Numbers are more important than you might think. This is especially true for China.
There are actually very important things to know about China’s relationship with numbers.
Coming from a different cultural background, the 13 or 17, “unlucky” numbers for Westerners, don’t really matter for Chinese.
On the other side, there are some numbers which are extremely important and permeate the Chinese culture, while others are more powerful only for religious people. Some of those meanings can be found also in cultures of East Asia, such as Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese.
Let’s go through them:
As a couple reminds of harmony, it implies stability. Based on this, symmetry is also important for China, especially in house decoration.
Like in Christendom, 3 is considered in China important for religious reasons, mainly related to Buddhism – as per Buddha, Dharma and Bonze. During Buddhist ceremonies, references to three can be easily found. In Chinese culture it symbolizes Heaven, Earth and Human: a ancient separation that can be found even in the names of the imperial armies.
This number is pronounced exactly like the word “Death” in Chinese, and for this reason it’s an unlucky one. Some people will try to avoid repeating things 4 times, will stay away from getting a plate number with many “4” on it (yes, there used to be a business about this, especially for those who did want to get lucky numbers). Buildings will sometimes skip floors including the number 4 (this is something that can be found also in Vietnam, for example). Interesting point: four-leaf clovers are still considered lucky in China.
Similar to the word for “balance”, it can be considered the Chinese version of the Western “3”. Funny point: “666” is considered super lucky, and lately people will say or write it to others meaning “great, awesome”, while Westerners remember it as the number of the devil. Of course, although some Chinese are aware of this distinction, not all of them are.
The first Olympic Games hosted in PRC in Beijing started at 8:08 pm of 8 August 2008. That’s a lot of eights. Why they used them? Thanks to its pronunciation, similar to the word 发 which means to make a fortune, it is considered the right number to make money, many hotels will use it as the first number for their rooms (e.g. 8101 for the first floor, 8901 for ninth, and so on). A lot of business phone numbers will include this number. Chinese also like to say goodbye by spelling twice “8” (ba) for its closeness to the english “Bye Bye”.
9 is also a lucky number due to its closeness in pronunciation to 久, as it expresses longevity. For example, sending 99 or 999 roses is a major gesture of love among couples; the Forbidden City (the imperial palace of the emperors of China) in Beijing had 9.999 rooms in total.
Combination of those numbers can be pretty interesting – and in some cases even unlucky numbers like the four can be used – but always because they can resemble the pronunciation of something lucky. We won’t cover those: the only limit there is imagination, and it can reach very fervid extents.
How to use lucky numbers?
How can you use this info? For example, you can set your discounted pricing to something like 666 or 8888 RMB – both 6 and 8 bring good luck in business and repeated numbers are fairly easy to remember. When writing material you can group up concepts using lucky numbers for that specific context – for example, “The 9 secrets to live longer!” or “The 8 jobs with the highest salary”.
The fact your content matches with their culture will make it much more appealing for a lot of people – giving it much more value and definitely looking more valid.
Why lucky numbers are still so powerful in a modern society?
Because they are present everywhere – from art, to literature, to business and common sense, their value is being renewed day by day: the more people use them, the more value they will have tomorrow, and the more reason people will have to use them to promote what they do. It’s a circle that supports itself.
You may, actually, compare the use of the lucky numbers in China to the usage of the number three in Western world: for some the comparison might seem forced, and in a sense it is – but it is the best tool we have to help understanding the value of the lucky numbers in China. In Western society:
God in Christianity is three entities in one (Father, Son and Holy Ghost);
The separation of the powers in politics is made up of three (Legislative, Juridical, Executive);
There are three classes in society (Low, Middle and High Class);
Three working areas in economy (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary).
Finally, in Western literature, one of the masterpieces of the middle ages in Italy – Dante’s Divine Comedy – was divided in three parts, each composed of 33 chapters. Western world always looked to 3 as the perfect number – and it still keeps an interesting importance, although it is hard to notice the way it influences society, as it is not the same as in East Asia.