Three – important stages of life?

This is the fourth in a series of posts where I'm looking at how the Chinese view numbers, often from a superstitious basis.


The Chinese character for three (Sān) is shown on the right hand side of the main image above. It's three single lines (probably originally sticks).

Generally, the number three is regarded as a good number in Chinese culture. Many times, meanings of Chinese numbers are related to other words they sound like. While three doesn't sound all that close to 生 (shēng), in Cantonese the word is sāang, which is much closer.

Either way, 生 means life and is often directly related to birth.

出生 (Chūshēng) is to be born and even though Chinese aren't really into birthdays (at least traditionally), 生日 (Shēngrì) is the word for "birthday".

Many historical tales in Chinese use three in a positive way. You'll come across restaurants like "three kings". Some see it as a heavenly number, associated with prosperity.

Unfortunately though, there is another meaning associated with three. While in Cantonese, it sounds a bit like sāang, it also sounds a bit like sāam, which relates to separating or breaking up with someone or something. So that's the downside of this number.

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