While driving around town taking care of minor chores, I happened to catch part of an NPR report about an aspect of Chinese culture related to numbers and words and the power of belief.
Later, I did a bit of research and discovered the key to the way many Chinese related to numerology is through homonyms. In other words, if the word for a number is the same as a word that is auspicious (吉利) or inauspicious (不利), the number has power. Specifically, the numbers 6, 8, and 9 are considered auspicious.
For example, the word for eight (八 Pinyin: bā) sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “wealth” (發 – short for “發財”, Pinyin: fā). In regional dialects the words for “eight” and “fortune” are also similar, ie. in Cantonese ”baat” and “faat”.
There is also a visual resemblance between two digits, “88″, and 囍, the “shuang xi” (“double joy”), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜 (“xĭ” meaning “joy” or “happiness”).
As a result, there is great interest in obtaining telephone number with one or more eights. A Chinese man interviewed on NPR said his aunt was involved with giving out telephone numbers and people often offered to pay for numbers with eights. Here are examples of the popularity of eight.
- A telephone number with all digits being eights was sold for USD $270,723 in Chengdu, China.
- The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics inBeijing began on 8/8/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm local time (UTC+08).
- A man in Hangzhou offered to sell his license plate reading A88888 for RMB 1.12 million (roughly USD164,000).
- The Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia each have 88 Floors.
- The Air Canada route from Shanghai to Toronto is Flight AC88.
- The KLM route from Hong Kong to Amsterdam is Flight KL888.
- The former United Airlines route from Beijing to San Francisco was Flight UA888.
- The Air Astana route from Beijing to Almaty is Flight KC888.
- One of Cathay Pacific’s flight numbers from Hong Kong to Vancouver and New York is CX888.
- Singapore Airlines reserves flight numbers beginning with the number 8 to routes in China and Korea.
- As part of grand opening promotions, a Commerce Bank branch in New York’s Chinatown raffled off safety deposit box No. 888.
- An “auspicious” numbering system was adopted by the developers of 39 Conduit Road Hong Kong, where the top floor was “88″ – Chinese for double fortune.
What makes this particularly fascinating is the apparent global synchronicity involved. In Western numerology, eight also is closely linked to money, wealth, and prosperity. But without the homonym.
Of course, just as many Western people don’t take numerology seriously, some Chinese people regard these beliefs about numbers as superstitions. We’ve got two eights inn our land line, four eights in our three cell numbers, and one eight in our address. So we’ll stick with the connection between eights and prosperity.