It was 2017 when I first heard “666” in my classroom. I was taken aback! My sweet students were shaking their fists with their thumb and pinky out, chanting “six six six” in English at their classmates doing a grammar racing game on the chalk board. I left class that day feeling bemused and more than a little perplexed. After this initial observation, I began noticing 666’s positioned seemingly randomly around town. Pretty sure not everyone was a Satanist, I set out to investigate what was going on.
Why the Triple Six?
Much like saying something is “lit” or “dope” in the West for something really cool, the number 666 in China is used to refer to something awesome or is shouted as an encouragement to do your best (like saying 加油 jiā yóu！ cow cow cow/niu niu niu 牛牛牛！or even the Chinglish word “fighting!” as my student love to say).
Six was already considered a lucky number in China, as are the numbers 8 and 9, and tripling a lucky number makes it even more lucky in Chinese. However, the use of 666 as a popular expression originates on social media with online gamers, specifically League of Legend players, according to Chinese search engine Baidu.
Those who game can understand not wanting waste time typing out long formal text. Every second counts! Typing in Chinese is even extra time consuming as it entails a step where you have to either type in the number of strokes it takes to handwrite a word or the pinyin (alphabetized sounds) of what you want to say, and then choose the correct character. Gamers, essentially wanting to type the word “溜liū,” which colloquially means awesome or amazing, would shorten their message to the number six (六liù) since it’s a homophone. Tripling it added even more emphasis.
The hand gesture for saying the number six in Chinese looks a lot like the Hawaiian shaka sign adopted by Western surfing culture as a symbol for “hang loose.” The first time I tried using it in class to encourage students, I was met with applause and cheers. I think, from then on, my popularity soared and I was seen as more of a cool teacher!
Religion in China
Nowadays, 666 is everywhere from store fronts to baby’s jackets. I currently have a bunch of cute 666 emojis and stickers, shown in the first photo, to use on social media for appropriate times of emotion. I’ve heard that some people will even pay big bucks to have 666 as a part of their phone number or on license plates. This isn’t to say, however, that everyone in China enjoys the usage of 666.
A lot of people are mistaken in thinking that Chinese citizens can’t have any religion, since the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is officially atheist. Throughout my years living in China, I’ve met Chinese colleagues and friends who adhere to different sects of Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam. One is able to believe and worship as one wishes with fellow believers as long as you don’t proselytize or cause public disturbances. In my experience, Christianity is much more noticeable in Southern China than when I’ve lived up north. It’s hard to miss the plethora of church steeples dotting the landscape while riding the train from Shanghai to Wenzhou or Cangnan. There’s was even a beautiful little protestant church about four blocks down from my apartment in Lishui.
Christianity’s been around in China a long time, first appearing in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty and booming during the 16th century through efforts by Jesuit missionaries.
On a side note, when Mark and I were on an adventure in Xi’an, we stumbled up the oldest Nestorian stele in China. Created in 781 DC, it fascinatingly details 150 years of early Christianity in China in both Chinese and Syriac!
Nonetheless, Christian Lore isn’t as widespread in the East as it is in the West. Before 2017, I’d only ever heard of 666 as being the “Mark of the Beast” and “The Devil’s Number.”
During my research, I’ve learned that the word hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia refers to people who take this superstition so seriously that they avoid anything to 666 or the digits 6-6-6.
Superstitions Around Numbers
Like 666, numbers in China hold many meanings. This is mainly due to homophones, words with similar sounds that mean different things.
Here are a few common ones:
- Even numbers are generally more auspicious than odd ones, except for the number 4.
- The number two is considered lucky and harmonious. Decorations, such as couplets, often appear in pairs on opposite sides of doorways. “Double happiness” often are seen at weddings.
- The number four (四sì) is considered extremely unlucky as it’s similar to the word for death (死sǐ).
- Thirteen is also an unlucky number, and many elevators actually omit the 13th floor and any floor containing the number 4. In some buildings, going up to the “50th floor” literally takes you to the 35th floor due to the “missing” unlucky floors.
- Unlucky floors and housing units tend to be cheaper for businesses or apartment buyers since they’re the hardest to sell. I, myself, have lived on the 4th floor of a few teacher’s dorms, probably because it’s easy to shove off on the foreigner.
- The number eight is super coveted for also being auspicious. It’s common for many passwords in China to have some combination of 8 digits of 8 to bring luck in to homes and businesses.
- The number nine offers luck and longevity. The best example might be the 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City.
- #520 is often used in texting as it sounds like (wó ài nǐ,我爱你): “I love you”.
- The number Eighty-eight is used in texting “88” to say bye bye.
- 5555 (wu wu wu wu,呜呜呜呜) is used in texting to signal crying or sadness.
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