An Introduction to Chinese Numerology: Unlocking the Secrets Behind Numbers

Chinese numerology is a fascinating aspect of Chinese culture that holds significant influence in daily life. Understanding the superstitions and taboos surrounding numbers is essential for participating in common cultural practices, such as gifting red...

a Chinese teacher standing at a whiteboard lecturing a pupil

Chinese numerology is a fascinating aspect of Chinese culture that holds significant influence in daily life. Understanding the superstitions and taboos surrounding numbers is essential for participating in common cultural practices, such as gifting red envelopes. In this article, we delve into the intriguing world of Chinese numerology and discover the hidden meanings behind numbers.

Chinese Numerology: Decoding the Symbolism

Chinese numerology revolves around homophones, words that sound similar but have different meanings. Certain numbers are considered auspicious (吉利 jílì) or inauspicious (不吉 bùjí) due to their pronunciation in Chinese culture.

In traditional Chinese beliefs, most numbers possess special significances. For example, the numbers 2, 8, and 9 are considered highly auspicious, while 4, 5, and occasionally 7 are believed to be inauspicious.

The Power of Number 2

According to Chinese numerology, pairs bring good fortune. This concept explains why you often encounter the symbol 双喜 (shuāngxǐ), meaning "double happiness," on wedding couplets. During Chinese New Year, it is customary to hang couplets on both sides of the door, symbolizing prosperity and luck.

chinese teacher in traditional chinese dress standing in front of yellow background facing forward with promotional language overlaid

The Significance of Number 8

The number 8 (八 bā) sounds similar to 发 (fā), the Chinese word for "wealth." Therefore, it is considered an auspicious number associated with financial prosperity.

The Symbolism of Number 9

In Chinese, the number 9 (九 jiǔ) sounds like 久 (jiǔ), meaning long-lasting or eternal. Consequently, it represents longevity and is often incorporated into romantic gestures, such as getting married on September 9th or presenting 99 roses during an engagement.

Fun fact: The Forbidden City has 81 nails on its gates, arranged in a 9x9 pattern, further emphasizing the significance of the number 9.

An Introduction to Chinese Numerology

When it comes to gifting red envelopes (红包 hóngbāo), Chinese people often choose the numbers 2, 8, and 9. Many individuals prefer to gift money in amounts like 88, 99, or 200.

The Unlucky Number 4

In Chinese culture, the number 4 (四 sì) sounds identical to the word 死 (sǐ), meaning "death." Due to this negative association, many buildings in China skip the "fourth" floor. You will rarely find the number 4 on house/door numbers or car license plates. Avoiding telephone numbers that contain the number 4 is also common practice.

Number 4 holds the same level of superstition in Chinese numerology as the number 13 does in Western cultures.

An Introduction to Chinese Numerology

The Unfortunate Number 5

The number 5 (五 wǔ) sounds similar to 呜 (wū), which mimics the sound of whimpering or crying. Consequently, it is generally considered an unlucky number.

The Dual Nature of Number 7

Unlike the clear-cut positive or negative associations of other numbers, the number 7 (七 qī) holds a more neutral position in Chinese numerology. On the one hand, the sound of 七 (qī) corresponds with positive words like 齐 (qí; uniform, even), 气 (qì; life force, energy), and 起 (qǐ; to stand up). Thus, seven is generally considered a lucky number for relationships.

However, the ghost festival (鬼节 Guǐjié) is celebrated on the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Additionally, the Chinese word for 7 sounds like 欺 (qī; to deceive).

