Fingers Crossed

好运! Luck is one of the most perplexing things for foreigners about China – the number 4, the colour red, and something about a pear? However, that phrase 好运 looks oddly familiar – in fact, it’s not a new word at all, it’s two other random concepts stuck together!

I find out that 运, apart from being part of ‘运动’ (‘sport’, remember from Crusades and Sport?) is a decidedly vague concept. It can mean ‘operate’, or ‘fate’, or possibly ‘traffic’ if you want it to be. Lots of characters like to be vague like this – pick a theme and then run away from it. So 好运 could mean ‘good luck’, or perhaps it means ‘woman-child operate’.

Dictionaries have fun with characters like this as well. Google Translate (I know, I know, it’s evil, but… it can be useful ;)…!) takes a full page to list all the meanings of 运, and various other dictionaries have a full list of definitions, and alternative definitions, and more alternative definitions…


It’s easy to laugh at superstitions and luck in other cultures, but superstition is pretty ingrained in everyone – Friday 13th anyone? China does seem to win the race on how far it’s taken – the number 4 (四 – sì) and death (死 – sǐ) sound pretty similar, so hospital wards are rarely numbered 4, and phone numbers with a 4 in them (a pretty big proportion of phone numbers suddenly forbidden!) cost the least.

Numbers are a great superstition, and Chinese has decided to branch out a little. 8 (八 – bā) sounds a little like 发 (fā) which loosely means ‘to accumulate wealth’, and suddenly 8 is one of the luckiest numbers around. Beijing even started their Olympics (not that they had much say in this, but…) at 8:08 pm, on 8/8/08.

Things I’ve learned this week:

  • 运 means, well, anything you want it to
  • 4 sounds a little bit like death, so… let’s abolish the number!
  • 8 sounds even less like wealth, but let’s love it anyway. And, why not.

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