Chinese Culture: From 1 to 9, Which Number is the Laziest?

From 1 to 9, which number is the hardest working and which is the laziest? This is an intriguing riddle, and the answer lies within Chinese culture. In Chinese culture, numbers hold various meanings. Let’s explore three specific numbers to understand better.

The number “8” (bā) sounds like the word “发” (fā), which means prosperity, so it is considered a symbol of wealth and success. It is often used in business, phone numbers, and license plates to attract good fortune and success.

On the other hand, the number ‘4’ (sì) is often avoided because it is phonetically similar to the word ‘死’ (sǐ), which means ‘death’ in Chinese, and is thus considered unlucky.

The number “9” (jiǔ) sounds like the word “久” (jiǔ), symbolizing longevity and eternity. It is commonly used to convey wishes for a long life and stability, especially in birthdays and celebrations.

So, which number is the hardest working and which is the laziest from 1 to 9?

The answer is that number “1” is the laziest, and number “2” is the most diligent. Do you know why? There is a Chinese idiom called “一不做,二不休” (yī bù zuò, èr bù xiū), which can be literally translated as ‘one does nothing, two never rests.’

But in fact, “一不做,二不休” (yī bù zuò, èr bù xiū) means that “once you start something, you should see it through to the end without giving up halfway.” It highlights the value of perseverance and commitment.

This idiom originates from a story recorded in the Tang Dynasty by Zhao Yuan Yi in the book 奉天录 (fèng tiān lù).

In ancient China, there was a man named Zhang Guangsheng. One day, a high-ranking official decided to rebel and become emperor. Zhang Guangsheng saw this as an opportunity and joined his ranks, hoping to benefit from it.

Initially, the official’s rebellion was strong, and the court sent generals to suppress it. Several battles were fought with varying outcomes. However, as time went on, the official’s forces began to falter.

Zhang Guangsheng, being a clever man, saw the tide turning and decided to act first. He killed the official, took his head to surrender, hoping for mercy. However, the general was not impressed and decided to execute Zhang Guangsheng anyway.

Before his execution, Zhang Guangsheng lamented, “Pass my words to future generations: ‘First, do not start. Second, if you do, don’t give up halfway! ‘If you start a rebellion, don’t turn back. My attempt to surrender has cost me my life.” This saying was later simplified to “一不做,二不休” (yī bù zuò, èr bù xiū).


Yī bù zuò, èr bù xiū, shì qíng yào me bù zuò, yào zuò jiù zuò dào zuì hǎo.
Do it right or not at all; if you’re going to do something, do it to the utmost of your ability.

Tā jué dìng le yī bù zuò, èr bù xiū, jì rán wú fǎ wán chéng rèn wù, jiù zhǐ hǎo yìng zhe tóu pí chéng dān zé rèn le.
Having decided to go all out, he realized that if he couldn’t finish the task, he would just have to take responsibility, come what may.

In Chinese, there are many idioms related to numbers. Do you know any other Chinese idioms related to numbers? Feel free to share your knowledge in the comments section.

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