Numbers are extremely important in Chinese culture, with superstition woven into the fabric of Chinese life. The luckiest single digit numbers in Chinese culture are 8 (八), 2 (二), 6 (六) and 9 (九). The unluckiest numbers are 4 (四) and 13 (十三). People in China pay attention to lucky numbers and Chinese lucky number combinations to influence important decisions such as purchasing vehicle registrations, property, phone numbers and even setting wedding dates. The top lucky number combinations in Chinese culture are 1314 (一三一四), 520 (五二零), 888 (八八八), 666 (六六六) and 168 (一六八).
As well as general number superstitions based on homophones, fengshui and the Chinese zodiac also dictate lucky and unlucky numbers in Chinese culture. Let’s explore the importance of Chinese lucky numbers and their influence on modern day life.
Where Lucky and Unlucky Numbers are Found or Avoided in China
The significance of numbers in Chinese culture extends far beyond their numerical value. The belief in lucky and unlucky numbers influences various aspects of daily life, impacting choices and decisions. Here are some places where Chinese lucky and unlucky numbers often take centre stage.
- Car license plates. Car license plates with lucky numbers and lucky number combinations are thought to bring good fortune for journeys ahead. In 2016, the license plate ‘28’ sold at a Hong Kong auction for over US$2 million! This is because the phrase ‘28’ sounds like ‘easy money’ in Cantonese.
- Phone numbers. The phone number (+86) 8888 8888 sold for $1.5 million in 2017, which shows the influence of Chinese numerology on phone number selection in China.
- Floor numbers on buildings. China’s fixation with vertical cities provides another space for lucky and unlucky numbers to feature. Floor numbers with the number 8 are highly sought after, whereas the number 4 is avoided. China often also skips the number 13 in skyscraper floor numbers, as the numbers 1 and 3 add together to make 4, which symbolises death.
- Addresses. Homebuyers in China often pay attention to the numerical makeup of their addresses. It is thought that a lucky address can provide good fortune and harmony within the home.
- Major Events. Even on the grand stage of international events, Chinese numerology plays a pivotal role. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 was selected due to the number 8 and the opening date and time aligned with auspicious numbers. The opening ceremony was held at 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8pm on 8th August 2008.
- Flight and travel numbers. Chinese lucky numbers also influence travel to, from and within China. The Air Canada route from Toronto to Shanghai is Flight KL888, whereas the Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Beijing is Flight EY888.
- Gifts. Gifts for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations in China are often chosen with Chinese numerology at the fore. Presents in packs of 8, for example, are thought to offer good fortune and prosperity to the recipient.
- Decorations. It is thought that doubles bring happiness in Chinese numerology and culture. Therefore, decorations often come in pairs. You may have seen decorations containing the character 囍 (shuāng xǐ) at Chinese celebrations, which is double the character 喜 (xǐ), meaning happiness.
Top tip: If you are not concerned with Chinese numerology, you can often find cheaper deals on purchases such as phone numbers and property when visiting China! Moving to China? Check out our blog on the cost of living for international students in China!
What is the Luckiest Number in Chinese?
The number 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. The pronunciation of 8 in Chinese (bā) sounds like the verb to make fortune (fā). The number 88 also has a visual resemblance to the decorative character 囍 (shuāng xǐ), which means double joy. When laid on its side, the number 8 also resembles the Greek symbol for infinity, which further promotes its associations with wealth, success and prosperity.
What Are the Other Lucky Numbers in Chinese?
Although the number 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture, there is still room for other lucky numbers! Let’s explore some of them below.
The number 2 is lucky in Chinese culture, as it is thought that good things come in pairs. This is represented by the idiom 好事成雙 (hǎoshì chéngshuāng). When getting married in China, a couple’s house will often be decorated with double paper cuttings, symbolising good luck for their marriage.
The number 6 is also lucky in Chinese numerology. The pronunciation (liù) is similar to the Chinese word for flow (liú). Therefore, the number 6 is thought to symbolise that things will go smoothly. This is represented by the Chinese idiom 六六大顺 (liùliù dàshùn), literally meaning six-six-big-smooth.
The number 9 in Chinese (jiǔ) sounds like the word for a long duration of time (jiǔ), so it is considered another auspicious number in Chinese culture. 9 is also the highest single digit, which means it is used to signify longevity and eternal happiness. A perfect 10 in Chinese culture is reserved for the Gods, so 9 is seen as the highest we can go in this lifetime.
Did you know? The Forbidden City in Beijing has 9,999 rooms – just short of the 10,000 rooms that are found in heaven!
Top 5 Chinese Lucky Number Combinations
Lucky numbers don’t stop at single digits, with Chinese lucky number combinations also believed to bring positive energy and good fortune into various aspects of life. Let’s explore some auspicious lucky number combinations in Chinese culture.
