Lucky and Unlucky Numbers in Chinese Culture

Chinese people are well-known for their superstition. Everything they do, they always look for a way to reinforce their luck and avoid misfortune. Enter Chinese numbers. 

In Chinese culture, numbers aren’t just digits. They can carry good and bad luck. Does it sound crazy? Well, Chinese people just don’t think so! In today’s article, let’s learn the meaning of some numbers and how Chinese people incorporate them into their lives!

These are numbers Chinese people are crazy about – Chinese lucky numbers

The number 2

The number 2 èr is often considered a Chinese lucky number. Because Chinese people place a high value on harmony and balance, they are more likely to prefer even numbers than odd ones. 

Decorations in China often come in pairs. The biggest manifestation of this concept is the Chinese couplets we often see during the Chinese New Year. Chinese couplets which represent good wishes are hung on both sides of the house entrance.

The number 6

The number 6 is widely accepted as a lucky number in China. Similar to the number 2, the number 6 is an even number that symbolizes harmony. 

Other than that, the number 6 liù sounds like liú, which means “flow” in Chinese. There’s a Chinese idiom: 六六大顺 liù liù dà shùn, which means “things will go smoothly”.

In our daily lives, we can easily catch the presence of this number in places such as in phone numbers or in vehicle identification numbers. Even many businesses in China also display the number 6 in their offices, expecting it will bring them good fortune. 

The number 8

When you ask a random Chinese person about the luckiest number in their culture, ten out of ten will give you the same answer: number 8. It’s simply because the pronunciation of “number 8” bā sound similar to the pronunciation of fā, which means “wealth,” “fortune,” and “prosperity.” 

There are many phrases or expressions associated with the number 8. One example could be 八面来財 bā miàn lái cái, which means “wealth coming in from all corners of the world.”

The Chinese fondness for the number 8 can be seen in many cases, and the Chinese Olympic Games in 2008 would be a great example. Banking on the luckiness of the number 8, the Chinese government decided to begin the summer Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on August 8, 2008, at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time!

The number 9

Another number that’s considered auspicious is the number 9. Jiǔ, the pronunciation of the number 9 () sounds exactly the same as (jiǔ), which expresses “long-lasting” and “eternity” in Chinese. Number 9 is the highest single-digit number and hence represents completeness.

It is common to gift your beloved a bouquet of 99 roses on Valentine’s Day or any romantic holiday in China. In the 90s, there was a famous hit, called “九百九十九朵玫瑰” which translates to 999 roses. 

These are numbers Chinese people will disfavor – Chinese unlucky numbers

The number 4

Not only in China but also in other Asian countries that have been greatly affected by Chinese culture, including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the number 4 is considered terribly unlucky because it sounds like the word for “death.” 

The number 4 is avoided in most public settings. For example, there’s no number 4 on the elevator buttons; instead, there’ll be number 3B or number 5 right after number 3. Generally, door numbers and car registration numbers do not contain any 4s, especially not in the last digit-place.

The number 13

At long last, there’s a cultural point where East meets West: the assumption centered around the number 13. Not only in China or other Asian countries, but also in Europe and America, people all regard the number 13 as the number of bad luck.

One theory that could explain why the number 13 is unlucky in China is that the result of the equation of “1+3” would equal 4. While on the other side of the world, Western people believe that 13 is inauspicious because it sits after the “perfect number” 12. There are 12 months of the year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 apostles of Jesus, etc.

Chinese people love…but hate these numbers at the same time!

The number 1

Starting off the chart is the number 1, which has a quite complex cultural meaning in Chinese culture. It has the meaning of the beginning, the origin, and the whole, which was first suggested by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Zi. Chinese people respect the number 1 for its meaning of the first and winner as the same in Western culture. 

However, it also symbolizes loneliness or being single. For example, November 11 is Singles’ Day in China, as the date has four 1’s, which stand for single. 

The number 3

The number 3 can be either lucky or unlucky, depending on the situation. On the bright side, sān (three) sounds similar to , which means “life” or “to give birth” in Chinese. Chinese culture puts emphasis on family and strong, healthy children, so has a positive connotation. 

On the dark side, sān is somehow pronounced similar to sǎn, which means “to part ways” or “to break up with.” As a result, it’s an unlucky number when it comes to relationships because if one person joins a pair to form a group, chances are they won’t fit together well, and will end up parting ways. 

The number 5

Next in line is the number 5, which stands on the line of luckiness and unluckiness. Since wǔ (the pronunciation fo number 5) sounds similar to (wú), which means “not” or “without” in Chinese, it can be viewed as bad.

But there are other situations where the number 5 is perceived with positivity. An example could be the five elements – earth, water, fire, wood, metal – which are regarded as the basis of the world in ancient Chinese culture.

The number 7

Similar to numbers 1,3, and 5, number 7 has both positive and negative connotations in Chinese culture. For the positive side, sounds like both qǐ, which means “start” or “rise,” and also qì, which means “vital energy.” It’s the number that represents the combination of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, the “harmony” in the ideology of Confucianism.

On the other side of the spectrum, the pronunciation for number 7 in Chinese is close to the pronunciation of qù, meaning gone. As a result, the seventh month in the lunar calendar is a “ghost month” in which ghosts and spirits, including those of deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. 

Numerology is important to Chinese culture

In traditional Chinese culture, most numbers have some sort of special meaning. Some bring you luck, while others are believed to cause miserable things. If you’re living or doing business in China, a good grasp of Chinese numerology would be helpful for you!

If you’re interested in Chinese culture, history, or language, find more posts like this on Pandanese. Pandanese is a Chinese learning platform that helps users learn Chinese easily by employing mnemonics and Spaced Repetition System (SRS). We encourage you to check out our Pandanese blog and read as much as you like about language and culture topics before starting your learning!

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