Why Is The Number 13 Lucky To The Chinese?

The number 13 is considered unlucky for many in the West.

Not so for many Chinese!

Just like Westerners, Chinese do share a love of lucky numbers and other superstitious beliefs, although in quite a different manner.

It is part of the Chinese culture. You’ll be surprised to see how they are willing to part with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, simply to obtain lucky telephone or car-plate numbers.

The telephone number 8888-8888 is said to have sold for nearly $300,000 in Chengdu, a southwest Chinese city. The Beijing Olympics 2008, on the other hand, opened on August 8, 2008 (08-08-08) at 8:08 p.m.

The obsession with numbers takes place not only in China, but also other cities like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Do not try competing for numbers such as 8 in any of these cities. Chances are that you will be out-beaten, if your pocket is not deep enough!

Chinese like to link numbers to pronunciations of the associated words. They first see how a number is sounded, then associate it to words that share similar pronunciation and interpret the number from there.

The number 8 is tremendously popular, because it is pronounced close to the sound ‘fa’, which is how words like prosperity and fortune are pronounced in the language. As a result, when they see the number 8, they will associate it with prosperity and fortune.

For the same token, the number 9 is a lucky number. It can mean enough or arrive. The number 6 is popular as well, as it implies happy and smooth.

The number 7 is popular for some, as it sounds like the word ‘complete’. In Mandarin, it can also mean wife. So 517 can mean ‘I want a wife’; as the number 5 sounds like ‘I’ and the number 1 sounds like ‘want’. 514, on the other hand, would not be popular, as the number 4 sounds like the word ‘death’, and the number could imply ‘I want to die’.

Not every number can be generalized. It depends on whether the person is interpreting it from Mandarin or one of the several Chinese dialects.

In addition to sound, numbers can also be interpreted from other angles.

For example, the number 18 is popular. This is because the number 1 — when positioned in tens — sounds like ‘definite’. The number 18, which is pronounced as shiba in Mandarin, becomes ‘definitely prosperous’. On the other hand, some may see 18 as ‘1 plus 8’, which adds up to the lucky number 9. The number, therefore, is also in high demand.

Avoid the number 4 nevertheless. It is thought to be unlucky for many. This is because, as we mentioned earlier, it sounds like death in Mandarin and several dialects.

Why is the number 13 lucky then?

The digit 1 when positioned in tens sounds like the word ‘definite’ (shi) in Mandarin and dialects such as Cantonese; while the digit 3 sounds like life, living or birth.

As a result, the number 13, which is pronounced as shisan in Mandarin, can mean ‘definitely vibrant’ or ‘assured growth’.

So how can 13 be an unlucky number?

Tekson Teo, http://www.ChineseOnTheGo.com. Writer, speaker and business consultant specializes in Chinese language and culture, who speaks broadcaster Mandarin and interprets Chinese philosophy. He obtained his BSc Econ (Hon) from University of London and MBA and DIC from Imperial College London.

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