# Usage of 万 (wàn): ten thousands or just a great number?

I noticed that very often the word 万 (wàn) occurs in poetry (e.g. poetry of the Tang dynasty). My dictionary reports its meaning as "ten thousands", but it looks like it's used in place of a generic "great number". A sentence I notice very frequently is "万里" (wàn lǐ): I feel like this is just a way to mean "a very long distance".

So, what is the proper meaning and usage of "万"? Is it correct to use it for "great", "enormous"? On the other side, to mean "huge", "great", is it correct to use "万", 10000, and not something else (maybe even numerically bigger), like, "one million", "one billion"?

• Fwiw, myriad—the English word for 10,000 as a single unit—worked exactly the same way in ancient Greek: as an actual number and as a handwavy reference to "too many to ever bother counting". It still has both meanings, but English as a system prefers to count in sets of three. Chinese simply kept the larger unit as well as its figurative sense.
– lly
Apr 26, 2019 at 18:06
• Also worth pointing out that 万, 千, and the rest can also be read as "myriads", "thousands", "thousands and thousands", etc. instead of as only singular units. Remembering that they can have that plural value can help understand their figurative uses faster and more intuitively.
– lly
Apr 26, 2019 at 18:09

You are correct, 万, 千 and 百 literally mean 10000, 1000 and 100. These words are often used as a figurative number for 'great', 'huge' or 'immense'

For example:

Other numbers like 六, 九, 十 are often used metaphorically for 'all, entire, ultimate' too.

For example:

• An interesting coincidence: the English word "myriad" also means both "ten thousand" and "a large number", and comes from a Greek word that also has those two meanings. Apr 26, 2019 at 16:08
• 六，九，and十are not figurative numbers. Traditionally, armies were actually divided into 6 components. Nine has certain significance within Ancient Chinese philosophy, which is why it is there. Ten here actually means 100 percent. Apr 26, 2019 at 16:56
• 六軍不發無奈何 in 長恨歌 meant the entire army not six armies; 十面埋伏 means all side, not ten sides
– Tang Ho
Apr 26, 2019 at 19:58

see bkrs https://bkrs.info/slovo.php?ch=%E4%B8%87, iciba http://www.iciba.com/%E4%B8%87 for 万，used in fixed expressions: 万民,万国博览会 (world's fair),万事万物,万难(e.g.推辞),(extremely),万不可说,万能(omnipotent),天地万物,There is no god but God: 万物非主，唯有真主,

, 。。。万岁！long live 。。。！Jp. “Banzai!” e.g.全世界人民大团结万岁!毛主席万岁，万万岁！

"萬" is explained by other, for your query:

is it correct to use "万", 10000, and not something else (maybe even numerically bigger), like, "one million", "one billion"?

well, in ancient times, "億" & "兆" were used.

the modern explanation of these two are, mathematically:

certain usages:

"兆民" means "all people".

"億兆黎庶", in which "億兆" literally means hundred of million (億) of hundred of billion (兆). well, just shortcut it into "all people"

if you can read literary chinese, there're many similar usages.

the bottom line is, "千" (1,000), or "萬" (10,000) is very humble "great number", in chinese language.

• I think the info 兆 = 100 billion is incorrect, it should be 1 trillion: 兆,000,亿00,0万千,百十个 Jun 11, 2019 at 13:27
• @enrico brasil, the link i provided, had some info about 兆, in the context of chinese. i accepted it's controversial; have a look :) Jun 11, 2019 at 13:46