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Why certain numbers are unlucky for the Chinese

In Chinese culture, numbers play a very significant role. Whether it’s about gift giving or a building’s structure, choosing a phone number, selecting a wedding date, or even picking a plate number for their car, it all comes down to numbers. They associate fortune with lucky numbers thus they avoid the unlucky ones as much as they can. 


When it comes to numbers, there are lucky numbers, unlucky numbers, and personal lucky numbers. We all know the difference between lucky and unlucky so what are personal lucky numbers? Personal Lucky Numbers are associated with your Chinese zodiac where you can find some extra numbers that are lucky for you! For example, if one is born in the year of the dog, the numbers 3, 4, and 9 are lucky numbers for that person! People usually select their phone number using their personal lucky numbers!


Despite having personal lucky numbers, most Chinese still follow the general lucky numbers to use and avoid the unlucky ones. Here are some of the numbers that are considered unlucky:


Three 三 (sān) 

The number 3 is considered lucky or unlucky depending on what the person believes it to be. For people that believe it is unlucky, it is because three is pronounced ‘san’ which is similar to the word that means ‘to part ways’. These people would avoid giving gifts to friends or to couples that contain 3 in any form of association such as quantity or having the number printed on that gift.


For people who consider 3 to be lucky, it is because 三 sounds similar to 生, which means “life” or “to give birth” in Chinese. Chinese culture puts emphasis on family so 生 has a positive connotation. Aside from its similarity to the word “life”, it is also considered lucky in Buddhism, which is widely practiced in China. It is a significant number because it relates to the foundational ideal, “three jewels”.


Four 四 (sì)

Four may be the unluckiest number of all because of the way it sounds. Four (sì) sounds a lot like the dead (死, sǐ) and this association makes it a very unlucky number. Just like how the West avoids having the 13th floor, the majority of the buildings skip the 4th floor. Even if there is one in the building, most would avoid living on that floor even if the rent on those floors are priced lower. In fact, the mere mention of the number four to an ill family member is considered to be highly offensive. Even when it comes to gift-giving, anything associated with 4 in any form of association can be seen as a death threat. 


Five 五 (wǔ)

Just like the number 3, the number 5 can be associated with both good luck and bad luck depending on the context. The number is associated with positivity because many Chinese philosophical concepts revolve around the number 5, such as the five elements 五行 (wǔ xíng), which is used in traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, martial arts, and music.


However, the number is also considered unlucky because 五 sounds similar to 无 (wú), which means “not” or “without” in Chinese, which can be viewed as bad luck.


Seven 七 (qī)

Just like 3 and 5, the number 7 can also be considered as lucky and unlucky. For those that believe the number 7 is lucky, it is usually for relationships as The Qixi Festival (七夕節), also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, falls on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. 七 also sounds like both 起 (qǐ), which means “start” or “rise”, and also 气 (qì), which means “vital energy”. 


For those that believe the number 7 is unlucky, it is because 7 (qī) sounds similar to gone, 去 (qù) or to cheat, 欺 (qī). Aside from it sounding that way, the 7th month is also known as the “ghost month” in China, where ghosts and spirits are believed to rise from hell to visit earth.


Nine 九 (jiǔ)

For number 9, it is also a debate on whether the number is lucky or unlucky. For the positive side, 九 sounds just like 久 (jiǔ), which means “long lasting” and “eternity”. It’s also often associated with the Chinese emperor and the emperor’s robes had nine dragons on them and officials were organized in nine ranks. Even the Forbidden City is known to have a total of 9,999 rooms!


For the Chinoys, number 9 in age is extremely unlucky. As kids, parents would never buy the number 9 candles to celebrate their child’s 9th birthday. Instead, they would always round one year up and celebrate their 10th birthday again the following year.

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