Lucky Numbers and Unlucky Numbers in China

In China, lucky numbers have pronunciations that are similar to words with lucky meanings. Number 8 holds huge significance as a lucky number. To a lesser extent 2, 6, and 9 are considered lucky. 4 is the most unlucky number in China. As well as these general number superstitions, fengshui and the Chinese zodiac dictate different number luck for different places/people.

The Luckiest Number in China: 8

'8' is the most favored number in modern China due to its association with wealth and luck. The Chinese love this number both in trivial matters and in big moments. 8 is given the highest priority when buying a number plate or buying a house.

For example, an apartment on the eighth floor will be most coveted in that entire building. Or an address with the number 8 in it will be considered lucky. Car number plates containing 8 would be sold at higher prices than regular ones. Mobile numbers are preferred if they contain one or more 8s.

Broadly speaking, the number 8 is associated with wealth, success, and status.

Why 8 is Auspicious

8 is considered lucky and favored by Chinese because it holds meaning in both traditional and modern cultures.

(I) Traditional Taoism

yin-yang symbol and the eight directionsThe Eight Directions of Taoism

In Taoist culture, 8 is associated with wholeness and completeness. According to I Ching (易经), the bagua (八卦), or the eight trigrams, are the foundation that generates everything.

The Eight Directions (Bafang 八方) represent the whole universe in Taoist spatial conception. These eight directions are also used to explain individual destiny, as in Bazi (八字), a Chinese fortune-telling method that depicts one's life course according to the trigram of one's date of birth.

(II) Modern Business

In modern China, '8' is associated with wealth. 'Eight' (八) in Chinese is pronounced 'ba' and sounds similar to fa (发, trad. 發, i.e. facai 发财), meaning "well-off" or "getting rich in a short time". Thus 8 is said to invite great wealth. 

Associating '8' with money is believed to have originated in Cantonese culture, especially in Hong Kong - a business hub - and soon became popular in other parts of China, as the country and its people pursued economic development, and attained material gains and profits.

Phrases or Expressions associated with 8

In the Chinese language, '8' appears in many auspicious expressions, which are often a combination of the traditional and modern meanings of the number. For example:

  • "Bamian laicai." (八面来財 '8 sides coming wealth'), for example, means wealth coming from all corners of the world.
  • "Bamian chunfeng" (八面春风 '8 sides spring wind'), i.e. spring wind from eight directions, expresses the wish that one gets luck wherever s/he goes, or whatever s/he is working on.
  • The characters 發春 (发春 fachun /faa chwnn/ 'to develop (wealth) + spring') are popularly displayed at Chinese New Year, expressing wishes for increasing wealth in the coming year.

Instances of Chinese Favoring 8

(I) The 2008 Olympics

發春 lucky Chinese New Year characters

Maybe the best example that shows how Chinese love the number 8 is the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The opening ceremony commenced exactly at 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 pm on the 8th August, the 8th month of the 8th year of the 21st century. This was in expectation of winning the most out of this global competition and gain success for the country.

(II) Birth Dates

Chinese couples also want to catch this number for their babies. In 2008, there were 170 million new-borns, 5 million more than 2007, making a record since early 1990s. Most of the babies were born around August (the 8th month). Many hope that the luck of number 8 will bring fortune to their children.

(III) Number Plates

Chinese' fondness for 8 can be seen even in small things such as number plates. In 2014, two number plates with "8888" were sold for RMB 12 million and RMB 17.2 million separately in Zhengzhou and Shenzhen, an amazingly high price.

(IV) House Numbers, Phone Numbers, Wedding Dates...

In choosing houses (apartment or floor number), phone numbers, or dates of events such as weddings, engagements, etc. there is a high preference for numbers with 8 in them.

Tourist Attractions Associated with '8'

  • The most-visited Great Wall section is called Badaling — the '8 Great (Mountain) Ranges'.
  • The Eight Great Cuisines (八大菜 Ba Da Cai) are the cornerstones of China's deep and varied food culture.
  • The Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall has an eight-sided maze like a Taoist bagua.
  • The word "pagoda" means '8-sided tower' (八角塔 bajiaota) and there are many to see in China, including the very old Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng.
  • Bajiaozhai (八角寨) — '8-Sided Mountain Village' is an area of Guilin famous for its attractive steep sandstone formations.

Other Lucky Numbers in China

While 8 is a very important lucky number, we cannot ignore the significance of other numbers, that are described below.

Even numbers


The number 2
The Chinese strongly believe in harmony and balance, hence even numbers naturally gain preference over odd numbers. The number 0 is a whole number as well as an even one, especially for money, and is thus considered a lucky digit.

2 (两), pronounced er or liang, is considered to be lucky as the Chinese believe that all good things come in pairs. This is observed in repeated characters in some brand names or gifts.

