By guest blogger Liu Xiu Ming
Today let’s talk a little bit about Chinese numbers. There are lucky numbers and unlucky numbers in many languages. Some numbers are lucky numbers and some numbers unlucky numbers in Chinese, too.
Lucky numbers in Chinese can be broken down into the broad category of odd versus even numbers – where it is the even numbers that are considered luckier, therefore wedding ceremonies are generally scheduled on even dates – but they can also be broken down into individual numbers around which there has developed a belief, or superstition, as some might say, that a given number is lucky. In China, whether a number is considered lucky or not is often related to the similarity between the pronunciation of the number (i.e., its sound byte) and the sound byte of another word which carries a positive connotation.
八(ba1) is regarded as the luckiest number because it has a samiliar pronunciation with “prosperity, wealth” (发 fa1) in Chinese. The Chinese people also put many 八 together to express extremely luckiest, like 888 or 88888 (sounds like fa1 fa1 fa1 fa1 fa1 which means wealth wealth wealth wealth and wealth) and so on. The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on the eigth of August (08/08/08), 2008, at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time(北京时间二零零八年八月八日下午八时八分八秒 bei3 jing1 shi2 jian1 er4 ling2 ling2 ba1 nian2 ba1 yue4 ba1 ri4 xia4 wu3 ba1 shi2 ba1 fen1 ba1 miao3)!
At the same time, numbers with 八(ba1) like the following also convey good meanings:
518 (wu3 yiao1 ba1, 1 in Chinese can also be pronounced as yao4) sounds like 我要发(wo3 yao4 fa1 meaning “I will make a fortune.”) . 168(yi1 liu4 ba1) sounds like 一路发(yi1 lu4 fa1which means “being prosperous all the way down the road.”) 668 (liu4 liu4 ba1) sounds like 路路发 (lu4 lu4 fa1 which means “being prosperous in all directions or ways down the road.”)
As for unlucky numbers, the following numbers are regarded as bad luck or taboos:
四 (4 pronounced as si4 ) which has a similar pronunciation as 死 (si3 which means “die”) is regarded as the most unlucky number in China. As a result, many hospitals and other buildings used by Chinese don’t have a forth floor, the same way some Western buildings don’t have a 13th floor. 二百五(er4 bai3 wu3) means idiot or foolish people, but 二百五十(er4 bai3 wu3 shi2) is just the number with no bad meanings. 三八(san1 ba1) is mainly used to describe a gossip and bad-mannered woman.
There are other numbers which have some good meanings and bad meanings in Chinese, too. I am willing to talk more about them when possible.
Liu Xiu Ming is a Mandarin Chinese teacher with Early College at AB-Tech in Asheville N.C. USA