Unlucky and Lucky Chinese Numbers

Lucky Chinese Numbers

In Chinese culture, numbers are very important. This is likely because for millennia fortune tellers and feng shui experts have used the numbers from peoples’ birthdates to attempt to calculate their futures. Even in modern China many practitioners of feng shui refuse to allow their children to be married unless their spouse has a birthday that “matches.” Couples getting married almost always try to arrange their wedding for an auspicious day, a lucky number day on the calendar. If you want to book a restaurant for a celebration on those days, you have to reserve it sometimes years in advance and pay a hefty surcharge.

Numbers are normally considered to be lucky based on their pronunciation. If their pronunciation sounds like a good Chinese word, then it is a lucky number. If it is sounds like a bad Chinese word, then it is unlucky.

Lucky Numbers

3 – Three is pronounced “san”. This sounds similar to the Chinese word for “birth” pronounced “sheng.” Threes are not considered to be the luckiest numbers, but they are considered to be luckier than average. It is reported that a man in Beijing paid over two hundred thousand dollars for the cell phone number 133-3333-3333.

6 – Six has positive connotations and is considered to be good for business. It conveys the idea of fluidity.

8 – In my experience in China (in the South), the number 8 is considered to be the luckiest of all. It is pronounced “ba,” which sounds similar to the Cantonese word for prosperity, “fa.” This number is highly desirable since everyone wants to be prosperous. People who are getting car license plates and telephone numbers try to get as many eights as possible. Because they are highly sought for, the prices for these numbers are higher. If you want a telephone number with a lot of eights in it, you will have to pay up. One such telephone number composed of all eights was sold for almost $300,000 in Chengdu. The Beijing Olympics began on August (8th month) 8th at 8:08:08 PM. A man in Hangzhou tried to sell his license plate A88888 for over one million yuan.

9 – The pronunciation for nine sounds similar the pronunciation for long-lasting. It is also the highest odd number. In history this number has often been associated with Imperial matters, which had nine ranks of officials. A bonus is that this is the highest Arabic single digit so some modern Chinese like it for this reason.

Unlucky Numbers

4 – Four is far and wide considered to be the unluckiest number. Its pronunciation “si,” sounds like the pronunciation for “death,” “si.” Many buildings skip the fourth floor and all subsequent floors with a four in it (14th, 24th, 34th, etc.) since many landlords would hesitate to purchase an apartment on those levels. In Hong Kong floors 40-49 and 13 are also often skipped. Retailers avidly try to avoid selling products for a purchase price with four in it.

5 – This word sounds similar to the Chinese word for “not.” By itself it is not very good, but it can be used in conjunction with a bad number to make a good meaning. For example 54 could mean “no death.”

The above is an overview of some of the most common lucky and unlucky numbers. But anyone can create his own good combinations with a basic understanding of how the system works. My mother-in-law used to often create good number combinations. These might not be readily apparent to other Chinese immediately, but with a quick explanation of the logic behind it can be understood.

Personally I don’t believe in lucky or unlucky Chinese numbers. Therefore I have tried to take advantage of this mindset and save some money. For example when choosing a new cell phone number, I may ask the vendor, “what is the unluckiest number you have?” When choosing a day for our wedding, my wife and I could save money by choosing a less auspicious day. If I could find an apartment for sale on a 4th floor for a discounted price, I would have jumped at the chance!