BEIJING, May 20 -- Call it an obsession, infatuation or what you will.
But for any newcomer to China it won't take long to find out how madly in love
the people are with lucky numbers.
From the day they are born to the day they move into
the realm of the afterlife, for many Chinese, gathering auspicious numbers is a
way of life.
The unflinching faith in "lucky" numbers can be found
everywhere: From gift money given on birthdays and red packets distributed every
Spring Festival (in sets of two for a stronger effect), to the apartment, floor
and even street numbers where people live, to the amount of "thank you" money
paid by the groom to his fiancee's bridesmaids on their wedding day.
Traditionally, the upper class in Hong Kong spend
huge amounts of money at auctions for precious "lucky" registration numbers for
their cars. Held regularly since they were first introduced in 1973, these
licence plate sales draw huge crowds, including the city's rich and famous, who
want to secure their wealth by driving around with a stamp of approval from the
gods of fortune.
With the nation's economy creating a prosperous
middle class, especially in the Pearl River Delta region, Guangzhou is now
getting in on the act.
The Guangzhou Enterprises, Mergers and Acquisitions
Service (GEMAS) just held its own licence plate auction last weekend, the first
since the previous "number selection payments" scheme was abolished in September
2004 due to controversy.
The auction raised more than 8.2 million yuan
(US$1.03 million), said Li Zhengxi, GEMAS general manager.
"People are mostly interested in plates that have the
numbers six or eight because they believe these numbers will bring them good
The highest price paid at the two-day auction was for
plate number AW6666, which was bought for 272,000 yuan (US$34,000) by an
anonymous bidder on behalf of a motorcycle dealership in Zengcheng, Guangzhou.
Some see social benefits.
A woman surnamed Sun, after buying plate number
PC888, said she made the purchase "because I know the money will be used for
infrastructure, which is good for society."
Hong Kong auctions, usually held once every two
weeks, have been bringing in record returns in recent months, partly because of
the region's resurgent economy.
In the past three months, someone paid HK$150,000
(US$19,345) for the number 566.
In February, a woman surnamed Chau paid HK$1.5
million (US$193,450) for 123. It was rumoured to be on behalf of actor Jackie
Chan, who hails from Hong Kong, because the numbers suggest "strong, easy
living" and because of the connection to the birthdays of his wife and son.
Hong Kong tycoon Albert Yeung Sau Shing is still the
all-time champion, though. He paid a whopping HK$13 million (US$1.67 million)
for the number 9 for his licence plate in 1994.
That mere numbers are generating such high returns
does not surprise local feng shui practitioner and Chinese numerologist Raymond
Lo, who says that numbers, at least for believers, hold the key to a harmonious
In Hong Kong, proceeds from the auctions go to the
Government Lotteries Fund, which are shared by charities such as International
Social Services, which provide services to disadvantaged families, and Po Leung
Kuk, which benefits youth groups.
Auction proceeds go to charities
"We received around HK$45 million from the auctions
in 2004-05," said Raymond Yip, an officer for the fund. "Money raised from the
auctions is spent in different areas, especially to buy furniture or carry out
renovations at NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that provide welfare
services. It also provides funding for youth programmes, especially pilot
schemes that are innovative in nature."
In Guangzhou, the money from the GEMAS auction is
used for public works projects and to secure aid for victims of traffic
"All of the money will be turned over to the Bureau
of Finance, and (part) will be used to improve Guanghzou's traffic
infrastructure," Li said.
That's not all. The craze for lucky numbers even
extends to phone numbers. In 2002, Hong Kong's Office of the Telecommunications
Authority proposed a scheme to allow special mobile and other telephone numbers
to be made available, at a cost, under its Special Number Arrangement.
The scheme is yet to take off, but operators were
given permission to bid for specific number "blocks," which they could make
available to the subscribers. And again, proceeds go to charity.
The Chinese mainland's 11-digit mobile phone numbers
make grasping luck a little more difficult. Although some view multiple eights
or nines as a must, to others it's all just a game.
'Just a game'
"I don't believe in these kind of things," said Penny
Guo, who works as a trader for a large import-export company in Dongguan,
Guo, who says her friends are also "practical,"
believes "lucky numbers are for the old and rich or for very young girls. Even
my parents don't believe in such things.
"Paying extra for a 'lucky' number is a waste (of
money), and I do not believe numbers will bring luck. I am happy if I can get an
eight or nine in my phone number, but I don't care if I don't. People think 888
or 999 at the end of the [phone] number will bring luck, but I will not pay for
"What I get does not depend on any number. It depends
on my effort."
For Feng Xie, who lives and works in Shenzhen, it's
more important to avoid unlucky numbers than to chase good ones.
Feng, a 26-year-old professional, says that although
she doesn't have any faith in numbers specifically, she still avoids anything to
do with the number four, and would not feel comfortable with that number in her
mobile phone number or address. Most Chinese regard it unlucky because "four"
sounds too close to "death" in Chinese.
It's unlikely that you'd find such scepticism in
number-obsessed Hong Kong, where there is a whole host of activities where
numbers are important, one social commentator says.
"Whether it is Chinese New Year, on wedding days, or
any important event, there are numbers and dates that are important," said
William Tan, a well-known fashion designer and one of the city's best-known
The amount of money given on New Year or as a gift
from a couple should always be even and distributed in pairs, he said.
On a couple's wedding day, the husband should give
"sisters' money" to the sisters and bridesmaids of the bride, when he goes to
pick the bride up. The amount given should be a multiple of three or eight, for
example HK$8,888, he said.
For major events, such as graduation, moving houses
or opening up a new business, Tan suggests using the Tung Shing or "lucky
almanac" to see which date is suitable for the occasion.
"Lucky dates will include three, six, eight or nine,"
Those who still aren't convinced of the power of
numbers might want to consider 9.9. That's the year-on-year percentage growth in
China's gross domestic product in 2005, making the nation the world's
best-performing economy for at least the past 10 years, and up from the growth
recorded in 2004 which, needless to say, was 9 per cent.
(Source: China Daily)