Brian's Blogs

"555"! Beijing has applied "4" to the "88" brigade!

The news that Beijing is to prohibit the selective avoidance of "unlucky" numbers in the registration of addresses is, in my opinion, well overdue, and something that many cities and communities in the West could well emulate. From September 1st, the numbers of storied buildings, units and door plates will need to be coded and registered in numerical order with no skipping or selective use of numbers allowed for the setting of building name plates and door number plates.

This latest move appears to target deeply entrenched practices stemming from Chinese numerology which reflects superstitious beliefs that some numbers are innately "lucky" while others have an "unlucky" connotation. Though these superstitions can be found across the world, the Chinese in particular appear to have got numerology down to a fine art.

In particular, it is widely believed that because the number "four" sounds almost the same as the word for "death" in Mandarin, it is an extremely unlucky number; whilst it is well known that some Chinese are willing to pay extra to register car plates or phone numbers containing the number "eight" since it sounds similar to the words for "making a fortune" or "prosperity" in both Mandarin and Cantonese. It was no coincidence that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, for example, officially began at eight minutes past eight p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month in 2008.

It was the French 18th century philosopher Voltaire who famously declared that "Prejudices are what fools use for reason"; and Henry Ford who opined that "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it".

And how right they both were! I looked up the dictionary definition of 'superstition' and read that it is "To believe in spite of evidence or without evidence; to account for one mystery by another; to believe that the world is governed by chance or caprice; and to disregard the true relation between cause and effect."

Yet despite a clear absence of any reason, a man in Hangzhou offered to sell his license plate reading A88888 for RMB 1.12 million, while a telephone number with all digits being eights was sold for US$270,723 in Chengdu. Even the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia each have 88 floors, which surely can not have been a mere coincidence!

It's just as crazy in the West with the number 13 being particularly unlucky for some. Going back a few years, both Friday and the number 13 were once closely associated with capital punishment in Britain. Friday was the conventional day for public hangings, and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose. The fear of Friday the 13th even has its own special name: Friggatriskaidekaphobia (from Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom "Friday" is named and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

So over in Europe, more than 80 percent of high-rises lack a 13th floor, most airports have no Gate 13, airplanes have no 13th aisle, hotels rarely have a room number 13, and the Italians even omit the number 13 from their national lottery.

It's crazy … isn't it? And yet, just four years ago in the Netherlands the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics stated that "fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home. Statistically speaking, driving is slightly safer on Friday the 13th; and Dutch insurers received reports of an average 7,800 traffic accidents each Friday; but the average figure when the 13th fell on a Friday was just 7,500."

And there was I thinking that it was just some cynical airline marketers who thought up the flight numbers for Air Canada, KLM, United Airlines, Air Astana and Qatar Air – to name but a few – as AC88, KL888, UA888, KC888 and QR888 when flying in or out of Beijing or Shanghai, while many of the Chinese air operators omit the number 4 from their flight numbers.

And while in cynical mood, perhaps it's not so far fetched to think that there could be bargains to be had by anyone willing to purchase a house or apartment in Beijing after September that has a '4' in its title.

It really is a strange world, but numerology is surely no worse than so many of the horrific things that are done across the world in the name of religion, which – at risk of upsetting a great many people – could be argued as being just superstition under a different name?

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