An Introduction to Chinese Numerology

Chinese Number Gestures: Speaking with Your Hands

Did you know that you can count to 10 in Chinese using just one hand? Understanding the unique hand gestures used to represent Chinese numbers is essential when bargaining with vendors or navigating vegetable markets. Check out the following video to learn these fascinating gestures:

Numbers and Chinese Internet Slang

Chinese language's extensive number of homophones has given rise to various internet slang expressions that utilize numbers to represent characters. This phenomenon, known as 数字表示汉字 (shùzì biǎoshì hànzì), has resulted in numerous creative examples. Let's explore some of the most common ones:

1. 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ; 250)

In Chinese internet slang, 250 is synonymous with "stupid" or "half-insane." Its origin is uncertain, but one theory connects it to the old Chinese coin system where 1,000 coins were grouped together using a string called a 吊子 (diàozi). 半吊子 (bàndiàozi; half of a "diaozi" or 500 coins) represented humility in terms of knowledge, and half of that (250 coins) became an insult.

2. 五二零 (wǔ èr líng; 520)

This number sequence sounds like 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ; "I love you"). In fact, May 20th (5/20) is commonly celebrated as another Chinese Valentine's Day!

3. 七四八 (qī sì bā; 748)

Sounds similar to 去死吧 (qùsǐba; "Get lost!").

4. 五五五 (wǔ wǔ wǔ; 555)

As mentioned earlier, the number 5 sounds like "呜" (wū), an onomatopoeic word for whimpering. Therefore, "555" is frequently used online to express sadness or sorrow.

5. 八八 (bā bā; 88)

This represents "bye-bye."

6. 一三一四 (yī sān yī sì; 1314)

When read in Chinese, 1314 (yīsānyīsì) sounds similar to 一生一世 (yī shēng yī shì; "one life, one world"). It conveys the meaning of "forever" or "for the rest of my life." Combining 1314 with a bouquet of 99 roses creates a perfect marriage proposal!

7. 七四五六 (qī sì wǔ liù; 7456)

Sounds like 气死我了 (qì sǐ wǒle; "you're making me angry").

8. 九九五 (jiǔ jiǔ wǔ; 995)

This sounds like 救救我 (jiùjiù wǒ; "save me!").

Numbers are also integral to various games in Chinese culture. Check out our article on the popular Chinese 15-15-20 game to learn more!

The Difference Between 小写 and 大写: The Complexity of Chinese Characters

Did you know that there are two sets of Chinese characters used for numbers? Chinese characters represent numbers, and there are two versions in everyday use: 小写 (xiǎoxiě; lowercase) and 大写 (dàxiě; uppercase). The former is used in general contexts, while the latter is primarily used for financial transactions.

The standard version of Chinese numbers (小写; xiǎoxiě; lowercase) can be easily manipulated due to the simplicity of the characters. Therefore, the financial industry employs the more complex traditional Chinese versions of numbers (大写; dàxiě) to prevent forgery.

Interestingly, 大写 (dàxiě; uppercase) was first implemented during the Ming dynasty by the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang after a corruption scandal involving officials who stole and resold state grain. To combat such fraud, the emperor introduced a new system for writing monetary figures. Today, 大写 (dàxiě; uppercase) is commonly referred to as "banker's anti-fraud numerals" and is widely used in financial transactions to ensure security.

Simplified-to-Traditional Number Conversions

Here's a handy chart detailing the conversion of simplified and traditional Chinese numbers:

小写 大写 English
零/〇 (líng) 零 (líng) 0
一 (yī) 壹 (yī) 1
二 (èr) 贰 / 两 (èr/ liǎng) 2
三 (sān) 叁 (sān) 3
四 (sì) 肆 (sì) 4
五 (wǔ) 伍 (wǔ) 5
六 (liù) 陆 (lù) 6
七 (qī) 柒 (qī) 7
八 (bā) 捌 (bā) 8
九 (jiǔ) 玖 (jiǔ) 9
十 (shí) 拾 (shí) 10
百 (bǎi) 佰 (bǎi) 100
千 (qiān) 仟 (qiān) 1,000
万 (wàn) 萬 (wàn) 10,000
亿 (yì) 億 (yì) 100,000,000

Now that you possess a deeper understanding of the meanings behind Chinese numbers, you can explore the world of slang and enjoy a few fun games. Numbers truly hold immense significance in Chinese culture, unraveling a unique aspect of the language.