Number 4 carries a bad rep in many Asian cultures
By John Berger
Eight may be lucky, but half of 8 isn’t half as lucky - it’s downright unlucky.
In Chinese tradition, as well as in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, the number 4 is almost universally considered the un-luckiest of all. The root of that fear? In many Chinese dialects, the pronunciation of “four” and “death” are almost the same.
The number 8 in popular culture:
In celebration of the Olympics in China beginning on 08-08-08, Hennessy has created a limited-edition cognac gift package.
A 750-milliliter bottle of Hennessy 888 X.O. is available with two Hennessy Baccarat crystal glasses in a red and gold gift box at SWAM (Shiroma’s Wine and More) in Pearl City for $158.88 — less than the bottle of Hennessy X.O. alone. The eights on the box (not the bottle, by the way) might even help the high-end cognac go down a bit more smoothly. — Katherine Nichols
Whereas Western buildings may not have a 13th floor, Asian buildings may not have a fourth floor, or even a 14th floor, as 14 also contains the dreaded sound of “death.” Product lines may skip a 4 series, and phone numbers and license plates with 4s in them are avoided.
It’s even been said that Chinese and Chinese-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to die of heart-related causes on the “unlucky” fourth of the month - presumably due to the increased psychological stress caused by the “death” day.
But that’s apparently based on anecdotal information and nothing more. A medical research team in Hong Kong tracked cardiac deaths between 1995 and 2000 on “lucky” and “unlucky” days on both Western and Chinese calendars and found no correlation either way.
But there’s other bad karma associated with the number 4: Mao Tse-tung waged a ruthless war against traditional Chinese culture during his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, sending Red Guard mobs to destroy anything they deemed representative of the “Four Olds” - old culture, old customs, old habits and old ideas.
The result was a social and cultural disaster for almost everyone but Mao.
But because nothing is ever simple, the number is actually considered lucky in parts of China where it sounds the same as the word “business” or “job” in the local dialect.
Philip T.Y. Wang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, notes that the symmetry of 4 is often found in sets of paintings that representing the four seasons and the plants associated with them - plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo.
Sometimes depicted in a single painting, the set of four plants represents a consistently active and productive life. That’s good, despite the negative connotations of the number.