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From what I understand:

  • 4 or 四 means death

  • 8 is similar to 发 as in 发财

  • 9 is somehow related to the emporer or is the emporer's number

Can someone please provide the meanings (if they exist) for each of the different numbers 0 - 10?

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Aha, this question reminds me of a song:《数字恋爱》--范晓萱。Maybe you'll like it. :p –  Kjuly Jan 12 '12 at 3:21
    
@Kjuly - Just found this on Youtube ;) Thanks! –  xiaohouzi79 Jan 12 '12 at 3:43
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7 Answers 7

There is a Wikipedia article dedicated to this, Numbers in Chinese culture; it states that numbers are divided in two categories, lucky and unlucky numbers.

Lucky Numbers:

  • 二, the number 2: There is a saying that states "Good things come in pairs", for this reason many things in China seem to be "presented" in pairs of two, since this is considered a positive number;

  • 三, the number 3: It's considered lucky because it's similar to the character for "birth", 生.

  • 五, the number 5: This number is associated with the Five Elements (Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Metal) and also with the Emperor of China; the Tianamen Gate has five arches;

  • 六, the number 6: The number six pronounced as liù, is similar to the character 流 (liú) which means "to flow". This is considered lucky in business. Side-note: I've read elsewhere that objects with this number or with the string with three 6 in a row are considered very lucky, and people will try to buy such things (such as phone numbers). It's stated in this page, "Deciphering The Meaning Of Chinese Numbers";

  • 七, the number 7: It's a lucky number for relationships.

  • 八, the number 8: It sounds similar to the word for "prosper" or "wealth" 發 (fā), short for "發財".

  • 九, the number 9: This number, like 五, was historically associated with the Emperor of China. As it's stated in that article, "before the establishment of the imperial examinations officials were organized in the nine-rank system, the nine bestowments were rewards the Emperor made for officials of extraordinary capacity and loyalty, while the nine familial exterminations was one of the harshest punishments the Emperor sentenced; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children."

Unlucky Numbers:

  • 四, the number 4: As you said, this number is associated with death, 死 (sǐ). This happens in Japanese as well, by the way, both 四 and 死, can be read as "shi". Following the same logic for the number 6, objects/things with this number are avoided, such as floors... A similar attitude in westerner countries which miss the 13th floor, for example.

Some numbers that were considered as lucky, can be considered unlucky too:

  • 五, the number 5: It's also associated to the character 無 (wú) "not". If associated with something bad, it can become positive, such as in the number 54, because it means "not + death". 528, instead might mean "no easy fortune for me".

  • 六, the number 6: "Six in Cantonese which has a similar pronunciation to that of "lok6" (落, meaning, to drop, fall, or decline)"

  • 七, the number 7: As stated in the article this number "is considered spiritist or ghostly". However, since the 7th day of the month, in the Chinese lunar calendar, is Valentine's Day, this number is not usually associated with bad luck.

I tried to summarize most of the content here, but check the page for more info and other meanings of complex numbers.

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Can someone please explain the down-vote? It'd be helpful, thanks. –  Alenanno Jan 11 '12 at 10:40
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I got the impression that 六 also has applies the meaning of 福 despite there's lack of similarity between their pronunciation... –  rockacola Jan 16 '12 at 6:28
    
I think 九 is a very lucky number. See Ciaocibai's answer. –  gonnastop May 20 '12 at 22:49
    
6 has similar(in Mandarin) or identical(in Cantonese) pronunciation of 祿, which traditionally means the plentiful "salaries" of the officers who work for the emperor. Nowadays it means wealth in general. 福祿壽 means "luck", "wealth" and "longevity". –  Gapton Oct 16 '13 at 7:45
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This is just a selection based on things I've heard - I'm not sure if these are the concrete meanings, or just what I've heard from friends, but here goes:

1 - 要 - at least on occasions, for example there is a job website called 51job meaning '我要job'

2 - 二 - in the north where I used to live, this commonly means stupid, shortened from 二百五 (also meaning stupid)

3 - 生 - 1314 - 一生一世 - meaning one lifetime

4 - 死 - as you said, meaning death

5 - can mean either 我 or 呜呜 (like the noise you make when crying

6 - I've heard one for this in Cantonese meaning happy, but not in Mandarin

7 - I don't really know any for seven

8 - either like 发财的发 as you said, or often used to say 拜拜 (88 is often used to mean 拜拜 in chat, although the pronunciation of the character 拜 is not ba1 but bai4.)

