In China and countries where different varieties of Chinese are spoken, the number eight—baat3 in Cantonese (八)—is considered extremely auspicious (gat1 lei6 吉利) because of the similarity in sound to “making a fortune” (faat3 發). In addition to homophonic references, the number 88 also bears resemblance to the character “double happiness” (hei2 囍), adding a visual element to the numerology of the number eight.
In our last article we mentioned that Chinese people go to great lengths to avoid instances of the number four because it is homophonous to the word for death. When it comes to eight, people will actually go to great lengths to incorporate the number into their daily lives, believing it brings them luck. For example, flights to and from China or Hong Kong often include the number eight in their flight number: the Cathay Pacific route from Vancouver to Hong Kong is Flight CX888, the KLM route from Hong Kong to Amsterdam is Flight KL888, and the United Airlines route from Beijing to San Francisco is Flight UA888.
Chinese people also reference numerology in more significant events, the most notable being the time and date of the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which began on August 8, 2008—8/8/8—at eight minutes and eight seconds past 8pm local time (UTC+08). There is some speculation that, following the loss of its bid for the 2000 Olympic Games, China purposely did not join in the bid for the 2004 Olympics due to its inauspicious connotations, favouring instead the auspicious year of 2008.
The number eight is considered so lucky, in fact, that people are willing to pay extra money for it. For example, many will pay extra for a telephone number or a car registration plate with the digit 8 in it; the telephone number +86 28 8888 8888 was sold to Sichuan Airlines for over 2,000,000 yuan. They may also pay a higher price to live on the eighth, 18th or 28th floor, just to name a few. Numbers with multiple instances of eight, for example 88, 188 or 888, are considered even more lucky than a single digit 8, and are highly sought after in both trivial matters and important events.
Pricing practices in the Chinese-speaking world also reflect this numerology. Shops around the world will often make use of psychological pricing in order to trick consumers into thinking goods are cheaper than they are; something that could be sold for $5 may be priced at $4.99, for instance, which consumers have a habit of rounding down. In Hong Kong, that same item may be instead priced at $4.88, which has the impact of seeming both lucky and affordable.
Next time you’re around in the shops or on the streets, look out for the number eight being sprinkled in all areas of our lives to bring luck to the mundane – it occurs more than you might think.
Note: Cantonese romanisation in this article is based on the jyutping system, which uses numbers to correspond to the six main tones in Cantonese.