Numbers and Omens
There is a set of famous streets in Gaoxiong City in Taiwan, China, which all begin with numbers. They are Yixin(One Heart), Ersheng(Two Sacreds), Sanduo (Three Mores),Siwei(Four Upholds), Wufu(Five Fortunes), Liuhe(Six Realm), Qixian(Seven Virtues), Bade(Eight Moral Precepts), Jiuru(Nine Wishes), and Shiquan (Perfect Ten) streets. This sequence of auspicious street names gives people a warm feeling when they hear it, and bring more than a little luck to the residents.
Many foreign visitors can’t help but exclaim that the Chinese are really creative, and can line numbers up so “auspiciously”.
Chinese not only use numbers to appeal for good fortune, they also bring them out to chew people out: “You 250[fool], you do things neither three or four [without any order or out of touch], and still you dare to say that I’m 13 points [stupid] and 3-8 [scatterbrained].”
Although it isn’t really possible to know where these came from, one thing is for sure: numbers are intimately related to the daily life of Chinese!
Origins in the Book of Changes
In antiquity, people kept tallies by trying knots, and only employed numbers and words later on.
From natural phenomena and life experience, people came to recognize the signs of change in a particular matter. For example, there was the ancients’ saying that “if the moon has a halo it will be windy, and a damp plinth foretells rain.” It is inevitable that there will be misfortune in life, so people began to adopt ways to attract the auspicious and expel the malicious. Add to this that people have psychological activity and the ability to link things together in their minds, and a whole set of auspiciousness-attracting and evil-expelling habits took shape.
The I Ching or Book of Changes is a compilation which records the experience of people in ancient times with luck and divination. In the Book of Changes, each number has some significance: one is the tai-ji or “great supreme”, two is the “two rituals”, three is for the “three powers”, four for the “four directions”, five is for the “five pathway”, six stands for the “six realm’, seven for the “seven rules of government”, eight means the “eight trigrams”, nine is for the “nine chains”, and ten is the ten depictions”.
We often say “three yang make good fortune”to describe the hope that misfortune will be held at bay and good luck will follow. It is a saying often used at the New Year and symbolizes a new beginning and finds its origins in the Book of Changes. Yang is the positive force and there is enormous Yang and very weak Yin (Negative force) in the first, second, and third of the nine trigrams. So the three Yang are very positive.
Someone feels that numbers have no connection with fortune good or ill, says that the only significance numbers have is what people ascribe to them. Trying to say that a given number is either auspicious or ominous is mere superstition.
Still, unlike the Western sensitivity to the number 13, Chinese have a whole