When people have a decision to make that involves numbers or number combinations, such as choosing a phone number, event date, and address, they like to pick 8, and the more 8 the merrier.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics officially kicked off on August 8th, at eight minutes and eight seconds past eight PM. When giving money as a wedding gift or in a red packet to children during Lunar New Year, eight bills are better than seven. The 8 effect is so real that it’s not uncommon to see a property or licensing plate prices get jacked up simply because it’s unit 808 or Shanghai 88888. More often you’d see items priced at ¥19.8, ¥36.8, or go on sale where the new price is 88% of the old one.
What’s all the fuss about and why do Chinese people have a fancy for the number 8?
Why is 8 lucky in Chinese
The most common explanation is that the number 8, pronounced as “bā” in Mandarin Chinese, sounds like the verb “发”, pronounced as “fā”, which means to get rich. The pronunciation is even closer in Cantonese and it’s said that this phonological pun was popularized by Cantonese merchants.
Maybe you have watched Malaysia-born stand-up comedian Ronnie Chieng joke about how many Chinese people like money. Seeing that we have a lucky number stemmed out of one’s love for fortune, he’s not completely wrong.
When people say or type “888,” they mean “发发发”: the repetition of the same character shows a stronger sentiment and wish of getting lucky financially for oneself or the others. Don’t be surprised if you are greeted by the phrase “恭喜发财”— Congrats on [potentially] getting rich — during Lunar New Year!
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Lucky 8 in the Chinese history
A more historical explanation dates back to I Ching, aka Book of Changes, one of the most ancient philosophical works in the world. I Ching introduces a concept of 八卦, or Bagua/eight trigrams, where a range of eight interrelated cosmic elements that make up the basis of the universe are represented by eight symbols, indicating fundamental principles of reality and patterns of life.
Chinese legends have it that Fuxi, who lived around 2,000 B.C. and who’s considered to be the originator of the I Ching, supposedly discovered the eight trigrams in markings on the shell of a mythical turtle that emerged from Luo River.
There are many interpretations of the eight trigrams, what’s certain is that our ancestors have been trying to make sense of them and using them to understand the world that they live in as well as to tell their own fortune.
For instance, they studied the eight positions that the sun is at in relation to the earth during the latter’s orbit and how it affects seasonal changes and agriculture. In short, eight is considered to be the foundation of everything.
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Other explanations about the number 8 in Chinese
Besides the eight trigram’s influence on Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and other philosophical and religious schools of thought, the number eight has a long and respectable pedigree. Only emperors, who proclaim to be the son of heaven, can enjoy a matrix of eight by eight dancers performing at once (八佾). The emperor’s carriage horses have eight bridle bells in total (八鸾). When hosting royal festivals, eight round-top containers are used (八簋). Eight is a number that represents status, wholesomeness, and continuity. Remember the infinity symbol? That also looks like a number 8 written sideways!
Because of its significance in both traditional and modern culture, the number 8 has garnered quite a lot of popularity. Success, fortune, status, wholesomeness, eternity…who wouldn’t want that? What do you think? Is there also a lucky number in your culture? Please feel free to share below. And if you are interested in Chinese culture and want to improve Chinese speaking, you can also book language lessons in the Chinese language with me.