Numbers, Lucky and Not So Much… —by Jinny Batterson
This blog post is being published on the 13th of the month, in many Western cultures considered an unlucky day. Until I had a chance to travel in China, I’d never really thought much about which numbers we consider lucky and unlucky. It turns out that the number considered most unlucky in Chinese culture is not 13, but 4. The Chinese language has lots more homonyms than most Western languages, and the sound for the numeral 4 in several major dialects is quite similar to the sound for the word “death.” Just as many buildings in the U.S. have no 13th floor, lots of multi-story buildings in China go straight from the third to the fifth floor; some even skip 4-containing numbers—no 14, 24, 34, etc.. If you send a gift to a Chinese friend, try to avoid sending four of anything—go with three instead, since three is one of the numbers considered lucky.
As I mentioned in last month’s post about the “double 9’s” festival, different numbers are also purported to have either “yang” (outward/masculine/sun-related) or “yin” (inward/feminine/moon-related) energy—generally, odd numbers have a “yin” character, while even numbers are more “yang.” (Although, if I did my research correctly, “double 9” is considered decidedly yang.)
One of the luckiest numbers, according to Chinese lore, is the number eight. Partly this is because its pronunciation, in many Chinese dialects, is similar to words for “prosperity,” “wealth,” and “fortune.” When written side by side, the numerals “88” resemble a commonly used Chinese symbol for “double happiness.”
Perhaps the extreme example of honoring “lucky 8’s” was the timing of the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, which began on August 8 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 p.m. local time. People have been known to auction off auspicious 8-filled license plate numbers for extravagant sums; many airlines reserve flight numbers with 8’s in them for China-bound routes.
In China, numbers have extra relevance when combined with the calendar. Many of you have likely seen the “Chinese zodiac” animal symbols on menus at Chinese restaurants in America. Alongside the solar calendar used for business transactions and official documents (twelve months, starting January 1 and ending December 31), Chinese tradition honors an older, lunar-based calendar. Many Chinese festivals and dates are based on this lunar, agriculture-oriented calendar. Thus, Chinese New Year (“Spring Festival”) can fall any time from late January to late February, depending on when the new moon signifying the start of Chinese “spring” occurs in the lunar calendar. The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac—rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig—represent lunar years, rather than months as in the West. According to Chinese folk belief, you will all your life be characterized partly by which animal sign you were born under. The Chinese year 2012, which in Western terms ran from January 23, 2012 through February 9, 2013, was considered an especially auspicious year in which to be born. Many Chinese couples, whether in the P.R.C., Hong Kong, or overseas, tried timing pregnancies so that they would bear a child during this very lucky “water dragon” year. The bureau of vital statistics in Beijing recorded the highest number of births since 2007; in Hong Kong, a 6.6% increase was predicted, to generate an all-time high in births in the former British colony; the Dragon Year birth rate hit a 10-year high in Taiwan.
Whatever your superstitions or purely rational ideas about numbers and their possible meanings, I wish you an auspicious life and hope that today will prove to be a lucky day for you.