9 - 久 - meaning to live a long life

10 - I don't know any for this either. Sorry!

Hope that helps - it's really interesting to know the meaning behind these sort of things.

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6 has a very good meaning from "六六大顺" in mandarin. –  fefe Jan 11 '12 at 10:07
    
Interesting, I hadn't heard that one before. Thanks for letting me know :-) –  Ciaocibai Jan 11 '12 at 10:12
    
As a matter of fact 6 and 8 are the most liked digits in China. Number plates or telephone numbers with a lot of these two numbers can sell a very good price. –  fefe Jan 11 '12 at 10:17
    
I feel that there is a significant amount of internet-culture shown in this post and not all the examples demonstrated traditional believes about the numbers. As you would not include OMG ROFLCOPTER LOL LMAO ROFL in an English dictionary, these examples should not be taken too seriously, as some of them are only specific to teenagers or people that often communicate digitally. –  Gapton Jan 12 '12 at 6:20
    
@Gapton - I don't think the question is only around traditional meanings, just any meanings that can be associated with numbers, so hopefully my answer is valid :-) –  Ciaocibai Jan 12 '12 at 21:15
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To add to the other answers (the followings are based on phonetic similarities):

2 - 爱 (ai), love

5 - 我 (wo), I

1 - 你 (ni), you

521 - 我爱你, I love you

1314 - 一生一世, this lifetime and beyond

5211314 - 我爱你一生一世, I love you for this lifetime and beyond

(I've also heard that 4 means 发财 because the 4th note in music - do re mi fa - is fa)

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To add to Ciaocibai's list:

0- ling = 你 usually

1- is also used for sounds like yi and ni

I have seen it used in cases like 521 (我爱你) 520 works as well

6- = 了

7- = sounds like qi or qu

17 = 一起 or 你去 depending on context

On a side note:

14 often sounds like 要死 and is a bad number (many buildings will omit the 14th floor for example and have 13A and 13B or directly jump from 13 to 15)

but 14 is also used to sound like 你是 like in 1487 你是白痴 :p

It's impossible to list all the meanings in one answer so I will link you to baidu:

http://tieba.baidu.com/f?kz=162343070

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To add onto the @laguna's and @thisiseast's answers there are a lot of different ways in sms/cyber chats that you would use numbers in place of what would Examples:

Format: Numerical value | Chinese Number / Chinese words they mean | Translation

56 五六 / 无聊 Bored

5201314 五二零一三一四 / 我爱你一生一世 I love you for a lifetime

8384 八三八四 / 不三不四 Dubious

282 二八二 / 饿不饿 Are you hungrey

530 五三零 / 我想你 I miss you

168 一六八 / 加油吧 Come on (Cheer)

246 二四六 / 饿死了 Staving to death

740 七四零 / 气死你 mad at you

70 七零 / 亲你 Kiss you


References:

How to Speak with Numbers in Chinese - Off the Great Wall

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As other have said pretty much, I just want to give the commonly accepted lucky and unlucky numbers in mainland China. (Maybe only in northern China, or Beijing area ..., I don't know. Haven't traveled that much.)

The lucky numbers are 6 and 8.

Meaning of 6 (may) come from "六六大顺(liù liù dà shùn)", which means everything would go smoothly/as expected.

8 has a similar pronunciation as "发(fā)", which has a meaning of making money, becoming rich.

The unlucky number is 4.

4 has a similar pronunciation as "死(sǐ)", which means die/death.

I don't have any special feeling about any other numbers, though they may have some other meanings as mentioned by others.

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just to tell you something relevant real quick.

2, this is normally considered a way of calling others stupid, silly, foolish, particularly among youngsters.

4, means death, to do with superstitions.

6, means everything is peachy, nothing is currently bad or going to be bad.

8, means to be wealthy.

9, the only thing related to this number I can come up with is somewhat religious.

38, a bad way to call women, similar to the word "bitch" in English. By the way, March eighth is women's day in China.

88, cyber language, it means bye bye.

250, you can consider this the full form of 2.

290, equals 250 + 38 + 2, you figure it out yourself.

520, means I love you(我爱你). 5 sounds similar to 我, 2 sounds similar to 爱, though I have no idea why 0 stands for 你(you) here.

1314, sounds similar to 一生一世, which means the whole of someone's life.

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