Search Icon
Home Icon

Blog

Our latest news & views

China: numbers are no game

By Josian Phillips, 

Do not underestimate the power of numbers when doing business with the Chinese. In China, numbers are taken very seriously indeed. The Number 4 could break your deal. The number 8 might just clinch it.

The basics.

  • The number 8 is considered very lucky, it sounds similar to “prosper”.
  • The numbers 9, 6 and 3 are also considered to be lucky, sounding like “forever”, “flow” and “alive”.
  • The number 4 is considered very unlucky, it sounds similar to “death”. And the number 14? Just don’t go there.

Number 8. Make it your mate.

The Chinese people seriously like the number 8. So strong are their beliefs that they deemed it necessary to bring good fortune to the Olympics by securing its octonary start time, 8.00pm on 08.08.08.

It runs deep, it is in their life, the curse or blessing of a number is in their genetic makeup. The majority of Chinese people consider and notice numbers more than Westerners can ever perceive.

Phone numbers then have particular significance. A prestigious address in the UK can be important for UK businesses, but the Chinese put as much importance on telephone numbers. When observing a business card (which should be respectfully received in 2 hands) a Chinese business person will focus on the numbers. The more 8s there are in a telephone number, the higher the perceived status of the company. Telephone numbers with 8s and 9s in them cost more, as do of course car registration plates with number 8s. Record breaking wedding rushes were seen on 08.08.08 and 09.09.09. The issue of the car plate ending in 8888 saw five men jailed trying to secure it.

A number 8 in the postal or telephone code of an area can positively boost sales to Chinese buyers. Monterey Park in California, now known as the “Chinese Beverley Hills” was successfully developed by Fred Hsieh. The key marketing tool? The area had the telephone code 818.

So the point is, use the number 8 where you can. Think of product numbers, quotes, purchase orders, invoices, and any other communication and be sure to include the number 8. It could bring your business luck!

Number 4.

Do not use it any more. On the other extreme then we have the number 4. The Chinese are positively tetraphobic. As is the majority of Asia. Any company exporting to China would be well advised to consider that the number 4 is unlucky. Very unlucky. Remember this when quoting or invoicing and consider this when purchasing telephone numbers. Try to end in an 8 or a 9. Ending in a 4 could seriously make or break in a proposal situation. And take this as far as you can, consider serial numbers, dates, apartment numbers – anything numeric. Avoid 4. The Chinese do. No military vehicles or ships have the number 4 assigned to them. They avoid number 4 on their doors and tables. They do not mention the number 4 in any form when with a poorly person, they avoid it where they can. Indeed they are so fearful of the number 4 that the recorded death rate from heart attacks peaks in Chinese people on 4th day of each month.

But if 4 means death, 14 means certain death, read right to left or left to right, certain death, failure. This is taken to the point where numbers added together, for example, 923, 95, 626, are all considered very bad luck.

Many hotels across Asia have no 4th or 14th floor (instead have 13th upper/lower), or 24th floor. Some apartment blocks even miss out floors 40 to 49. So you may go from 39/F to 50/F. This could explain a few things when you are travelling in China. Apartments on these floors are generally cheaper to purchase too. An address with the number 4 in it would be considered unlucky so best not to recommend that to prospective Chinese buyers anywhere in the world.

Take heed, don’t use the number 4 in any form when dealing with Chinese business prospects. If in any doubt at all, Brightlines is more than happy to help you, or check out our cultural tips for business for further information.

Follow us for the latest
translation news and opinions