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I was watching a 西游记 adaptation from Little Fox Chinese and I've come across a sentence with numbers I can't quite understand. I read the translation but yet it doesn't make sense:

"观音菩萨吃惊地看着信使。“是什么问题?”观音菩萨问。 “是关于唐僧的。”信使说,

“为了成佛,他得经历九九八十一难。我刚才看了一下他经历的劫难。<<<<

Guanyin looked at the messenger in surprise. "What is the problem?" she asked. "It's about the Tang Monk," said the messenger. "To become a buddha,he needs to face 81 challenges. I was just looking at the list of challenges he's faced."

This sentence 他得经历九九八十一难 doesn't make any sense to me, even worse when I look at the translation.

九九八十一 for me it looks like > 99811  How did it become "81" ??? (as seen in the translation)

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It is from 'Multiplier table'

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Normally, saying 81 days is enough, saying 九九八十一 emphasize nine circles of nine days periods

The most commonly quoted Multiplier table phrase is 七七四十九日 (7x7=49). emphasize seven circles of seven days periods. Because traditionally Chinese believe after a person died, his soul would go through a procedure every seventh day, until the seventh seventh day. After that, the fate of his soul is determined and the mourning period is over

As for the nine days cycles, Nine is a significant number for Chinese, it represent 'infinity' among other things

为了成佛,他得经历(九九)八十一难

In order to become a Buddha, he had to go through (nine sets of nine) eighty one catastrophes/ challenges

I presume each set of nine is harder than the previous set of nine

Another commonly quoted one is .三七二十一 (3x7=21) As in "不管三七二十一" (meaning 'no matter what')

Also there is a saying :三三不盡六六無窮 (3x3 and 6x6 represent 'endless, infinite')

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  • Amazing answer. Couldn't be better. 非常谢谢您 Apr 8 '20 at 1:49
  • I would only like to ask: instead of saying: 九的九倍 Can I simply say "九九" to convey the same meaning? Apr 8 '20 at 1:51
  • 九九 means 81, not 九十九(99). Example 九九之數(number of 9x9) . But in day to day speech, people usually have to say 九九八十一 for dramatic effect, Most common way to say '9x9' is '九乘九'
    – Tang Ho
    Apr 8 '20 at 1:56
  • Oh, now I get it. I'll memorize this chart you provided me then. One last thing: So 九乘九 is more common than 九的九倍? I'm enrolled in an HSK 4 course and they teach us only to use 倍 for multiplication. Apr 8 '20 at 2:01
  • 九的九倍是81 (9 times of 9 is 81) or 九乘九是81 ( 9 times 9 is 81) or 九乘九等于81 (9 times 9 equal 81) are the same. Most of the time people would say the second or the third one
    – Tang Ho
    Apr 8 '20 at 2:05

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