Skip to content
  • Video
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

Chinese at the tip of your tongue: Culture behind the numbers

Updated Thursday 23rd August 2012

Just like in other cultures, numbers have hidden meanings in Chinese culture too. Discover the philosophy behind the figures.

Watch

Read

Chinese at the tip of your tongue: Culture behind the numbers

Dr Qian Kan
Like in most other cultures, numbers have hidden meanings in Chinese.  For instance, Chinese regard numbers six and eight as lucky numbers.  Six signifies smooth.  Eight, pronounced bā, sounds very similar to the word fā, which means to get rich or good fortune.  More importantly, eight lies at the heart of the Chinese belief system, which centres around an eight-sided diagram called bā guà.

Bā guà was designed by Chinese philosophers about 5,000 years ago, in which the eight elements represent constant changes in the universe.  There are eight diagrams in bā guà representing eight related concepts, such as heaven, lake, fire, water.  At the centre of bā guà is the yin and the yang symbol.  The bā guà was seen as guidance of life in the old days, and has been given numerous applications such as planning the layout of the city and diagnosing in traditional Chinese medicine.  That is probably why the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games opened at 8pm on the 8th day of the 8th month in 2008.

Number four is not a good number in Chinese culture.  In many hotels you won’t even find a fourth floor and that is because the pronunciation of number four sounds like the word for to die or death. Sì.  Sǐ.

So you can imagine, car licence plates with number eight are very popular and they demand a very high price.  When negotiating prices in the market, many Chinese people use one hand to signify numbers.
Yī, èr, sān, sì, wŭ, liù, qī, bā, jiŭ, shí.

If you want to learn how to write the numbers from one to ten on a mobile device, you can free download the Open University’s “Chinese Characters First Steps” app, following the link on the website.

Dur: 3’30”

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Languages 

Beginners’ Chinese

Do you want to learn some basics in Mandarin Chinese? The tracks presented here are designed to give you a taste of Mandarin Chinese language and culture. You’ll hear short conversations where people greet each other, introduce themselves and their families, describe where they come from and what they do for a living. You’ll hear them talk about sports, ask for directions, buy things, order food in a restaurant, invite someone to dinner – or simply share their experience of learning Chinese. You’ll also find a track to help you with pronunciation and the use of tones. Finally, there’s the chance to listen to interviews in English about Chinese-speaking cultures. Our guide to the language and culture of mainland China is Dr Kan Qian, who is chair of The Open University course: L197: Beginners’ Chinese You can also download transcripts for all the tracks.

Audio
50 mins
Gaelic in modern Scotland Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Languages 

Gaelic in modern Scotland

Modern Scotland is a multi-lingual country. Gaelic, Scots and English, along with newer introductions from Europe and beyond, all influence the way Scotland's people now speak to each other and to the rest of the world. Created with the positive encouragement of Brd na Gidhlig and with support from BBC Alba, this free course, Gaelic in modern Scotland, is available in both Gaelic and English. The course has been designed to provide a resource for people with a personal or professional interest in increasing their knowledge and understanding of the development and impact of Scottish Gaelic and its culture. It aims to surprise and challenge where necessary; to provide links and ideas for further research; and, for some, to kick-start a journey into learning a language which is integral to Scotland's national identity.

Free course
15 hrs
A humorous look at stereotypes Creative commons image Icon Isabelle under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

Languages 

A humorous look at stereotypes

See how stereotypes are often used in comedy. 

Activity
What effect is social media having on the way we mourn global tragedies? Creative commons image Icon Theus Falcão on Flickr under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license article icon

Languages 

What effect is social media having on the way we mourn global tragedies?

Is the outpouring of grief we see on social media after a terrorist attack or the death of a prominent figure a sincere expression of emotion, or more to do with self-promotion?

Article
The trouble with stereotypes Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: MorgueFile article icon

Languages 

The trouble with stereotypes

Tita Beaven explores the fine line between making sense of reality and sweeping generalisations in this article.  

Article
Cànan nan Gàidheal Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Languages 

Cànan nan Gàidheal

’S e dùthaich ioma-chànanach a tha ann an Alba an-diugh. Tha a’ Ghàidhlig, Albais agus Beurla, còmhla ri cànain Eòrpach agus eile a tha nise san dùthaich, uile a’ toirt buaidh air mar a tha sluagh Alba a’ bruidhinn ri chèile agus ris a’ chòrr dhen t-saoghal. Chaidh an t-aonad seo - a tha ri fhaotainn an Gàidhlig agus am Beurla - a chruthachadh le misneachadh bho Bhòrd na Gàidhlig agus le taic bhon a’ BhBC. Tha e na ghoireas do dhuine sam bith aig a bheil ùidh phearsanta no phroifeiseanta ann a bhith a’ cur ris an eòlas agus an tuigse a tha aca air eachdraidh agus buaidh na Gàidhlig agus cultar nan Gàidheal air Alba. Is mathaid gum bi pàirt dheth na iongnadh, pàirt na dhùbhlan. Tha beachdan agus ceangalan ann a threòraicheas neach gu tuilleadh fiosrachaidh. Do chuid, ’s dòcha gum bi seo na thoiseach tòiseachaidh air cànan a tha bunaiteach a thaobh dearbh-aithne nàiseanta na h-Alba ionnsachadh.

Free course
15 hrs
Explore the baking and culture of Europe: Hungary Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

Languages 

Explore the baking and culture of Europe: Hungary

Travel beyond the former Iron Curtain for a whole new taste of bread

Activity
Grammar matters free course icon Level 3 icon

Languages 

Grammar matters

Grammar matters because, combined with vocabulary choice, it is our main way of making meaning. This free course introduces you to one approach used to understand how meanings relate systematically to different aspects of grammar and shows how this deeper understanding can be applied to make everyday communication more effective.

Free course
8 hrs
The Great Fall Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: United States Government under CC BY-SA 3.0) license article icon

Languages 

The Great Fall

It's 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November. Here, Open University academics share their memories and insights. 

Article