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Chinese Lucky Numbers

2008年10月20日 0:05:11 sz12 Culture

The idea that certain numbers might be luckier than others is common to practically every culture, though it may have had a common origin in a single culture from whence it spread, or it could have occurred in most or all of the dominant cultures in a distant past, from whence the notion gradually spread to the rest of the world.  In any case, Chinese culture developed the notion that certain numbers were more propitious than others, and perhaps typical for Chinese culture, the focus was on the lucky ones rather than their opposite numbers. 

Lucky numbers 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.  Though such association may seem silly to an outsider, the question is whether this is any sillier than any other justification for holding a particular, non-scientific belief about the luckiness or unluckiness of any given number (think of the number 13 in Western culture, and how potent is the belief associated with its negativeness).

The role of numbers in determining luck has a long history in Chinese culture. For example, it is said that in the Forbidden City there are 9999 rooms. When buying a house or choosing a telephone number or a license plate number for one's automobile, the choice is generally made with an eye to the perceived luckiness of the available numbers. The number 2 is considered lucky because 'all good things come in pairs', it has been observed. The number 6 is an example of the sound byte association mentioned above: "six" is pronounced "liu" in Mandarin Chinese, which sound byte is close to the sound byte for the Mandarin Chinese word which means "flowing, smooth, or frictionless", therefore the number 6 is considered very lucky, especially where it occurs in multiples. So highly is the number 6 prized, in fact, that a motorcycle dealership in Zengcheng in Guangdong Province paid the net sum of RMB 272,000 (USD $34,000) for a motorcycle license plate bearing the number AW6666.

The number 8 is considered extremely lucky, perhaps partly owing to its unique symmetry, and perhaps partly owing to the fact that the 8, laid on its side, resembles the Greek symbol for infinity. Additionally, in Mandarin Chinese, the sound byte for "eight" is close to that for "prosperity, wealth", while in Cantonese it is similar to the sound byte for "fortune". To give an idea of how highly the number 8 is prized, the telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for a sum corresponding to USD $270,723 in Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan Province. Even the Chinese government got caught up in the euphoria over the number 8 in this olympic year, 2008: the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on the eigth of August (08/08/08), at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time!

Though even numbers are generally considered luckier than the odd ones, one odd number, the 9, is considered especially propitious. This is partly owing to the fact that the number 9 has traditionally been associated with the emperor (viz. the number of rooms in the Forbidden City) and partly owing to the fact that the sound byte for "nine" is close to that for the word "longlasting".

While the focus in China is overwhelmingly on lucky numbers, there are certain numbers that are considered unlucky and which belief, or superstition, has real consequences, much as similar beliefs/ superstitions sometimes have real consequences in Western culture, where the 13th floor is occasionally missing from a tall building. In China (and in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam), the number 4 is considered ghastly unlucky because its sound byte is almost identical to that for the word "death". Consequently, Nokia phones in China do not have a series beginning with the number 4, and similar electronic devices, from PDAs to digital cameras, are lacking a series that is either designated "4" or begins with a "4", and some high-rise buildings lack a fourth floor.

There are a few other numbers that are considered outright unlucky in Chinese culture, but these often depend more on a local dialect, via sound byte associations, than do the lucky numbers, which are the main focus in today's China.

Tag:Chinese Culture  

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