The number 3 is both a common number and a symbol with rich connotations in Chinese culture.

From ancient times to the present, it has carried rich meanings, covering the mysteries of the universe, the philosophy of life, and social values.

From ancient Confucian classics to folk traditions, the number 3 has long been deeply rooted in the thinking of Chinese people, continuously influencing their values and way of life.

This article will delve into the multiple symbols of the number 3 in Chinese culture to help you understand deep connotations and essence of Chinese culture and values.

Table of Contents

1. The Origin of the Number 3

3 is one of the basic elements in the Arabic numeral system, in which the number 3 is represented as ‘३’.

The Arabic numeral system is actually a decimal digit system that originated in India and was later spread to different countries and regions in the world by the Arabs.

Arabic numerals were introduced to China from the 13th to 14th centuries, but they were not widely used due to China’s own counting system.

It was not until the mid to late Ming Dynasty that Arabic numerals gradually became popular in China with the introduction of Western culture.

In the 1950s, China carried out standardization reforms in numbers, and it was only then that Arabic numerals were officially widely used in China.

2. The Connections and Differences between the Number 3 and the Character “叁”

chinese Character 3
chinese Character 3

The number 3 is a type of Arabic numeral, while the character “叁” is a type of Chinese numeral. They can represent quantity in mathematics, but there are some differences in cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

In Chinese, ‘three’ (the Chinese character “三” or “叁”) can represent both specific quantities and abstract concepts. Such as “three children” and “three opportunities”.

In addition, ‘three’ (the Chinese character “三” or “叁”) can also mean “many” in Chinese, such as “repeated”, “repeated orders”, and so on.

The capital form of “three” is “叁”, usually used for financial accounting, such as three hundred yuan.

3. Is the Number 3 a Lucky Number in China?

Yes, 3 is a lucky number in China.

The number 3 has a broad significance in traditional culture and is considered a symbol of holiness, loyalty, respect, and elegance.

In Tao Te Ching, there is a saying that “three produced all things”, representing the germination of vitality and the generation of all things, and therefore is regarded as a symbol of life.

Besides, such idioms as “Three yangs bring bliss (The spring comes in full form)”, “Three equal and two full (be contented with one’s lot)”, and “Being lucky in the three lives (be the most supreme)” are also applied to denote meanings like good luck and happiness.

4. The Meaning of the Chinese Character “三”

The basic meaning of the word “three” (the Chinese character “三”) is its numerical meaning, which is the sum of two and one.

Besides, “三” also means multiple numbers. In the poem by the poet of the Tang dynasty, Dufu, My Cottage Unroofed By Autumn Gales, “In the eighth moon the autumn gales furiously howl; They roll up three layers of straw from my thatched bower (“八月秋高风怒号,卷我屋上三重茅”). “三重” refers to “three layers”.

5. The Meaning of the Number 3 in Fengshui (Geomancy)

The number 3 represents the “three types of talents” in feng shui, which refers to the energy balance of heaven, earth, and humans.

In the Eight Trigrams, the “Three Trigrams” refer to the “Sunder Trigrams” located in the south, representing the power of fire and also symbolizing passion, vitality, and creativity.

In addition, the number 3 also symbolizes the “Three Talents Jade Chopsticks”, which combines wisdom, beauty, and moral characters.

Therefore, in feng shui, it is usually regarded as a lucky number.

6. The Meaning of the Number 1 in Chinese Zodiacs

The number 3 corresponds to Tiger in the Chinese zodiac chart.

The tiger is the king of all beasts, full of fierce and masculine energy. The “White Tiger” in Chinese mythology and legend is one of the four great mythical beasts and the guardian god of the world.

Therefore, the tiger zodiac is also regarded as a symbol of bravery, boldness, justice, literary beauty, and grandeur. There is an auspicious meaning of dispelling evil spirits and lowering evil spirits, and promoting health in all directions.

7. The Significance of 3 in Chinese Traditional Culture

In traditional Chinese culture, ‘three’ (the Chinese character of “三”) is a very important number. It represents the three important elements of heaven, earth, and human beings.

In ancient China, people often regarded “3” as a mysterious number, such as three talents, three guidelines, and three unifications.

In addition, “3” also represents unity, harmony, and perfection, such as “three people walking together, there must be my teacher” and “Three people spreading reports of a tiger make you believe there is one around”, in which “3” express a certain meaning.

8. Meanings of “3” in Books of Change

In Book of Changes, “three” is a very important symbol and number, representing the trinity pattern of heaven, earth and man.

