HONG KONG — The defendant wasn’t so lucky. But one fortunate bidder is hoping the person’s phone number will be.
The Chinese phone number, which ended with five 8s, was so coveted that it attracted 5,000 bids over the weekend from businesses and individuals eager to own it. It ultimately sold for $325,000 on Sunday in an online auction by a court in the Chaoyang district of Beijing.
In Chinese, the number eight is a homonym for “prosper” — or, more bluntly, “get rich.”
The phone number was among the assets seized from a defendant who had failed to comply with a court order, a local news outlet said. The identities of the buyer and the defendant were not disclosed, nor were details about why the defendant was in court.
A phone number with consecutive repeating digits, let alone a string of the same five, is rare and considered appealing in China. A string of repeating auspicious numbers is worth an even higher price. Like a vanity license plate, if it contains the right combination of digits, it can be a coveted status symbol.
A phone number that ended in five 5s was sold for $52,000 in an online auction last year, and a number with eight 7s was auctioned for $560,000 in 2017. Five is thought to be associated with emperors, while seven is a homonym for “life’s spirit,” or “qi” in Mandarin, China’s official language.
In China, events are timed to auspicious dates.
The Beijing Olympics was held on Aug. 8, 2008, and some couples try to get married on the eighth day of the eighth month.
In September 2009, tens of thousands of couples decided that 9/9/09 would be an auspicious date to marry. The number nine in Mandarin, pronounced “jiu,” has the same pronunciation as the word for “perpetual” or “forever.” In Beijing, 18,979 couples got married or received marriage licenses on that day, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. That broke the city’s previous record, when 15,646 couples chose Aug. 8.
The perceived value of numbers varies by region. In Hong Kong, where Cantonese is the dominant spoken language, the number seven sounds similar to a swear word and is associated with ghosts. (It is generally taboo to serve seven courses in meals.) When the semiautonomous territory introduced phone numbers in 2015 that began with 7 or 4 — the latter a numerological stand-in for death across the country and therefore the unluckiest number in Chinese culture — cellphone operators complained.
And no matter how many “lucky” digits a number may contain, it offers no protection against prank calls.