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Chinese Mandarin and Cultural Context of the Character 八 (Bā, eight)

Chinese Mandarin and Cultural Context of the Character 八 (Bā)

In language development, one culture plays an important role. It is beneficial to know a language’s cultural context to acquire a deeper understanding of it. Learning Chinese Mandarin through the culture makes the process more fun and more accessible. 

The original meaning of the character 八 or eight was to separate or to divide. The character is formed by two strokes written in opposite directions. In both traditional and simplified Chinese writing, the character is written in the same manner. 

Now, the character 八 means the number eight. The character 八 is part of several expressions such as:

  • Eight sides 八面 (Bā miàn)
  • The eighth month which is August 八月 (Bā yuè)
  • Lots of or in all directions 四面八方 (Sìmiànbāfāng)
  • In all probability 八成 (Bāchéng)

 

The character 八 can also be used as a part of a word with the ancient meaning of separation or division such as:

  • To divide 分 (Fēn)
  • Half 半 (the character is inverted: Bàn)

 

Examples of phrases and idioms include:

  • Sworn brothers or The turn of the eight worshippers 八拜之交 (Bābàizhījiāo)
  • Eight lifetimes or live a long time 八辈子 (Bābèizi)
  • Gossip news 八卦新闻 (Bāguà xīnwén)
  • The year, month, day, and hour of a person birth with meaning to the person destiny 八字 (Bāzì)
  • You have not even started to take the first step 八字没一撇 (Bāzì méi yī piē)

 

The association of the number eight with wealth and money comes from Hong Kong and Cantonese language and spread to Mainland China, where people actively pursued economic development, gifts, and profits. 

The number eight with the character 八 is an auspicious number based on the Chinese Traditional Culture. The sound is similar to the word 发 (), which means prosperous. Therefore, car plates, phone numbers, and house numbers with the number 8 or 128 are trendy and sometimes cost a lot more. 

In the Daoism culture, the number eight is correlated to wholeness. The “Book of Changes” (易经, Yì jīng) and Bagua (八卦, Bāguà), translated as “The Eight Trigrams,” are the structure that generates everything in the universe.

Bafang (八方, Bāfāng), translated as “The Eight Directions” represents the entire universe in the Daoism spatial theory. They are used to explain the destiny of a person, Bazi (八字, Bāzì), like a fortune-telling method that depicts one’s life destiny in accord to the trigram based on one’s date of birth.

Dr. Rhea Du

Dr. Rhea Du

International Shaolin Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Shaolin Temple Yunnan