“Three” or the number 3 is called the “beginning”, symbolizing the beginning of creation and the starting point for the development of all things.

That is to say, like the relationship between the heaven, earth, and human beings, everything starts with a simple beginning and shapes a colorful world based on constant development and evolution.

Besides, the number 3 also represents the balance between “yin” and “yang”. In Book of Changes, “yin” represents the even numbers, while “yang” represents the odd numbers.

However, the number 3 does not belong to “yang”, nor does it belong to “yin”. It means that the number can balance the relationship between “yin” and “yang” to ensure the universe goes on in harmony and co-existence.

Note: “yin” and “yang” refer to the two opposing principles in nature, the former feminine and negative, the latter masculine and positive.

Finally, the number 3 also represents the “three types of talents”, namely the interaction and influence between heaven, earth, and humans.

The heaven represents the power of nature, the earth represents the foundation of human life, and humans represent human wisdom and abilities. The interaction and influence among the three constitute the development and change of all things in the universe.

9. The Significance of the Number 3 in Buddhism

In Buddhism, the number “three” is widely used. Sometimes, it is a real number, while more often it represents infinity.

One of the foundations of the Buddhist worldview is the “Three Lives” theory, which refers to the past, present, and future. In addition, there is the “Three Lives” theory, which refers to a person’s past life, present life, and afterlife.

These two concepts of time laid the foundation for the idea of reincarnation and retribution and led to the Buddhist theory that “people have three karmas, birth has three lifetimes, and karma has three retributions”.

Within the Buddhist theory, three karmas refer to one’s kayakamma, vacikamma, and manokamma, and three retributions mean the retribution for life and for after-death.

Subsequently, there is a theory about “three worlds”. That is to say, everyone who live on this world will experience three worlds between life and death, namely, the world of desire, the material world, and the spiritual world.

10. The Meanings of the Number 3 in Taoism

In Taoism, the number 3 also has some special symbolic meanings. It is closely related to Taoist philosophy, cosmology, and practice.

Similar to the concept of the “Three Treasures” in Buddhism, Taoism also has the Three Treasures Cult, which includes Taoism, scriptures, and monks.

These three treasures symbolize moral principles, classic teachings, and practitioners, and they are important elements of Taoist faith and practice.

Taoism also has the concept of three realms, namely the human realm, the earthly realm, and the heavenly realm, where different forms of life exist in different realms.

One of the goals to practice Taoism is to exceed these boundaries to reach purposes of perpetuating one’s life and becoming immortals. 

11. Meanings of the Number 3 in Romance

In love, the number 3 also has extremely important meanings. Among them, three people and three items are common expressions in love.

Three people can be understood as a triangular relationship, but triangular relationships are often considered taboo in love.

The three items often refer to the three diamonds in the proposal ring, which means “Let me love you in the past, present, and future”.

12. The Meaning of 3 in Homophones

The pronunciation of ‘3’ is the same as multiple Chinese characters, so people often give it different symbols in certain specific situations.

When “3” is pronounced with the same pronunciation of “生” (“sheng” in Chinese; life or live in English), “3” denotes the meaning of “life and growth in nature”.

When “3” is pronounced with the same pronunciation of “神” (“shen” in Chinese; immortal in English), it conveys the strength of the immortals, mystery, and the supernature.

When “3” is pronounced with the same pronunciation of “伞” (“san” in Chinese; umbrella in English), it symbolizes protection and shelter.

When “3” is pronounced with the same pronunciation of “散” (“san” in Chinese; “dispersion” in English), it means dispersing something.

13. The Extended Meanings of the Number 3 Online

On social media, the number 3 is usually used to express love. When expressing love or gratitude, people often use the number 3 instead of a love pattern. For example, “I love you 33” and “Thank you 3”.

14. Can I Make “3” my Lucky Number?

Of course, you can. If you feel that the number 3 brings positive effects to you, it is entirely possible to consider it your lucky number. In addition, you can also deem any number you like as your lucky number.

In the rich symbolic significance of the number 3, you can gain a glimpse of the profound connotations of Chinese culture. It is not only a number, but also a symbol containing wisdom and faith.

Whether in ancient classics or in modern society, the number 3 is always present and permeates the thinking and behaviors of Chinese people.

Based on your understanding of the number 3, you cannot only better understand the unique characteristics of traditional Chinese culture, but also appreciate the accumulation and inheritance of human wisdom over time.

Categorized in: