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Tsoi Dug Blog 才德博客 » Blog Archive » The number “8” and What Chinese People Have Lost “八”和华人所失去的东西

The number “8” and What Chinese People Have Lost “八”和华人所失去的东西

Why are Chinese people nowadays, even highly educated ones, so superstitious about getting lucky to get rich?  8, 8, 8, everywhere, on phone numbers, car license numbers, etc., you see people sporting at least one number 8. And that’s all because in Chinese 8 sounds a bit like the first sound in “getting rich”. Also, nowadays the Chinese New Year’s greeting is “gong hay faht tsoy” (Cantonese pronunciation), which translates into “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich”. Why is getting rich apparently the only thing on Chinese minds?

为什么现在华人们,连受过高等教育的华人们,这么迷信发财运气呢?八、八、八、现在到处都是八字,电话号码、车牌都最少有一个八字,而这只是因为八字读起来有点像发财的发字。另外,现在农历新年流行的贺词是“恭喜发财”。为什么好像发财是华人头脑里唯一的东西呢?

It hasn’t always been so.

并非一向都是这样的。

The number 8 hasn’t always been so popular. When I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, 8 was not always a good word. In Cantonese colloquialism back then, 8 was often used to mean “being gossipy” or invading other people’s privacy, as in “why are you so baht (8), that you want to know even such and such?” In fact, it came from a negative attitude towards the baht guah (八卦), the hexagram from the I Jing (or I-Ching), which was used for divination. During days past Cantonese, or at least educated Cantonese, had looked down upon fortune-telling using the hexagram and upon the occult in general.  It had only been a recent phenomenon in Chinese superstition of the last twenty or thirty years, a phenomenon which started in Hong Kong, to make 8 equal to getting rich and for 8 to be so fervently sought after.

以前八字并非这么流行。六十年代初我在香港做小孩子时,“八”并非一定是个好字。那个时候广州话俗语里的八,是指说别人闲话或多管闲事,好像“为什么你这样八,连这些东西你也要知道?”其实,这样对待“八”,源于对八卦占卜的负态度,因为广东人,最少有教育的广东人,以前鄙视占卜和鬼神之事。把八当为发财的发,同时对八字狂热地追求,只是近二三十年来在香港开始的华人迷信现象。

As for the Chinese New Year’s greeting, when I was a kid in Hong Kong during the early sixties, the standard greeting was “gong hay teem ding faht tsoy”, which meant “Happy Wishes for Getting Another Boy and Getting Rich”, and “gong hoh sun hay”, which meant “Best Wishes for the New Year”. I don’t remember hearing just “gong hay faht tsoy” or “Happy Wishes for Getting Rich” – so bourgeois! Please note that, true to Confucian tradition, “Getting Another Boy” came before “Getting Rich” – the traditional family came before getting rich, and getting rich was for the family, not a selfish hedonistic pursuit for the individual himself or herself. Having moved away during the sixties from a society dominated by Chinese culture, after all these years it was at first and still is jarring for me to hear “gong hay faht tsoy” without the “teem ding (getting another boy)” in front of “faht tsoy (getting rich)”.

至于用“恭喜发财”作为农历新年的祝贺词,我六十年代初在香港做小孩子时,通常的新年祝贺词是“恭喜添丁发财”,多了“添丁”这两个字。也说“恭贺新禧”,但是我记忆中就没有听过“恭喜发财”-太市侩了!请注意,添丁发财是符合孔教传统的,把添丁放在发财前面,显示了传统的家庭为先,钱财为后,而要追求钱财,只不过是为了家庭,不是为了自私的个人享乐。我在六十年代就离开了以华人文化为主流的社会,这么多年后,听到没有把添丁放在发财前面的“恭喜发财”,第一次就觉得有点刺耳,现在仍然不惯。

I believe it is wrong to think that Chinese have always been as superstitious and as anxious about good luck and getting rich as Chinese people seem to be nowadays.  Back during the old days we had the intellectual and moral compass and framework of Confucianism.  Thanks to that framework, we knew how to act and what to do in life; we knew what things to pursue, what things to reject, and how to pursue and reject them. So we were secure, smart and brave; we weren’t so obsessed with good luck and getting rich. Even as recently as during the early 1960’s we didn’t use to be obsessed with all this stuff; we used to be brave and secure back then thanks to Confucianism.

我认为,华人并不是向来就好像今日的华人那样,对发财和运气这么迷信,这么紧张。旧时我们拥有孔教这个思维上和道德上的指南和框架。有了这个框架,我们就知道人要怎样做、人生要怎样过,我们就知道什么要追求、什么要拒绝和怎样追求、怎样拒绝,我们就有了安全感,我们就聪明、勇敢。我们那时不对运气和发财这么痴迷。六十年代初这么近期,也没有对这些东西痴迷,因为我们那时还有孔教,还有安全感和勇气。

But now we Chinese have turned our backs on Confucianism and so we don’t have anything.  Intellectually and morally we have no compass or framework and so we are insecure. A lot of the time we don’t know what we do that will bring us good things and what we do that will bring us bad things. Often we are so ignorant that we don’t even know what is good and what is bad; we can’t tell good from bad.  That’s why we grasp at straws; we grasp at superstitions for somehow avoiding the bad and getting the good.  That’s why 8 is now a “lucky number” seen everywhere and why 4, which sounds like “death”, is now an “unlucky number” and not seen anywhere.

但是,现在华人背弃了孔教,所以我们什么都没有,我们没有了思维上和道德上的指南和框架,我们便没有了安全感。我们很多时不知道怎样做才得到好的东西,怎样做就会得到坏的东西,我们常常愚昧到甚至不知道什么是好、什么是坏,我们好坏不分。所以我们急不暇择,我们“依靠抓住草杆”(依靠胡乱随手抓到的、尽管是靠不住的东西),我们求助于迷信,希望不知怎样地会侥幸得到好东西,避免坏东西。所以现在八是个“吉祥”的数字,到处都看到,而四(跟死声音相近)是个“不吉”的数字,到处都看不见。

I think that what we Chinese need to do is to rediscover and regain the good stuff we used to all possess, integrate it with the modern stuff that is good, i.e. science and the free market, and create a new intellectual and moral framework, where we can be secure, smart and brave again.

我认为,现在我们华人所需要做的,就是重新发现和取回我们曾经拥有过的好东西,结合现代的好东西即科学和自由市场,创造一个新的思维和道德的框架,让我们可以再重新拥有安全感,重新聪明、勇敢。

Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明


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