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No, it’s not a pick up line. And no, I’m not trying to get the number of your favorite Chinese restaurant. Though, if you do have a favorite, and you’d like to tell me about it, by all means, please do! And we will write a review of your favorite Chinese restaurant.
But, what I’m getting at, is that numbers have meaning. Numbers can be lucky (seven), or unlucky (13). Well, that’s according to American culture. Those numbers have meaning. In different cultures, numbers have different meaning. There’s a whole “science” of numbers, called Numerology. Since we tend to frequent Chinese restaurants, it behooves us, as it ingratiates us, to understand as much about Chinese culture as we know about ourselves. If we can strike a chord with our servers, they’re more than likely to treat us as we’d like to be treated. So, we’ve under taken a study of Chinese culture. And today, we’re going to share with you what I have learned about numbers in Chinese culture.
In China, whether a number is considered lucky or not is often related to the similarity between the pronunciation of the number (i.e., the way it sounds) and the sound of another word which carries a positive connotation.
2 (二): The number two is most often considered a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying: “good things come in pairs”. It is common to repeat characters in product brand names, such as double happiness, which even has its own character 囍, a combination of two 喜.
3 (三): The number three sounds similar to the character for “birth” (生), and is considered a lucky number. The number three is significant since there are three important stages in a man’s life (birth, marriage and death).
5 (五): The number five is associated with the five elements (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.
6 (六): The number six represents wealth in Cantonese, this number is a homophone for (祿 Lok)
7 (七): The number seven symbolizes “togetherness”. It is a lucky number for relationships. It is also recognized as the luckiest number in the West. It is one of the rare numbers that is great in both Chinese and many Western cultures.
8 (八): The word for “eight” sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “wealth”. There is also a visual resemblance between two digits, “88”, and 囍, the “shuāng xĭ” (“double joy” or happiness), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜.
9 (九): The number nine was historically associated with the Emperor of China. The number was frequently used in matters relating to the Emperor. Before the establishment of the imperial examinations, officials were organized in the nine-rank system, the nine bestowments were rewards the Emperor made for officials of extraordinary capacity and loyalty. While the nine familial exterminations was one of the harshest punishments the Emperor sentenced; the Emperor’s robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. It also symbolizes harmony.
4 (四): The number four is considered an unlucky number in Chinese because it is nearly homophonous to the word “death”. Due to that, many numbered product lines skip the “4”. For example, 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 omit 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. Singaporean public transport operator SBS Transit has omitted the number plates for some of its buses whose numbers end with ‘4’ due to this. So if a bus is registered as SBS***3*, SBS***4* will be omitted and the next bus to be registered will be SBS***5*.
There are a few other numbers that are considered outright unlucky in Chinese culture, but these often depend more on a local dialect
There you have it. So, next time you order by number from a Chinese take-out menu, be VERY mindful of what you order!
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)