- The Antique Chinese Porcelain Collectors Page

Chinese Porcelain Marks

Chinese and Japanese numerals

Numerals makes up a small part of the marks on Chinese and Japanese porcelain however they do occur. Many numbers have a symbolic meanings in Asian cultures and this could be referred to by the number itself of the number of times a particular character or symbol occurs in the decoration. While 2, 3, 5 and 8 are common, 4 is mostly avoided.

Chinese and Japanese numerals are the same. The Japanese numerals in writing are entirely based on the Chinese and the grouping of large numbers also follow the Chinese tradition. Traditionally text and numbers were written from top to bottom or right to left. Around mid 20th century in China numbers started to be written from left to right, see for example "25" below. In Japan inscriptions on coins were reversed from the 23rd year of Showa (1948) and from then on, were read from left to right.

The explanations regarding the symbolic meaning of different numbers is only referring to Chinese traditions which are similar in both China and Japan, except naturally for the homonyms (same sounding).

Chinese and Japanese numerical characters
1 The number 1 (Pinyin: yi) sounds similar to the character for "together" and "want" in Mandarin, and is thus considered a lucky number.
2 The number 2, (Pinyin: er) is a good number in Chinese culture. It is common to use double symbols in product brand names, such as double happiness, double coin and double elephants. In Cantonese "two" is a homophone of the character for "easy".
3 The number 3 (Pinyin: san) sounds similar to the character for "earn" and "live" and is thus considered a lucky number.
4 The number 4 (Pinyin: si) is considered an unlucky number in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultures because it is nearly homo phonic to the word "death". This is taken very serious and anything that includes the number "four" including house numbers, floor number, phone numbers and car license number is rendered very unattractive.
5 The number 5 (Pinyin: wu) was within Daoism associated with the five elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal) and a very important number within Chinese symbolism. It occurs widely within both architecture and all kinds of decorative arts.
6 The number 6 (Pinyin: liù) is pronounced similar to "smooth" (Pinyin: liu) and is considered good for business. The number 6 also represents happiness. In Cantonese, this number is a homophone for blessings (lok).
7 The number 7 (Pinyin: qi) symbolizes "togetherness" and is a lucky number for relationships.
8 The word for "eight" (Pinyin: ba) sounds similar to the word which means "fortune", "prosper" or "wealth".
9 The number 9 (Pinyin: jiu) is a homophone with "jiu" meaning "long time" in Mandarin. Nine being the greatest of single-digit numbers was also historically associated with the Emperor of China. In Daoistic symbolism the number eight represents all possible horizontal direction while adding one vertical, would render the number 9 adding the direction up-down as in the relation between heaven and earth.
10,000 The number 10,000 (Pinyin: wan) is sometimes also used with the meaning "many" or "innumerable".
25 The numbers above are basic numbers with special characters for large numbers like hundred, thousand and so on. To have any number in between these, the numbers needs to be combined much like Roman numbers. This is for example 25 made up by 2 [times] 10 [plus] 5

Web page © Jan-Erik Nilsson 2010