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Kuora: Lucky numbers in China and Chinese URLs

This week’s column comes from two of Kaiser’s answers, originally posted to Quora on May 7, 2015 and October 11, 2011.

What are the lucky numbers and the unlucky numbers in China?

and

Why do so many Chinese websites use numbers in their domain names?


Basically, anything ending in 8 or containing lots of 8s is considered lucky, because of some rough homophonic resemblance between the pronunciation of 8 (bā, 八, in Mandarin) and the word for prosper (fā, 发, in Mandarin; I’m told the correspondence is closer in other Sinitic “dialects”).

And anything with the number 4 or ending in 4 is considered unlucky. Again, this is because the pronunciation of 4 (四, sì) is similar to that of death (死, sǐ). This is prevalent enough that many apartment and office buildings in China do not have 4th or 14th floors, and so many people avoid license plates ending in 4 that in Beijing, where each weekday two final digits are banned from driving within the Fifth Ring Road, traffic is reliably heavier on those days when 4 and 9 are the restricted plates.

Other numbers that have some connotations: The number 6 is fairly lucky because (again) 6 in Mandarin (liù, 六) sounds like “flowing” or “smooth,” (流, liú). You want to avoid 250 for some reason I’ve never quite understood. Calling someone 250 is saying they’re lame-brained, basically. Same with 38: Though it’s deeply, deeply sexist, people still use 38 (三八, sānbā) to mean silly or ditzy, because 3/8 (March 8) is International Women’s Day.

For the record, I find all these number-based superstitions silly in the extreme and utterly contemptible.

Lots of Chinese websites, in their domain names, use numbers as homophones or close homophones for other words. The number 5 in Chinese, pronounced (五)sounds like the word for “I” ( in Mandarin, but wu in classical Chinese and pronounced close to that in some other Chinese regional dialects). The number 1 can be pronounced yāo (幺), which is a rough homophone (different tone, but same segmental phoneme) as the word for “want,” so that 51, or wuyao, sounds like “I want” — thus its popularity in website URLs like 51.com and 51job.com (a job website, naturally). The number 6 is pronounced liu and sounds like the word for “stream,” thus the website 56.com is a video sharing website.

Kuora is a weekly column.

Kaiser Kuo

Kaiser Kuo is co-founder of the Sinica Podcast and editor-at-large of SupChina.

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