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Numbers in Chinese culture

In Chinese culture, certain numbers are believed by some to be auspicious or inauspicious based on the Chinese word that the number name sounds similar to. However some Chinese people regard these beliefs to be superstitions. Since the pronunciation and the vocabulary may be different in different Chinese dialects, the rules are generally not applicable for all cases.

Because of the supposed auspiciousness of certain numbers, some people will often choose, attempt to obtain, or pay large sums for numbers that are considered to be lucky for their phone numbers, street addresses, residence floor (in a multi-story building), driver's license number, vehicle license plate number, bank account number, etc.

Lucky numbers are based on Chinese words that sound similar to other Chinese words. The numbers 6, 8, and 9 are believed to have auspicious meanings because their names sound similar to words that have positive meanings.


The number 2 (Pinyin: èr) is most often considered a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying: "good things come in pairs". It is common to use double symbols in product brandnames, such as double happiness, double coin and double elephants. In Cantonese, two is a homophone of the character for "easy". In Northern China, the number, when used as an adjective, can also mean "stupid".


The number 3 ( Pinyin: sān) sounds similar to the character for "birth" (Pinyin: shēng), and is thus considered a lucky number.


The number 5 (Pinyin: wŭ) is associated with the five element guardians (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal) in Chinese philosophy, and in turn was historically associated with the Emperor of China. For example, the Tiananmen gate, being the main thoroughfare to the Forbidden City, has five arches. It is also referred to as the pronoun "I"[citation needed], as the pronunciations of "I" (我, Pinyin: wŏ, and 吾, Pinyin: wú) and 5 are similar in Mandarin.


The number 6 (六, Pinyin: liù) in Mandarin is pronounced the same as "leew" (溜, Pinyin: liù) and similar to "fluid" (流, Pinyin: liú) and is therefore considered good for business. The number 6 also represents happiness. In Cantonese, this number is a homophone for blessings (祿 Lok). In I-Ching, the number 6 stands for "yin".


The number 7 (七, Pinyin: qī) symbolizes "togetherness". It is a lucky number for relationships. It is also recognized as the luckiest number in the West, and is one of the rare numbers that is great in both Chinese and many Western cultures. It is a lucky number in Chinese culture, because it sounds alike to the Chinese character 起 (Pinyin: qi3) meaning arise.


The word for "eight" (八 Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to the word which means "prosper" or "wealth" (發 – short for "發財", Pinyin: fā). In regional dialects the words for "eight" and "fortune" are also similar, e.g. Cantonese "baat3" and "faat3". There is also a visual resemblance between two digits, "88", and 囍, the "shuāng xĭ" ('double joy'), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜 ("xĭ" meaning 'joy' or 'happiness'). The number 8 is viewed as such an auspicious number that even being assigned a number with several eights is considered very lucky.


The number 9 (九, Pinyin: jiŭ, jyutping: gau2), was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. It also symbolizes harmony. Moreover, the number 9 is a homophone of the word for "longlasting" (久), and as such is often used in weddings. Some Chinese today believe that nine is lucky (or believed by others to be lucky) because it is the greatest single-digit (Arabic) number. However, this does not derive from any Chinese tradition, as the greatest single-digit Chinese number is ten (十).

Unlucky numbers


Number 4 (四; accounting 肆; pinyin sì) is considered an unlucky number in Chinese because it is nearly homophonous to the word "death" (死 pinyin sǐ). Due to that, many numbered product lines skip the "4": e.g. Nokia cell phones (there is no series beginning with a 4), Palm[citation needed] PDAs, Canon PowerShot G's series (after G3 goes G5), etc. In East Asia, some buildings do not have a 4th floor. (Compare with the Western practice of some buildings not having a 13th floor because 13 is considered unlucky.) In Hong Kong, some high-rise residential buildings literally miss all floor numbers with "4", e.g. 4, 14, 24, 34 and all 40–49 floors, in addition to not having a 13th floor. As a result, a building whose highest floor is number 50 may actually have only 35 physical floors.

Number 14 is considered to be one of the unluckiest numbers. Although 14 is usually said in Mandarin as 十四 "shí sì," which sounds like 十死 "ten die", it can also be said as 一四 "yī sì" or 么四 "yāo sì", literally "one four". Thus, 14 can also be said as "yāo sì," literally "one four," but it also sounds like "want to die" (要死 pinyin yào sǐ). In Cantonese, 14 sounds like "sap6 sei3", which sounds like "sat6 sei2" meaning "certainly die" (實死). Not all Chinese people consider it to be an unlucky number as the pronunciation differs among the various dialects. In Chiu Chow, 4 is pronounced as "see" or "yes". It is seen to be a lucky number because Chinese people like things in pairs (four would equal two pairs).


Although five (五, pinyin: wǔ, jyutping: ng5) can represent "me" (吾, pinyin: wú) in Mandarin, it is usually associated with "not" (Mandarin 無, pinyin wú, and Cantonese 唔 m4). If used for the negative connotation it can become good by using it with a negative. 54 means "not die" or "no death". If used for the positive it can be used as a possessive. 528 is a way of saying "no easy fortune for me". 53 ("ng5 saam1" in Cantonese) sounds like "m4 sang1 (唔生)" – "not live".


Six in Cantonese which has a similar pronunciation to that of "lok6" (落, meaning "to drop, fall, or decline") may form unlucky combinations.


Seven is considered spiritist or ghostly. The seventh month of the Chinese calendar is also called the "Ghost Month". See Ghost Festival for more detail. During July , the gates of hell are said to be open so ghosts and spirits are permitted to visit the living realm. However, the Chinese lunar calendar also has July 7 as Chinese Valentine's Day (七夕 qi xi), so the number 7 is not generally associated with bad luck. In most of the regions in China number 7 remains neutral or associated with luck.

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