I know a lot of Chinese characters are either a symbol of something or a combination of symbols in the space of one character, so what's the origin of the symbol for numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9? since knowing what the symbol is suppose to represent does make it much easier to remember, eg. the symbol for tree is a simplified tree branches with roots.


Some context...

I need to explain a fairly large group of people how to count from 1 to 9 in chinese, in at most 3min.

I personally memorized them fairly easily, but don't think most people have any chance in 3min to just pick them up on the spot, so is there a pattern to them (for 4 and above) that can be used to help people pick them up quickly?

I've considered teaching the Chinese 1-9 single-hand gestures as a "teaching tool" but don't know what the pattern/correlation between those is either.


To avoid confusion I'm referring to the traditional chinese numerals (modern ones are very much the same as far as I know). Not the so called "capital notation" used in checks and official documents, and not the so called "mercantile notation."

  • 1
    For the "origin", I've wrote this post before. But maybe that's not what you want.
    – Stan
    May 19, 2014 at 1:48

2 Answers 2


一二三 should be self-evident, they are equivalent to Roman numerals, that is, simple enumeration symbols.

Then it gets murky, but note that even numbers 二四六八十 are all symmetrical, whereas the odd numbers (一三)五七九 are not.

四 is defined by this symmetric property, as an even number that can be halved. 六 is actually a 四 with a dot above, using old seal script. 八 is also defined as a mirror symmetry, indicating divisibiliy.

As for 五七九, there are no good etymological derivations, they are simply symbols since long lost in origin. There are no patterns associated with these characters.

  • Thanks the symmetry trick will help a lot avoid confusion.
    – srcspider
    May 19, 2014 at 6:47

Only because you're asking about origins: (and don't take the explanations too seriously)

4: Primitive pictograph 四. Unknown origin. Originally 4 strokes. Meaning four.


5: Primitive pictograph 五. {Sears: 二 top and botom bars for of beeds on the 5+2 abacus 㐅 the separation}. Meaning 5.


6: Primitive pictograph 六. A yurt, pronounced like liu. Meaning 6.


7: Primitive pictograph 七. Originally looked like 十. Some say a modification of 乂 which meant to cut 切, which was pronounced like seven. Meaning seven.


8: Primitive pictograph 八. Two lines indicating separation. Meaning separaton. Now maning 8.


9: Primitive pictograph 九. A couple of hooks 九. Borrowed for sound to mean nine.


  • Don't think that will really help you make it easier to explain but you never know...
    – Mou某
    May 19, 2014 at 4:54
  • It helps a little bit especially on the 5 since I can just quickly build a short story to make the association in peoples heads.
    – srcspider
    May 19, 2014 at 6:46
  • your pic is broken...
    – zsf222
    May 23, 2014 at 11:54

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