The number 3

3 (三), pronounced san, is considered lucky due to its similarity in sound to the word that means birth. Additionally, this number represents the three stages in the life of humans - birth, marriage, death - that adds to its importance in Chinese culture.

The number 5

5 (五), pronounced wu, is associated with the five elements - earth, water, fire, wood, metal - which is regarded as the basis of the world in ancient Chinese culture and was associated with the Chinese emperor. This number has more of a historic significance. 

An instance is the Tiananmen Gate which is the main entry to the Forbidden City. This gate contains 5 arches. In Chinese history, the number 5 is used in many classifications, such as five flavors (pungent, sweet, sour, salty, bitter), five sacred mountains (Huashan, Hengshan in Hunan, Hengshan in Shanxi, Songshan and Taishan) and so on.

The number 6

6 (六), pronounced liu, is considered lucky as it sounds like the word that means 'to flow', and can indicate smooth progress in life. It also means well-off. Similar to 8, 6 is preferred in number plates and phone numbers. When a couple gets engaged, the man customarily offers a gift to the girl's family which is usually money (RMB 6,666 and such) and this gift signifies a harmonious life for the couple. 

If a person is to celebrate their 66th birthday, that is a grand occasion. In business, 6 is considered lucky. New ventures or contracts are signed on dates that have 6 in them.

The number 7

7 (七), pronounced qi/ chi, is a number that symbolizes togetherness and harmony as its is considered to be the union of yin, yang and the five elements (described above) in Confucianism.

The number 9

9 (久), pronounced jiu, is a popular number, much like 6 and 8. It is similar to the word that means everlasting. It is common to gift your beloved 99 roses on Valentine's Day in China. 9 is the highest single digit number and hence represents completeness. 

This made it very popular with Emperors who used it in many aspects of their administration, right from dividing the empire into 9 continents, wearing nine-dragon imperial robes, nine-rank system for officials, etc. In Chinese mythology, it is said that the Dragon has 9 children.

The Five Element Theory and Lucky Fengshui Numbers

For good fengshui, you can read more about China's Five Element Philosophy and the significant numbers associated with each element: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Unlucky Numbers in China

Unlucky number 4Unlucky number 4 is avoided in this Shanghai elevator.

The above captures all you should know about lucky numbers. However, we should be mindful of some unlucky numbers as well when in China. 

Unlucky 4

While only a few numbers are considered unlucky in China, the number 4 is the most unlucky as it rhymes with the word that means death.

Interestingly, you will notice this in building elevators which usually omit this number. Here's an image of the elevator for even-numbered floors where number 4 is not mentioned at all.

To add, gifting money or any object that has the digit 4 (40 or 14 RMB) associated with it is considered inauspicious. This factor cascades down to the way products are priced in China as opposed to other countries and the cash amounts presented in red envelopes and other forms of gifting.

Unlucky 3

The number 3 can be unlucky as well depending on the situation and use. For example, gifting to friends or to couples seldom contains the number 3 in any form of association. Three is pronounced 'san' which is similar to the word that means 'to part ways'.

Insulting 250

The number 250 is another set of digits that is used as an insult to call someone foolish or mock their intelligence in informal language. 二百五 (èr bǎi wǔ) is the literal way to say 250 in Chinese but people instead say 'lǐang bǎi wǔ'. 250 is half a jin so is equated with 'half brain'.

The Chinese Zodiac and Lucky/Unlucky Numbers

While we have covered all the Chinese Zodiac signs in more detail, in this piece, we want to leave you with the numeric significance for each sign - read on and see which are your lucky colors and which aren't.

For lucky numbers, even if the numbers are a combination of the lucky digits stated below, it is deemed to be lucky for the respective zodiac.

Rat

Lucky numbers: 2, 3

Unlucky numbers: 5, 9

Ox

Lucky numbers: 1, 4

Unlucky numbers: 5, 6

Tiger

Lucky numbers: 1, 3, 4

Unlucky numbers: 6, 7, 8

Rabbit

Lucky numbers: 3, 4, 6

Unlucky numbers: 1, 7, 8

Dragon

Lucky numbers: 1, 6, 7

Unlucky numbers: 3, 8

Snake

Lucky numbers: 2, 8, 9

Unlucky numbers: 1, 6, 7

Horse

Lucky numbers: 2, 3, 7

Unlucky numbers: 1, 5, 6

Goat

Lucky numbers: 2, 7

Unlucky numbers: 4, 9

Monkey

Lucky numbers: 4, 9

Unlucky numbers: 2, 7

Rooster

Lucky numbers: 5, 7, 8

Unlucky numbers: 1, 3, 9

Dog

Lucky numbers: 3, 4, 9

Unlucky numbers: 1, 6, 7

Pig

Lucky numbers: 2, 5, 8

Unlucky numbers: 1, 7

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