666 – The Number of the Smooth

I’ve talked before about the little cultural differences between China and the West, and also the influence of numbers in China like Double Eleven and 520.

Here’s an especially weird one…

If you are a Westerner, or come from any country with a Christian influence, you will no doubt recognize the number 666 as being the mark of the devil, or the Number of the Beast, as mentioned in the Book of Revelations (13:17-18) and famously popularized by Iron Maiden. Basically, in Western culture the number is representative of the Antichrist (please refer to the classic movie the Omen) and has become synonymous with Satan.

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However, in China, 666 has nothing to do with Satan whatsoever, and is actually a positive thing.

This is because the Chinese language is full of homophones, which makes it easy to turn numbers into proxies for words and phrases. In this case, the Mandarin pronunciation of the number 6 (in pinyin, liu) is the same pronunciation as the character which means ‘smooth, or well.’ Therefore 666 has come to mean something like ‘everything is going well/smoothly’ and you often see it as text shorthand or incorporated into group chats.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon and is believed to have evolved directly from China’s obsession with the computer game League of Legends (LOL). Players would use it as a quick and easy way to express admiration for good gameplay, first in open chat forums then later on livestreaming platforms, meaning that often all an observer would see would be a string of 6’s.

So there ya go.

For more cultural analysis, check out the This is China: Misadventures in the Middle Kingdom series of books.

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