Chinese numbers have a certain magic to them.
Even though many people now dismiss the belief in lucky and unlucky numbers as superstitious, millions of people in China from various social and ethnic groups still hold onto such beliefs.
For those who adhere to Chinese traditions, numbers hold a special power.
In Chinese numerology, lucky numbers are significant. It’s important to choose good numbers for special things and events such as wedding dates, dates for moving into a new house, telephone numbers, and even numbers for car license plates.
So, which numbers are good and which are bad?
Below is a list of lucky and unlucky Chinese numbers for you to peruse.
Afterward, I’ll also go over a few more general tips to help you to get up to speed on numbers in Chinese.
Lucky Chinese numbers
In Chinese culture, people believe that lucky numbers can bring them luck and good fortune.
Typically, Chinese numerals are either auspicious or ominous depending on whether they sound like other words that have positive or negative connotations.
For example, the most commonly used Chinese auspicious numbers for the Chinese New Year are six and eight.
Six (六; liù) sounds the same as the Chinese character “溜” (liū), which means “smooth”. Consequently, “66” means “everything goes well”.
Eight (八; bā) is also a lucky number because its pronunciation is similar to that of “发” (fā) in “发财” (fācái), which means “to make a fortune”.
You’ll see more examples of this as we go on. For now, here are some of the luckiest of the Chinese good luck numbers.
Two (二; èr)
Pronounced “èr” or “liǎng” (两), the number two is considered lucky because the Chinese believe that all good things come in pairs.
In the Chinese theory of feng shui, the binary relationship between yin and yang are believed to be complementary forces within all things in the world.
The number two is used in particular to bring luck to weddings.
In a traditional Chinese wedding, the newlyweds’ house and restaurant venue are decorated with “囍” (shuāng xǐ) paper-cuts, symbolizing the doubling of luck.
Three (三; sān)
Pronounced “sān”, the number three is considered lucky due to its similarity in sound to the word “生” (shēng), which means “life” or “to give birth” in Chinese.
Three furthermore represents the three stages of human life – birth, marriage, death – which adds to its significance in Chinese culture.
Six (六; liù)
Pronounced “liù”, the number six sounds like the Mandarin Chinese word “溜”, meaning “flowing, smooth, or frictionless”. As such, the number six means “everything will go smoothly”.
Classically, in feng shui, the number six represents authority and power.
Nowadays, Chinese netizens also widely use “666” to express their admiration for people or things. I’ll go over this internet slang more a bit later.
Eight (八; bā)
The number eight is an extremely lucky number in Chinese numerology. It’s the closest thing to the West’s “lucky number 7”.
“八” sounds like “发” (fā), which means “wealth”, “fortune”, and “prosper” in Chinese. Multiples of eight are even better, as “88” resembles “囍” (shuāng xǐ), or “double happiness”.
The Chinese government made sure to invoke the luck of the number eight in 2008, the year of the Olympic Games.
The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on the eighth of August (08/08/08), at precisely 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 PM, local Beijing time!
Number eight is so lucky in China that it has become lucrative for some people.
In 2006, a man in the city of Hangzhou placed an internet ad offering to sell his license plate, A88888, for the whopping sum of $140,000.
Nine (九; jiǔ)
Nine is also a lucky number in Chinese culture. “九” sounds just like “久” (jiǔ), which means “long lasting” and “eternity” in Chinese.
In feng shui, nine is highest on the number scale and represents ultimate masculinity. Because of this, there were 9,999 rooms within the Forbidden City in Beijing.
It’s also a tradition for lovers to send 99 roses, which conveys their wishes for an eternal love.
Lucky combinations of Chinese numbers
When it comes to Chinese lucky numbers, combinations of numbers can also be special. Here are some interesting ones:
168 (一六八; yī liù bā)
168 sounds similar to “一路发” (yī lù fā), which means “to be lucky and prosperous all the way up to (financial) success.”
520 (五二零; wǔ èr líng)
520 sounds like “我爱你” (wǒ ài nǐ), which means “I love you”.
1314 (一三一四; yī sān yī sì) and 3344 (三三四四 sān sān sì sì)
The pronunciations of 1314 and 3344 are similar to “yī shēng yī shì” (一生一世) and “shēng shēng shì shì” (生生世世), which respectively mean “for someone’s whole life” and “forever.”
Lovers use these number combinations to express their enduring love for each other.
666 (六六六; liù liù liù) and 888 (八八八; bā bā bā)
666 sounds like “流流流” (“flow flow flow”); 888 sounds like “发发发” (“prosper” x3).
These numbers are used to determine the sum of money to put into red envelopes (红包; hónɡbāo) when giving gifts for Chinese New Year or a wedding ceremony.
The three numbers all express someone’s best wishes for another’s smooth future life.
