds like the Chinese word for “becoming rich”. Businessmen in China see number 8 as the luckiest number of all, and try to include it in the company address, phone number, or even product price, hoping to run a profitable and successfully business. Similar to the case for number 6, having several of the number 8 in a phone number or a license plate can lift its price to sky-high. The telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for USD $280,000 to China’s Sichuan Airlines at an auction a decade ago. Another reason why the number 8 symbolizes good luck is because it is a perfect symmetrical shape. You can cut the number 8 in half vertically or horizontally, and both halves mirror themselves perfectly. Perfect symmetry lends itself to perfect balance, which is considered the ideal in Chinese Astrology. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Olympic games in China start at 8pm on August 8, 2008 or 08/08/08.

9: The number 9, pronounced the same as the word for “long lasting”, implies longevity and eternity. Thus, ancient Chinese rulers built 9,999 rooms within the Forbidden City in Beijing. Today, the number 9 is widely known for its romantic meaning – loving each other forever. It is common to see Chinese men sending 99 or 999 red roses to their lovers on Valentine’s Day or their anniversaries. Also, many couples prefer to get married on September 9, with wishes for a lifetime of everlasting love.

Unlucky Numbers:

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Elevator buttons without number 4

4: Just as the number 13 is considered unlucky in many Western countries, the number 4 represents bad luck in China because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for “death”. Chinese people leave out this number as often as possible. Many apartment buildings in China either omit the 4th floor or replace it with ”3A”. It’s worth noting that as Chinese show an increasing interest in traveling and investing abroad, Western businesses who tap into this lucrative market become culturally sensitive with numbers. Last year, a Canadian real estate company renamed many house addresses to avoid number 4 (e.g. using No. 23A instead of No.24) in the neighborhoods that saw high demand from Chinese homebuyers. Similarly, some American hotels that are working hard to ensure Chinese tourists aren’t assigned a room on the fourth floor or with a number 4 on the door.

Moreover, this superstition has spread to other parts of Asia, such as Japan, Korea, and Malaysia, basically any Asian country that adopted Pinyin or created their own language based on Chinese.

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