In my first few days at Peizheng, I was whisked into the China Mobile shop to set up a local cell phone number. They gave me a list of options from which to choose, and I noticed each number had a different price.
“These are unlucky numbers,” said Xie Li, the kind man helping me as he gestured toward the numbers on the bottom of the page. “They have fours in them, so they are cheaper. The more expensive numbers, like these,” he pointed to several with higher prices, “are lucky because they have a lot of eights and sixes in them.”
The number four is considered so unlucky in China that many hospitals and hotels don’t have a fourth floor. The reason being because the Chinese word for “four” (“si”) is the same as the Chinese word for “death.”
Eight (ba) and six (liu) are lucky because their pronunciation is very similar to the Chinese words for prosperity (fa) and wealth (lok), respectively. Eight is also auspicious because the number itself is symmetrical, which is to say it has perfect balance, an ideal aspect of Chinese astrology.
Numbers have long been superstitious in China, but they’re not the only things. Since that first week, when I chose a phone number that ends in four (I was on a budget!), I’ve learned from my students various other cultural beliefs. I have been surprised at some, laughed at others, and even vowed to follow one or two.
- Students should not eat eggs before an exam. Eggs are the shape of a zero, and therefore eating one before a test means they will fail the exam with a zero score.
- If a woman showers during her monthly cycle, it can cause infertility later in life.
- If one places her chopsticks directly up and down into her bowl of rice and leaves them standing, it’s said to wish death on others. (I don’t do this. Anymore.)
- One must not look in a mirror after midnight or it will cause her bad luck.
- Eating watermelon while pregnant can cause a miscarriage.
- Red is the lucky color of love.
- During the Spring Festival holiday, unmarried children receive lucky money – bills wrapped in a pretty red wrapping – from married relatives as a sign of good fortune and well wishes.
- One should never give a clock as a birthday gift. It is said to wish death on the receiver, as if to say, “Your time is ticking.” Giving a clock as a wedding present is equally bad.
- If one gifts a green hat to a married person, it is said to mean that his/her partner is cheating, or will cheat in the future.
- During the Chinese New Year, they don’t sweep their floors. Doing so will sweep away all the good fortune that is sure to come their way in the coming year.
- Eating an onion can clear your mind.
- If a woman eats cold food or drinks during her monthly cycle, it can cause her severe stomach pains.
What other Chinese superstitions have you heard about? What do you think about the few I’ve mentioned?
*Featured Image is courtesy of William Beem.