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Navigating the Superstition of Number 4 in Chinese Culture: Understanding and Mitigating Its Negative Connotations

by Aaron Isaacs 0 Comments

In the rich tapestry of Chinese cultural symbolism, numbers play a significant role, each carrying its own set of connotations. While many numbers are celebrated for their auspicious meanings, the number 4 (四, sì) is often regarded with apprehension due to its phonetic similarity to the word for "death" (死, sǐ) in Mandarin. This association imbues the number 4 with negative implications, influencing everything from architectural design to daily life decisions. This blog explores the cultural perceptions of the number 4 in Chinese tradition, its impact, and ways to mitigate its perceived misfortune.

The Cultural Perception of Number 4 The aversion to the number 4 is predominantly based on its sound-alike quality to "death," making it a symbol of bad luck, especially in contexts related to health, prosperity, and longevity. This has led to its omission in floor numbers of buildings, room numbers, and even in selecting dates for important events. The phenomenon, known as tetraphobia, is not exclusive to China but is also observed in other East Asian cultures.

Impact on Society and Culture The superstition surrounding the number 4 has tangible impacts on architectural and business practices. Many buildings in China and in Chinese communities worldwide skip the fourth floor, going directly from the third to the fifth. Similarly, products, vehicle license plates, and phone numbers that contain multiple 4s are often avoided, reflecting the deep-seated cultural apprehension towards this number.

Mitigating the Negative Connotations

  1. Use of Homophones: One common method to counteract the negativity associated with the number 4 is the use of homophones or words with similar sounds but positive meanings. For example, the word for "fortune" (福, fú) can be used to create a positive association, such as in decorations or gifts.

  2. Combining with Auspicious Numbers: Pairing the number 4 with numbers considered lucky in Chinese culture, such as 8 (八, bā) for prosperity, can dilute its negative impact. For instance, the combination of 48 can be seen as "prosperity despite death," turning a negative into a potentially positive meaning.

  3. Emphasizing Positive Aspects: Focusing on the positive attributes and achievements associated with the number 4 can help shift perceptions. For example, in sports or competitions, being ranked fourth can be celebrated as a significant accomplishment.

  4. Cultural Education: Increasing awareness about the cultural context and origins of superstitions surrounding the number 4 can help people understand its historical significance and possibly reduce unfounded fears.

Conclusion While the superstition surrounding the number 4 in Chinese culture presents challenges, it also offers insights into the complexities of cultural symbolism and the power of language. By employing creative mitigations and fostering a deeper understanding of cultural traditions, it is possible to navigate the negative connotations of the number 4, transforming apprehension into an opportunity for cultural engagement and reinterpretation.


  • Tetraphobia in Architectural Design: An Examination of Cultural Influence in Building Practices.
  • The Power of Numbers in Chinese Culture: An Analysis of Numerology and Cultural Symbolism.

Understanding and addressing the superstitions surrounding the number 4 reflects the broader dynamics of cultural respect, adaptation, and evolution.

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