The sound of the number 8 is a reason Chinese are obsessed with it
“Yao de fa, bu li ba” (If you want to be wealthy, don’t be without the number 8) - Mandarin Chinese saying
It’s amazing what a little rhyme can do to set a tradition.
Eight is the magic number - or, at least, the propitious numeral - in Chinese culture that sets up opportunities of great fortune. “Ba” (8), sounds like “fa” (prosperity and good fortune). In Cantonese, it’s “bat” and “fat.” The more 8s, the better, so it’s no surprise that tomorrow’s opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing will start at 8 p.m. China time, 8 minutes and 8 seconds after the hour, on Aug. 8, 2008.
This is China’s grand coming-out party, an auspicious occasion for a developing Asian power that wants to show off its immense resources - namely its people and strong work ethic.
But it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets, in light of the human rights issues surrounding Tibet and the tragic May earthquake in Sichuan.
It’s been reported that the original starting date for the Summer Games was July 25. Chinese officials, however, told the International Olympics Committee that the weather wouldn’t be at its best - too hot, with the threat of rain creating muggy conditions. OK, how about August? Well, not too late in the month, as American networks start turning their attention to the start of the lucrative professional football season. Ah, then Aug. 8 would be a “perfect” compromise date.
The number 8 in popular culture:
The song “Lose Yourself” from Eminem’s gritty movie “Eight Mile” won the Academy Award in 2003. Federico Fellini made a classic movie titled “81⁄2” with Marcello Mastroianni in 1963. It won two Oscars. “Eight Below” focused on a team of explorers and scientists in frigid conditions barely surviving their mission with their sled dogs. “Eight Miles High” detailed the life of a German supermodel in the 1960s and early ’70s. Then there’s the little remembered Samuel L. Jackson movie “One Eight Seven.” But who could forget Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in “48 Hours”? And, of course, don’t forget David Arquette and Scarlett Johansson in “Eight Legged Freaks.” — Katherine Nichols
In addition to its sound-alike connection with financial success, 8 is important in Chinese history and folklore - in stories about the eight fairies who represent the attributes of loyalty, filial love, benevolence, love, faith, virtue, peace and harmony, for example.
“There are about 50 pages in the Chinese dictionary with about 500 phrases, relating to the number 8,” said Philip T.Y. Wang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.
IT WOULD be easy to write this all off as superstition - but there is a method to all of this that’s deeply rooted in China’s past.
It’s more than just a phonetic connotation, said Laisin Lee, longtime host of the “Splendor Era” Cantonese-language news magazine radio show on KNDI AM, as well as founding president of the National Hong Kong Business Association and current president of the Hawaii International Real Estate Council.
She said it’s all based on the study of the interactive relationship between nature and humans, as observed by Taoist philosophers using the “I Ching,” or “Book of Changes,” as its foundation.
“The book uses eight trigrams that stand for changing transitional states in nature and related human attributes,” she said, “and it’s through meticulous cosmological and mathematical calculations that such a belief comes.”
Lee also said that feng shui - the ancient practice of manipulating the energies of nature to promote a harmonious environment - also comes into play. An authentic and sophisticated form of the art, called Flying Star Feng Shui, shows we’re in the midst of a particularly fortunate economic period, especially for Asian countries.
“It works in 16-year cycles, using the lunar calendar,” she said, “and the last cycle, the seventh one, ended in 2004. When the eighth period started in February of that year, it meant enhanced wealth and good luck for the East, as reflected in what’s happened economically in India and China.”
ALL OF THIS provides justification for the continued pursuit of wealth and prosperity. Besides a lucky license plate number, “in Hong Kong, you want to get as many 8s to make a lucky cell-phone number or apartment number,” Lee said. (In the spirit of disclosure, this reporter considers himself lucky, thanks to his condominium number of 1610 - when the numerals are added together, the tally is 8.)
“Believing in this brings a certain level of comfort to our minds,” Lee said, “and helps carry us through hard times.”
Staff writer John Berger contributed to this report.