【Learn Chinese】 An Introduction to Chinese Numerology
|Chinese numerology might seem like an obscure field, but this unique set of beliefs plays a big role in modern Chinese culture. Having an understanding of the various superstitions and taboos surrounding numbers is essential in order to engage in some of today's most common Chinese cultural practices, like gifting lucky red envelopes.
Read this article to gain insight into this quirky aspect of modern Chinese life.
Chinese Numerology: The Meaning Behind the Numbers
Chinese homophones have a profound influence on Chinese culture. In Chinese numerology, certain numbers are considered to be auspicious (吉利 jílì) or inauspicious (不吉 bùjí), mainly due to their pronunciation.
In traditional Chinese culture, most numbers have some sort of special meaning. For example, many Chinese people consider the numbers 2, 8 and 9 to be very auspicious, while believing 4, 5 and (sometimes) 7 to be inauspicious.
The Number 2
According to Chinese numerology, pairs are auspicious. This helps explain why it's common to see 双喜 (shuāngxǐ “double happiness”) on wedding couplets. The same concept applies during Chinese New Year, when people decorate their houses by hanging couplets on both sides of their doors.
The Number 8
The auspicious number 8 (八 bā) sounds like 发 (fā) which is the verb for 发财 (fācái; to get rich).
The Number 9
The number 9 (九 jiǔ) sounds like 久 (jiǔ) which means a long duration of time. Therefore, it represents longevity and eternality. Thanks to this symbolism, Chinese lovebirds often incorporate this number into romantic gestures (e.g., getting married on September 9th, offering 99 roses during an engagement, etc.).
The Number 4
Number 4 (四 sì) sounds like 死 (sǐ; to die). Because of its negative association with death, most people consider this number to be so unlucky that many buildings in China do not even have a “fourth” floor. The number 4 is also unlikely to appear on house/door numbers and car license plates. Whenever, possible, many people will also try hard to avoid choosing telephone numbers that contain the number 4.
The Number 5
5 (五 wǔ) sounds like 呜 (wū), which is onomatopoeia for whimpering and crying. Therefore, it is generally considered an unlucky number.
The Number 7
Compared with clear-cut positive numbers like 8 or negative numbers like 4, the number 7 errs on the more neutral side of things. On one hand, the sound of the Chinese word for 7 (七 qī) corresponds with that of positive words like 齊 (qí; uniform, even), 气 (qì; life force, energy) and 起 (qǐ; to stand up). Seven is thus usually considered a lucky number for relationships.
However, the ghost festival (鬼节 Guǐjié) is celebrated on the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese word for 7 also sounds like 欺 (qī; to deceive).