Home Features The Significance of Numbers in Cantonese

The Significance of Numbers in Cantonese

by Dr Jin Peh

It is not unusual to see luxury cars with number plates featuring ‘888’ in Asia.  In contrast however, one would be hard-pressed to find floors ending with the number four, even in new skyscrapers.  Instead, the sequence of floors will go from the third to the fifth, skipping the inauspicious level.

In fact there are many cultural and linguistic factors why certain numbers are considered auspicious and others are to be avoided at all costs.  For example the number ‘one’ not only suggests immediacy, but hastens and amplifies the effects of the numbers that follow. In Feng Shui, the number one also represents academic achievement and romance.

In Cantonese, the word for ‘two’ sounds the same as ‘ease’. When a combination of numbers starts with two, the symbolism of the numbers that follow will therefore be easily achieved. However, the implication of two in classical Feng Shui is rather bleak, as it is the number of illness and poor health. 

Phonetically, the word for ‘three’ sounds the same as ‘birth’ in Cantonese. It symbolizes new beginnings and is considered auspicious.  However in Feng Shui, three implies activity and initiative that may result in aggression if left unchecked. 

The word for ‘four’ in Cantonese sounds like the word for ‘death’. As a result, it strikes fear into Cantonese speakers and is a number to be avoided. When paired with other numbers, its negative implications can be magnified. For example, 24 sounds like ‘ease of death’.  Nevertheless some Feng Shui masters view four as the number for academic achievement and romance, and advise clients not to fear it.

The word for ‘five’ in Cantonese sounds the same as ‘lacking’ or ‘without’, so when paired with four it can negate the association with death. For instance, the number 54 suggests an enterprise will never wither or die. But in Classical Feng Shui, five is the most negative number and should be avoided at all times.

The word for ‘six’ rhymes with road and, when put with other numbers, implies one is on the path to success or calamity. Feng Shui masters also view six as a number of authority.

There is no major cultural significance associated with the number seven, although in Classical Feng Shui it is viewed both positively (communication) and negatively (robbery).

Auspicious ‘eight’ sounds the same as ‘good fortune’ and ‘wealth’ in Cantonese, which explains why it is highly sought after. Two eights together double the good luck and three treble it. Fortuitously, we are now in a 20-year Feng Shui cycle in which eight is the number of prosperity.

The number ‘nine’ suggests a sense of completion or sufficiency, with the idea that one will have enough. Depending on the numbers that follow, this can either be auspicious or inauspicious. Classical Feng Shui Masters also view nine as the number of celebrations, but are aware that it also represents fire, with an excess of it resulting in fire outbreaks.

Having examined this basic Feng Shui numerology, the significance behind certain combinations can be seen. 34 suggests birth followed by loss, 44 would be double death, 64 the road to demise and 84 good fortune followed by catastrophe.

Conversely, 168 means that one would be on the road to success, 368 denotes that one would be born on the road of success and 128 implies that one will easily attain wealth and good fortune.

The dreaded 444 triples the probability of demise, while the highly sought after 888 triples one’s happiness and luck. However, the number preceding the subsequent number can bring about the opposite effect: while 54 denotes one will not sustain any losses, 58 implies one will have not any good luck.

In view of this, perhaps the best way to circumnavigate the minefield of Chinese numerological combinations is to have a native Cantonese speaker close at hand.

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