Chinese customs

Number and Colours

Numbers do not only bear their literal meanings, but also play a special and important role, especially in the Chinese culture. The use of numbers can be found in almost every aspect of people's lives. In daily life, in business, or even at funerals, different numbers, auspicious or ominous, many influence people's choice or decision.

Many foreign visitors can't help but exclaim that the Chinese are really creative and that the numbers are so expressive if lined up in a way.

The Chinese people not only use numbers to appeal for good fortune, they also use them to chew people out. For example, ¡°you 250 (Er Bai Wu) (how foolish you are)¡±, ¡°you do things neither three nor four (you work without any order)¡±, and ¡°still you dare to say that I'm 13 points (how do you dare to consider me stupid)¡±. Although it isn't really possible to know where those expression came from, one thing is for sure: numbers are closely related to the daily life of the Chinese people.

¡°One¡± is the number marking the beginning and also has the meaning of independence or being alone. Some ethnologists point out that in China , some people prefer even numbers which symbolize the wish for ¡°fortune comes in pairs¡±. They are more wary of one, three, five, seven, and nine. Because the character for ¡°odd¡± in Chinese (dan) also means ¡°alone¡±, people are not very fond of the odd numbers. Although people like even numbers, in odd-numbered months, however, holiday have been stipulated to help people get by, from the Spring Festival (first day of the first month on the lunar calendar) and Tomb Sweeping Day (third day of the third month) to Dragon Boat Festival (fifth day of the fifth month), Chinese Valentines's Day (seventh day of the seventh month), and Old People's Day (ninth day of the ninth month).

At weddings, when the Chinese people give ¡°red envelopes¡± with money inside as gift, they only send even amounts, like 1,200 or 2,600. At funerals, on the other hand, people usually give offerings with the last digit being odd in a wish to avoid ill fortune.

¡°Two¡± is the first even number which is often used to indicate double, meaning ¡°happiness comes in pairs¡±. When people got married in ancient times, betrothal gifts would include a document recording all the details of the accompanying gifts. The writing style was rather meticulous. Thus, for example, a chicken or a duck would be written as ¡°four wings of poultry¡±. Gold bracelets would be written as ¡°gold bracelets becoming a pair¡±. And in no place would odd numbers allowed.

¡°Three¡± is the number the Chinese have always been rather inclined to. Just open up a Chinese dictionary and one will find saying using ¡°three¡± or multiples thereof everywhere. There are even more local sayings and slang expressions composed of numbers. One reason the Chinese like ¡°three¡± is that it stand for ¡°many¡±. In Lao Tzu it is said that ¡°Tao gave birth to one, one gave birth to two, two gave birth to three, and three gave birth to ten thousand things.¡± From nothing to something, or something to infinity, ¡°three¡± plays a critical role.

¡°Four¡± is the number most Chinese don't seem to like, simply because the pronunciation of ¡°four¡± is close to that of ¡°death¡± in the Chinese language. If you use the number four on happy occasions such as wedding, especially in the southern part of China or in the countryside, you are likely to be criticized behind your back for failing to understand basic manners. The scholar Su Xue lin wrote that in ancient China numbers four and 72 were perhaps both mysterious number, and moreover that ¡°four¡± was a symbol for the great earth. In Taiwan , four is not especially well looked upon. Hospital and hotels normally have no fourth floor, and the numbers in the elevator just skip from three right to five. And in some cases the price of an apartment on the fourth floor is usually lower. It's probably only in places where the Chinese people live that this attitude towards numbers is necessary or understandable.

¡°Five¡± is the number that the Chinese assign little good or bad significance. ¡°May the five fortunes knock on your door¡± is a saying often heard on festival occasions. The five fortunes are long life, wealth, health, an ethical life and a peaceful death.

¡°Six¡± is the number the Chinese like a lot. People like ¡°one six eight¡±, because in terms of pun, ¡°one six eight¡± means the way to success. ¡° Where did 6 and 6 and everything goes smoothly come from?¡± You might ask. Lin Maoxiao, executive secretary of the Customs and Handicrafts Foundation, said that it might have something to do with playing dice. Six is the largest number on a die, so wouldn't one win by coming up with two sixes?

