A number is a symbol used to record a numerical sequence; however, for a long period of time, people conferred a characteristic and culturally implied meaning to numbers, including the role of recording numbers. People in different regions and nations ...
A number is a symbol used to record a numerical sequence; however, for a long period of time, people conferred a characteristic and culturally implied meaning to numbers, including the role of recording numbers. People in different regions and nations have their own interpretations and beliefs regarding numbers. In China, especially, the use of a distinctive character system, ideograms and their cultural meanings derived from the interpretation of a relationship between the form of a character and its meaning, often reflected on numbers. Moreover, according to folk customs, the emergence of new meanings borrowed their significance from homophony, and were also transferred to numbers as linguistic events.
Inspired by this idea, the objectives of this paper focus on studying the cultural meanings of Chinese numbers, from one to ten. To achieve these objectives, I will at first present the form of ancient Chinese characters of these corresponding numbers and interpret them, which will facilitate the understanding of their original forms and meanings. Subsequently, the cultural meanings derived from these Chinese numbers will be studied via an explanation of the relationship between the original forms and meanings of Chinese numbers and their cultural and linguistic descriptions.
In the body of the text, Chinese numbers from one to ten are analyzed keeping in mind their culturally implied meanings. Added to the meaning of these numbers, the symbol for the number one contained the most simplicity and the most complexity, as well as a reference to the notion of Beginning and to the sense of ethical responsibility, including references for Entirety and Unity. The number two expressed the philosophical significance for both Yin and Yang, including a reference to the aesthetic application of duality and opposition. The number three expressed the completion of the Universe and of all beings, the nature of truth and falsehood, and the notion of increase or decrease. The number four contained the meanings for separation and union, symmetry, and death. The number five strongly expressed the meaning of the Theory of the Five Elements. The number six expressed the meaning of luck. The number seven expressed reference to literary expression and to understanding Buddhist thinking and the significance of death. The number eight contained the meanings of the separation and union of things, and of luck. The number nine expressed the meanings for the symbols of King, Eternity, and Longevity. Finally, the number ten expressed the meaning for perfection and completion. After having studied the cultural meaning of these Chinese numbers, I have reached the following conclusion:
Firstly, in many instances, the cultural meaning of Chinese numbers was influenced extensively by Chinese traditional culture. According to 《Shuowenjiezi》, , the cultural meaning of most Chinese numbers was formed as a result of the influence of Yin and Yang and the Theory of the Five Elements, which were popular at that time.
Secondly, in a number of instances, the cultural meaning of most Chinese numbers often originated from the strong ideographical form of Chinese characters and the interpretation of their meanings. For example, the numbers four and eight showed the meaning for separation respectively, depending on the meaning of the form of its characters.
Finally, there are some instances that showed the meaning of Chinese characters by means of homophonic or analogous pronunciation, depending on homophonic events. People came to avoid the number four because of its similarity of pronunciation with that of death. In some regions, the number seven was connected with death, because of its closeness to the meaning of separation. Then again, the number eight became the people’s favorite number because of the similarity of pronunciation with "facai" (to make money) in Guangdong province.