Beliefs about Numbers in Ancient China

I decided to write a post about a Chinese fun fact today and having no ideas, I Goggled it. What caught my eyes was number superstition. So today I am going to trace back the beliefs about numbers (or rather single digits since I want to limit the scope of this post) in ancient China:

One: there is no superstition around this number per se, but it was regarded as the ‘mother of all creatures’ due to the section in the famous Taoist text by the philosopher Lao Zi which gave a theory of how the world was born which said ‘The Way gave birth to One, One gave birth to Two, Two gave birth to Three, Three gave birth to Everything.”

Two: online sources would say this is considered a lucky number in Chinese due to the saying “good things come in twos.” I’ve traced back this idiom back to a modern biography about a late Qing or Manchurian dynasty merchant/government official. Therefore, I conclude that there is no superstition around the number 2 per se. 

Three: as far as I can make out, ancient Chinese seem to use three in an abstract rather than concrete sense such that three is often a synonym for many. 

Four: I think this is more modern superstition as opposed to coming from ancient times and it’s probably more prevalent in Hong Kong (well, I cannot really speak for mainland China, I was born in Shanghai but I only spent my pre-primary school years there and I only started remembering things at the age of 5). In essence, four and death sounds a bit similar in Chinese. 

Five: Except for its relation to the Five Elements or Wu Xing, a geomancy/Feng shui concept from the I Ching or Book of Changes, a text for fortune telling, this number does not have much meaning

Six: There was an ancient text that related the sixth of June on the Chinese calendar to smoothness and so six was considered a lucky number 

Seven: I can’t really track down why this number would be considered lucky. I personally can see why it would considered unlucky, though: July according to the Chinese calendar contains the Ghost Festival and accordingly, July is considered the Ghost Month

Eight: Apparently, why this is considered lucky actually has a root in ancient times. This surprised me- I thought it was like 4, based upon similarity of its sound to a verb in Cantonese which means attaining a fortune. But apparently, its roots comes from Taoism in which eight represents wholeness and completeness given that its founding text, the Book of Changes, is based upon eight trigrams and the eight cardinal directions also represents the whole universe in Taoism spatial conception. 

Nine: This is a number traditionally associated with the Emperor, partly because it is the highest single digit. In particular, ancient China was conceptualised as Nine Provinces (Chiu Chou), the Emperor wears a robe featuring a dragon with nine-toed claws whereas his brother and cousins can only wear robes featuring dragons with claws that have less toes than nine etc. 

The Meaning of Happiness

Happiness has a slightly different meaning for everyone. Recently I had this really resonant one that came to me (or rather it was a rediscovery, I think I re-discover things a lot. I’ve recently thought about my core personality and it hadn’t changed from when I was a teenager) so I thought it worthwhile to record it here. 

So what is my personal definition for happiness? I can basically sum it up in exactly four words: loving what I love. Coincidentally, its Chinese equivalent is also exactly four Chinese characters and the wording would be more or less identical. 

So what does loving what I love entail exactly? For me, it’s the following 3 things:

  1. Loving myself every day
  2. Doing what I love every day
  3. Loving who I love every day

I am a simple person who has simple pleasures and having the above already makes me full. Once in a while, I get a bit more ambitious than usual and my mood goes up and down. But this personal definition of happiness is my anchor and brings me back every time. 

And how does my current life tally? I’m hitting it on all 3 counts. Upon reflection, I tend to hit it on all 3 counts for most of my life so far. And I hope that I will continue to keep this in my sight and continue hitting it on all 3 counts in the future. 

That’s my short share for today. Feel free to let me know in comments if you feel up to sharing your own definition of happiness. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- June 2020

Desecration by J.F Penn

I think it’s a solid work, with a clipping pace and it’s a nice plot-driven detective mystery which is always to my preference. The book delves into a very dark theme but that’s okay, I can handle it.

A murder was announced by Christie Agatha

As a Christie Agatha mystery, I think it’s a solid work. That means short chapters, a clipping pace and a classical plot with a twist. And I think that’s enough said. 

Terrier by Tamora Pierce

I read Bloodhound first and liked it and always meant to read the rest of the series and that’s how I came to pick this up- book 1 of the Beka Cooper series. I’m not disappointed with Beka (somehow I only like about half of Pierce’s main characters, Beka happens to be one of them) and the diary structure works fine with the book.

Taken by the Flood by Christie Agatha

I’m a bit dumbfounded as I’m writing this because now my impression of this book is completely taken up by how apt this book is titled- the original quote from which the title is taken is explained in the story (quite naturally) and that’s all I could think of now. But overall I liked the story. 

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu 

I am still reading this right now. This is my second go at it- when I read it last year, the Japanese sounding character names made me jump out of the story and I could not quite get into the main character for the series (my interest lay in the other key characters). I think to sum it up, I felt alienated, as a Chinese who knew about the rough historical details on which this book was based, reading it. 

This time I started by skipping over the first couple chapters that I’ve read before and I think I’m fine. I still get bored for about 1 chapter early on where the events in the novel completely coincided with real history with only a minor spin on it to suit the story. But I think the story grew on me as it unfolds. You will get to hear more about the book in my Sept book discovery.

Moonlake’s writing updates- June 2020

I’ve recently discovered that the story in my WIP is actually larger than it currently is. Furthermore, I feel like my handle on the key structural elements of my story is not yet solid. So what this means is that I’m starting to feel that it might be awhile before I can actually finish this book 1, with lots of back and forth between outlining and drafting. 

Given this and my only working half-days, I’m starting to feel a lack of efficiency or productivity in my writing. So I’ve lately gone back to writing some article in prose for that site I used to frequent (it used to be my writer’s home but I fell out of love with it at the same time as I broke off from the epub; I started working on a submission for it these two weeks). But that isn’t novel writing and I feel it doesn’t hone my novel writing skills. 

So I’m playing with this idea of doing a side project, a story that can be told in episodes that I can post as a serial here on my blog. I only have rough ideas but I thought I might like to write in first person for a female main character. Why? Both my WIP and my tentative next project (that story about grandmother, mother and daughter) have female main characters and yet I’ve always felt female characters come harder to me to write. So I figure it’s good to get plenty of practice. As for first person, somehow third-person comes more naturally to me (I think that’s because I’m an outliner and I always outline in the God-seeing viewpoint) but I’ve been told before that my first person passages are actually powerful. So I thought it would be good to develop something else in my writer’s repertoire. 

And that’s all for today. Let me chew on the serial story some more. I will keep all of you informed.