See also: Guide to Chinese holidays
Unlucky Chinese numbers
So now you know more about Chinese lucky numbers and where you might see them.
For a broader perspective, you should also be mindful of some unlucky numbers when in China. Bad numbers in Chinese culture are ones you should try your best to avoid in social interactions.
Four (四; sì)
The number four is a very unlucky number in Chinese culture, on par with the number 13 in the Western world.
This is because “四” sounds similar to “死” (sǐ), which means “death” in Chinese. As such, it’s a bad idea to assign the number four to anything.
Generally, door numbers and car registration numbers don’t contain any fours, especially in the last digit. You also won’t find many buildings in China with a level four.
And, houses and apartments that have a four in the address will sell for much less than ones without.
Seven (七; qī)
In Chinese culture, seven is a yang number, and its pronunciation in Chinese is close to the pronunciation of the word meaning “gone” (去; qù).
Seven also relates to ceremonies that release dead souls from purgatory.
In some parts of China, the 14th or 15th day of the 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar is the Ghost Festival, a time for holding sacrificial ceremonies.
Chinese numbers in internet slang
Chinese culture has developed many different ways of using numbers, and one of the most interesting forms of Chinese internet slang is the use of numbers to represent similar-sounding phrases.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular examples:
88: Bye bye
The Chinese word for “eight”, “八” (bā) sounds like the English word “bye”, so “88” (bābā) is used to represent “拜拜” (bái bái).
666: Good job!
This number may have a negative connotation in the West, but in China it’s used to express a compliment. “666” (liù liù liù) sounds like “溜溜溜” (liù liù liù), which is slang for “excellent!”
“555” (wǔ wǔ wǔ) is often used as a replacement for the onomatopoeic “呜呜呜” (wū wū wū), which imitates the sound of crying.
For example: “I wanted to buy tickets for the BTS concert, but they were all sold out! 555!”
7456: I’m so angry!
“7456” (qī sì wǔ liù) is used in place of “气死我了” (qì sǐ wǒ le), which is an emphatic way of saying “I’m angered (to death)”.
When you’re too angry to even type, a quick “7456” will get your mood across.
995: Save me!
“995” (jiǔ jiǔ wǔ) stands for “救救我” (jiù jiù wǒ), meaning “save me”.
Counting to 10 on one hand: Chinese hand signs for numbers
Finally, Chinese people use special hand gestures to express numbers regardless of whether they’re lucky or unlucky.
These signs allow them to represent the Chinese numbers 1 to 10 on just one hand.
If you don’t want to yell out numbers all the time, you can just use these signs and spare your voice. Here’s a quick guide on how to do that (or watch the video above).
One (一; yī)
Extend your index finger.
Two (二; èr or 两; liǎng)
Extend both your index finger and middle finger.
Three (三; sān)
Close your index finger and thumb, and extend the other three fingers like you’re making an OK sign.
Four (四; sì)
Hold your thumb in your palm and extend the four fingers.
Five (五; wǔ)
Extend all of your fingers, including your thumb.
Six (六, liù)
Make a “hang loose” sign – extend your thumb and little finger.
Seven (七; qī)
Touch your thumb with your index and middle fingers.
Eight (八; bā)
Extend your thumb and index finger like a gun.
Nine (九; jiǔ)
Make a hook with your index finger.
Ten (十; shí)
Show your fist. You can also signify “ten” by crossing both index fingers to form a “十”.
See also: Counting money in Chinese
Numbers hold a special place in Chinese culture
Chinese numbers can be either lucky or unlucky, and they can even be used on the web for quick abbreviations of common phrases.
Because Chinese numbers are so significant, numerology is more than just a superstition – it’s a lifestyle.
If you’re a Chinese learner, make sure to build up your Chinese vocabulary of lucky and unlucky Chinese numbers to help discover one of the most interesting aspects of Chinese culture.
Learning numbers in Chinese can furthermore help you out in a variety of scenarios.
If you’re visiting a Chinese friend and want to give a gift, make sure to avoid giving four of anything. You’d be smart to opt for sixes and eights instead!
This is a guest post courtesy of Daniel Nalesnik from Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese. Main image credit: Osm shop on Shutterstock.
FAQ about lucky and unlucky Chinese numbers
What are lucky Chinese numbers?
Two, three, six, eight and nine are lucky Chinese numbers.
What is the luckiest Chinese number?
Eight is the luckiest Chinese number because in Mandarin it sounds like the word for fortune. Multiples of eight are even better.
What are lucky Chinese numbers for money?
Two, eight and nine are lucky Chinese numbers for money, especially multiples like 88 and 99.
What is the unluckiest Chinese number?
Four is the unluckiest Chinese number because in Mandarin it sounds like the word for death.