Number Character Variants
13 Nov 2004
If you’ve studied Chinese characters, you know that each number has its own Chinese character. As a joke, many Chinese-illiterate foreigners boast that they know three Chinese characters: 一 二 三 (1, 2, 3). After 3, though, the characters start getting a little harder to remember.
Or do they? Recently I discovered this little-known character: 亖. It means 4. I didn’t find a similar one for 5, though.
Still, there’s a lot more to Chinese number characters below the surface. One set of “standard variants” are the 大写 (“capital”) characters used on checks and other transactions. Banks require their use on forms. Each digit 0-9, as well as 10, 100, and 1000 has a “capital” form, much more difficult to alter than a 一.
In the following chart, the first column is European numerals (that’s right, I didn’t say Arabic numerals, and I did it on purpose), the second column is the standard Chinese character, and the third column is the “capital” Chinese character.
Still, there are a lot more variants than the official “capital” forms. Check out the following ones. Standard non-capital forms are in bold.
- 1 一 弌 （all pronounced yī)
- 2 二 弍 弐 （all pronounced èr)
- 3 三 弎 （all pronounced sān)
- 4 四 亖 （all pronounced sì)
- 20 二十 廿
- 30 三十 卅
- 40 四十 卌
How many more can there be? I don’t know. I’d be interested to learn, though.
Note: The European number system is used everywhere in China and has been for some time. Traditional Chinese numbers are sometimes used as well, however.
Related Link: 大写数字wiki
Update: Thanks to zhwj for his additions to the list.