¡°Seven¡±, according to informal statistics, is not taken by many people to be a lucky number. According to an old text, when someone first died, the mourning period should be seven days. Doing the Seven Day is the custom at funerals in Fujian Province and many other places in China . From the first seven days After someone passes away to the seventh Seven Days, there are appropriate rituals for each. Some people don't like it, because the number of seven can easily bring to mind ¡°Doing the Sevens¡±, plus the facts that the seventh month of the lunar year is a ¡°Ghost Month¡±.

¡°Eight¡± is the number most people would like, and they would let you know that eight and ¡°prosperity¡± are similar in sound. In North China , there is the saying that ¡°if you want to succeed, don't' stray from eight.¡± Hong Kong , where most of the population is Cantonese, is perhaps the place where faith in numbers is the strongest. Hong Kong is a very crowded and competitive metropolis. Businessmen are especially obsessed with success, and so they have to include auspiciousness in consideration of any affair like opening a factory or singing a contract. If they can choose a day with number eight in it, they believe they have a ¡°successful¡± beginning.

The last digits of the phone number of the Canton Hotel are 8168, a home phone for ¡°success and yet more success¡±. Most of the shoe stores in the Longfu Building in Beijing use ¡°auspicious¡± prices on their tags. One of the fastest movers is one whose tag is 168, which symbolizes ¡°the smooth road to success¡±. And when businessmen stay in hotel, they like to stay in rooms 518, 688 or 816. One hotel in Guangdong even has a higher price on rooms with lucky numbers.

¡°Nine¡± is a large number and it generally refers to a great majority. ¡°Nine¡± symbolizes smoothness and endurance, while ¡°Six¡±, as said above, is for ¡°6 and 6 and so everything goes smoothly¡±. In the 1980s, lucky numbers went from Hong Kong into Guangdong Province in mainland China , and then this trend began to spread up to the north.

Because ¡°Nine¡± is an extreme number, the Chinese people have the saying that it is inauspicious to run across ¡°Nine¡±. Especially for the aged, the 69 th and 79 th birthday are celebrated as the 70 th and 80 th instead. Many people also believe that a young man of 29 is at the decisive point in life.

Colors in the Chinese market

The Chinese people often say that they are the off-Springs of Yan Emperor and Huang Emperor. Yan means fire with the red color and Huang means Yellow. Therefore the basic color in China is red and yellow which are also the two colors of the Chinese national flag. The color red in China means happiness and celebration, so it is the main color for weddings and celebration. Yellow used to be the color of the emperor and court. Now it means bright, harvesting and rich because yellow is the color of sunshine, grains and gold.

Traditionally, white and black are the two colors of a funeral, but in modern times, white also means pure and clean. Many Chinese people prefer food with black color, such as black rice, black beans, black chicken and so forth, simply because they believe that they are good for the kidneys as the color of kidney would be black according to the traditional theory of five elements.


Fengshui in burial receives great importance in China , Fengshui literally means ¡°wing and water¡±. It was originally the branch of knowledge in which the ancients studied astronomy and geography, and which expressed their view of environment and priorities. Fengshui brought together the three elements of time, place and man in a system for distinguishing good and ill fortunes. But later practitioners continually put such things as the five elements, and finally principles of fortune telling, into it. Thus Fengshui steadily departed from realm of philosophy and took on a heavy popular coloring, and eventually came to be used merely as a tool to help individuals to get a promotion or to become rich. Now many Chinese still believe that if they choose a good place or a good location to bury their parents, their parents can protect them and bring them good fortune. In the rural area, there were people trying to secure a good place for burying their deceased parents, and in the urban area, people are willing to pay a large amount of money for a piece of land with good Fengshui for their parent's burial. Fengshui is not only used in burial but also popular in choosing houses and offices. This phenomenon shows that no matter how modernized our life may become materially, people still need some kind of supernatural support spiritually.

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