In the classical 1932 American film Shanghai Express starring Marlene Dietrich, the story is going on in 1931 in China on the Beijing–Shanghai railroad, and several times in the course of the film in order to show what time it is, a very strange-looking clock is shown.
Here's how it looks like:
I know Chinese uses several sets of characters for numbers, the main two being:
- xiǎoxiě, 小寫 / 小写 (lit. ‘small writing’) for everyday writing: 一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九 十
- dàxiě, 大寫 / 大写 (lit. ‘big writing’) for use in commercial, accounting or financial contexts: 壹 貳／贰 參／叁 肆 伍 陸／陆 柒 捌 玖 拾
My question is, what's the purpose of that strange way of using the ‘small’ numbers from 3 to 7 and the ‘big’ numbers for the rest?
From what I know, the ‘big’ ones are also called the ‘official numerals’, so the best explanation I could come up with is that, since on the clock they go from 8 till 2, it could be that they mark the working hours, like the first shift works from 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. and the second one from 3 p.m. till 8 p.m., and so on. Or you work from 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. (work = official numbers) and you're free from 3 p.m. (spare time = ordinary numbers). Could that be the point?
Unfortunately, googling doesn't help, there are hundreds of images of different clock faces with Chinese numbers, but everywhere they are uniform, never split as here.