The long history of one of the oldest races still in existence today comes with many beliefs, customs and superstitions. Superstitions about numbers in particular play a big part in the Chinese daily life. The origin for many of these beliefs lie in the distinct feature of the language having many homonyms.
Many of these superstitions are so strongly embedded in the way of life that for visitors or those unfamilar with these customs, it can be puzzling and intriguing.
Have you ever been in a Shanghai hotel or a hotel near Jiangbei international airport and wondered why there's no level 4? Or maybe in your hotel near Tianjin airport during the Beijing Olympics and found that level 8 was the most popular floor?
Here is a little insight on these number superstitions.
Chinese people believe that certain numbers are lucky and others are unlucky. Numbers are determined to be one way or another due to the pronunciation of the number.
The most popular number is the number eight (8). It sounds similar to the Chinese word that means prosperity or fortune. In Chinese cultural mentality, that is as lucky as one can get. The auspiciousness of this number was the reason why the Beijing Olympics started on the 8th of August at 8pm in 2008. To them, this was their way of being in the most positive time possible.
Eight is coveted for addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts, car license plates. In fact Chinese people have been known to pay large amounts of money to get a particular phone number that has many 8s in it. Houses are also more popular if the street address has a lot of 8s in it as well. You may notice that some China resorts fill up on the 8th floor first.
The visual resemblance of 88 to the popular decorative character used in many festive occasions, the 'double joy', is very strong. Hence this number appears often in such situations.
Two (2) is a lucky number because there is a Chinese saying that claims good things come in pairs. Many businesses, products and brands use repeating characters in their name. The double of anything good is always considered better. As mentioned before the word 'joy' in Chinese was redesigned and a new character meaning 'double joy' was created. This character is used on many greeting cards and almost in all Chinese weddings.
Three (3) sounds similar to the word meaning growth, birth or to multiply and is therefore considered auspicious. It is also a significant number in Chinese culture as a person's life is considered to have 3 main stages - birth, marriage and death.
Nine (9) is a homonym to the word longevity and when it's doubled, it denotes the the Chinese phrase for eternity and is thus considered lucky. It was often associated with the Emperor, in wishing him immorality and eternal rule, as to live forever was always a prime objective for the Emperors.
Four (4) is the most unpopular and considered most unlucky number in Chinese culture. The reason for this is the similarity in its pronunciation to the word 'death' in Chinese. Hospitals often don't have a 4th floor. Similarly to the number 8, the negative connotation of this number effects almost everything in daily life. Chinese people try to avoid all assets with the number 4 in it.
Five (5) is a homonym for 'nothing' or 'not' so to Chinese people, it has a negative connotation.
Some number combinations also denote positive messages. These combinations are often taken into consideration when giving the tradition Chinese red envelopes. For example, a red envelope with $280 is seen as a better amount than $300 because 28 signifies double the prosperity.
Being aware of these number superstitions, when you're in China next, in 5 star accommodation in Chongqing, Shapingba, or a Liuzhou airport hotel you will start to notice how strongly ingrained these number superstitions are in the Chinese society.
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