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What does the number 13 in Western culture and the number 4 in Chinese culture have in common?

Are you a superstitious person? Refuse to walk under a ladder or on the cracks on the pavement? How about opening an umbrella inside? We are all familiar with the common superstitions said to bring a person a future stream of bad luck. Whether you believe in them or not, superstitions can hold a lot of influence over a culture. Being aware of these superstitions can help you to avoid any mistakes or awkward mishaps when dealing with new cultures in business or travel.

This Friday is Friday 13th. A day considered to be the unluckiest day of the year in western society. A day that generates so much unease, there is now a specific word for the fear of Friday 13th, Paraskavedekatriaphobia!

But where does this superstition come from? Like many superstitions it is hard to pin point the exact origin or reasoning behind Friday the 13th. Many believe this superstition began with the Knights of Templar in 1307, when the French King accused the order of heresy and on the morning of Friday the 13th the Knights were arrested, tortured and killed, forever sealing the fate of this day as the unluckiest day of the year.

Knights of Templar

However, historically in Britain, Friday was also known as Hangman day. Anyone who had been convicted of a crime was executed on Friday and so Fridays were seen as a bad or unlucky day. The number 13 has carried the bad luck omen for generations. Some believe the number 13 is unlucky, as it takes 13 witches to make up a coven. Others, believe that it relates back to Christ and his 12 apostles, the last supper and his betrayal by Judas, (leading to the idea that you should never have 13 people sitting round a table for dinner.)These varied belief systems has led to those who believe that it is the combination of these two elements, the luckless number 13 and the tragic hangman’s day that resulted in Friday 13th, the ultimate day of bad luck.

last supper

Although origin of this superstition is open for debate, the effects it has had on western culture is not. Friday 13th has titled many a horror book and movie as well as widely remaining the last choice of date for arranging life events such as weddings or business meetings.

But western cultures are not the only cultures to associate certain numbers with bad luck. Numbers carry a huge importance in Chinese culture. While many numbers such as 8 and 12 are seen as lucky numbers there is one number that is avoided as much as possible in China, the number 4.

But why? The origin of this superstition is far easier to grasp. The number 4 (pronounced si, 四) in Mandarin Chinese also sounds like the word, death (死), which is also pronounced (si). These two characters although when written on paper look nothing alike and are easy to distinguish, when spoken sound almost the same. As a result, the Chinese believe that the number 4 is the unluckiest of all the numbers.

Similar to western cultures (wanting to avert bad luck), the Chinese avoid using the number 4 where ever is possible. Often, in buildings or hotels they will avoid having a 4th floor or any room/apartment number with the number 4 in it. Properties that do contain a 4 in the address tend to go for a lower price, while similarly those with including lucky numbers, 8,  will go for a higher price. Elevator buttons, license plates, even prices for products or services will all try to avoid using the number 4 wherever possible. So, if you’re ever standing in an elevator in China and think that the Chinese can’t count, there is another explanation.

If your traveling to China to do business, understanding these elements of Chinese culture are highly valuable to ensuring a healthy and productive relationship. Numbers as well as number combinations carry a huge amount of significance and superstition in Chinese culture. It is an important factor to be considered. If your traveling for pleasure then understanding these elements will similarly help you better connect with the people and their culture, allowing you to make the most out of your time there.

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