- 1314 (yīsānyīsì) sounds like the Chinese idiom 一生一世 (yīshēngyīshì), which means ‘one life, one lifetime’. Therefore, the combination 1314 is often used romantically to signify forever.
- 520 (wǔ’èrlíng) sounds similar to the phrase for I love you in Chinese (wǒ ài nǐ). In modern times, Chinese couples celebrate a modern twist on Valentine’s Day on 20th May each year (5/20).
- 888 (bābābā) means triple fortune in Chinese. As the number 8 is the luckiest single digit in Chinese culture and double numbers are considered twice as lucky, triple 8 is thought to bring untold wealth and good fortune. The number combination 888 is often seen at airports, bus stops and is used widely online by people in China.
- 666 (liùliùliù), triple 6, is another popular Chinese lucky number combination. This triple number is used to wish that everything goes smoothly. 666 is often displayed outside shops and businesses in China. This is in stark contrast to 666 being a symbol for the devil in Western culture – 666 is noted as the ‘number of the beast’ in the bible.
- 168 (yīliùbā) in Chinese sounds like the phrase for being fortunate along the road to financial success 一路发 (yīliùbā). Did you know that Motel 168 is a popular motel chain in China?
Unlucky Numbers in Chinese Culture
We have already explored the importance of superstition and symbolism of numbers in Chinese culture. However, this significance doesn’t only relate to lucky numbers. Chinese numerology also extends to unlucky numbers. In this section, we’ll delve into some unlucky numbers in Chinese culture – particularly the number 4 and its combinations, as well as the number 13.
What is the Unluckiest Number in Chinese Culture?
In Chinese, the pronunciation of the number 4 (sì) closely resembles the word for death, (sǐ). This phonetic resemblance has led to the number 4 being associated with death and misfortune, which makes it the unluckiest number in Chinese culture. The number 4 is seen as so unlucky in China that Beijing recently stopped the sale of car license plates that contain the number.
Asian Lucky and Unlucky Numbers: The Impact on Global Brands
The number 4 is not only unlucky in Chinese culture, but also in other countries in Asia with a history of Han characters in the language. For example, the number 4 is also often considered unlucky in Japan as it is sometimes pronounced ‘shi’, which is the word for death.
Elsewhere in Asia, the Alfa Romeo model 144 had to undergo a name change in Singapore to appeal to potential buyers. As brands expand to Asia, it is important that they consider the significance of Asian lucky numbers and the potential pitfalls of product names that contain the digits. Some brands, such as Canon, avoid the number 4 altogether in their product names to appeal to the Asian market.
Why is the Number 13 Considered Unlucky in China?
The number 13 has long been considered unlucky in China, particularly by feng shui practitioners. As the numbers 3 and 1 add together to make 4, it has connotations with the unlucky number 4 which symbolises death. The number 13 is an interesting case, as it is unlucky both in Western and Chinese cultures. Most hotels and apartment blocks in China skip the 13th floor. This means that as you climb the building, you may not be on the actual floor number that is named.
The Impact of Lucky and Unlucky Numbers on Floor Numbers in China
In Shanghai and other cities, floors containing the numbers 4 and 13 are often skipped. The numbering of floors in buildings therefore goes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25 etc. In contrast, Beijing recently released new legislation that states new buildings must follow accurate floor numbers to avoid any misunderstanding. It will be interesting to see if other Chinese cities follow suit and include perceived unlucky numbers in building floor numbering in the coming years!
The influence of lucky and unlucky numbers in Chinese culture permeates many aspects of everyday life. The significance of lucky and unlucky numbers is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, impacting everything from car license plates and phone numbers to addresses and dates and times of major events. Chinese numerology is deep rooted in homophones, fengshui, and the Chinese zodiac, which all play a pivotal role in shaping the course of modern day life in China.
The development of new Chinese lucky number combinations has had an impact on modern Chinese culture, such as the celebration of the unofficial Chinese Valentine’s Day on 20th May each year (5/20). As China continues to embrace global cultural nuances, it will be fascinating to see how lucky and unlucky numbers continue to develop and shape daily life and beliefs in China in the future.
Sean speaking to students at Beths Grammar School about his experience of learning Chinese, living in China and founding Newsdle and The Chairman’s Bao.
Sean studied Chinese and Spanish at University of Leeds and founded The Chairman’s Bao alongside Tom Reid in his final year of study in 2015. Current Managing Director of The Chairman’s Bao, he has overseen the company’s growth from university bedroom concept to an international force in the EdTech industry with over 200,000 individual users and over 400 global partner institutions. Sean also launched Newsdle alongside Tom Reid and Oliver Leach in 2021, for students and teachers of Spanish and French. In his spare time, Sean is still a keen language learner and runner. He also sits on the Board of charity Leeds Irish Health and Homes in the UK.