Hand Signs (Numbers 1-10)

Posted on 11. Jan, 2011 by in Vocabulary

Like most cultures, China tends to use hand gestures to represent numeric value–but not in the same way westerners do. While numerals 1-5 are represented the same way on one hand, the Chinese have developed an ingenuous way to do all ten numbers on one hand. Please see below:

*As a note, 10 or 十 can also be represented by a crossing of the index and middle finger just as you would for good luck and seven can be represented by pinching your thumb, index finger, and middle finger together.*

I personally found this hand-number system to work quite well if you’re in a very loud area (most cities are quite loud); if you or the person you are talking to are having trouble understanding one another; if you’re in a hurry or long line of people and want to signal for something (particularly effective in bars or 酒吧 (jiǔ ) and take out or 带走 (dài zǒu) spots); or if you want to play some fun drinking games with your 朋友s. And as you’ve probably figured it out by now, each hand signal almost pictographically represents the number in terms of stroke order.

YouTube Preview Image

Plus, the hand signals usually get a good rise out of a visiting laowai. Hawaiians and surfers love the 六 hand-sign, often wriggling their hand back and forth with a grin as to say “aloha” to a vendor. 八 (bā) or the number 8 often brings laughs to foreigners who see people holding it up and close to their heads as if to say “loser” to everyone else (my students last year, after watching countless hours of western media soon started walking the halls making goat sounds (baaah) and flashing 八 to their classmates…so odd).

But my favorite is the 十, which looks exactly like the character and has led to many confused western responses. Note, if you are a westerner visiting China with very little experience in the language or culture, you’re first encounter may be can slightly traumatic. When a relative came to visit with no Chinese language experience, she was shocked to find cabbies, vendors, even subway officials were “hissing” (the shi sound with 2 tone inflection) and flashing the sign of the Cross as if to “ward her away like a vampire”. She wanted to know if she was offending anyone or doing something wrong. I explained that they were just trying to tell you how much the ride, fare, and price were, not trying to scare her away. Funny how a simple hand signal can mean a world of difference.

Tags: , , ,

About Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

3 Responses to “Hand Signs (Numbers 1-10)”

  1. Sara 11 January 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    In the picture the number 7 is different that what I’ve learned before coming to China. I thought it’s like this: http://www.import-from-china.biz/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/chinesenumbers.jpg

    But then I came to Guangzhou and for them the number 7 is same as 8, but just but your hand upsidedown and it literally looks like 7.


Leave a Reply