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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What are the taboos I need to be careful of in Chinese culture?
The biggest taboo in Chinese culture would be to say any word that sounds similar to 死 (sei2) “death” or 凶 (hung1) "evil; unlucky," especially on happy occasions such as New Year, birthday, or wedding.
Let's get into more details. You’ve probably heard about the lucky and unlucky numbers in Cantonese, let’s see what they are.
In Cantonese, the number "four" 四 (sei3) sounds very similar to 死 (sei2), which means "death," therefore this number is considered bad luck. Many buildings do not have the 4th, 14th, and 24th floors, and most people would avoid getting a phone number with "four" in it.
On the other hand, the number "eight" 八 (baat3) sounds like 發 (faat3), which means "prosper" and "fortune," therefore this number is considered auspicious. Moreover, "eighteen" 十八 (sap6 baat3) sounds like 實發 (sat6 faat3), meaning "get rich for sure;" and "twenty-eight" sounds like "easy to get fortune". So everyone believes that these numbers will bring good luck.
Let’s see if, other than 4 and 8, there are any significance to other numbers.
Number "three" 三 (saam1) is also considered good luck as it sounds similar to 生 (saang1), meaning "lively" and "alive."
Also, the number "six" 六 (luk6) is a good number as it has the same pronunciation as 祿 (luk6), which means "wealth" and "blessings".
On the other hand, the number "seven" 七 (cat1) is a bad number because it sounds similar to a swear word, and also the 7th month of the Chinese calendar is the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits are believed to come to our world from the lower realm.
Let’s see some other curious facts about taboos in Chinese culture.
When we're talking about an empty room, house, car, etc, we should avoid using the word 空 (hung1), "empty," because it sounds the same as 凶 (hung1) which means "evil" and "unlucky." In this case, we'll use the antonym, 吉 (gat1), which means "fortunate" and "propitious".
So for "empty room," instead of 空房 (hung1 fong2) we'll say 吉房 (gat1 fong2). When we say "the room is empty," we say 間房吉咗 (gaan1 fong2 gat1 zo2).
In Hong Kong, where we can auction for cars' license-plates, those with the lucky numbers are always sold at a very high bidding price. For instance, in 2016, a license plate with the number 28 was sold for US $2.3 million.


How was it? Pretty interesting right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)