Writing capitals in Chinese 中文也有大寫

一二三⋯ Chinese numbers appear to be extremely easy to tamper with. It takes only a few simple strokes to change 一千 to 三千, or 一萬 to 十萬!

Indeed, there have been numerous frauds throughout Chinese history where officials manipulated reports and accounts by adding strokes to the numbers.

There is also the famous (though unproven) anecdote about the power struggle which changed the line of succession at the beginning of Qing dynasty. The fourth prince 雍正(Yong Zhen) of the emperor 康熙 (Kang Xi) allegedly changed the posthumous edict and thus became the new emperor himself, instead of the 14th prince, the original successor, by simply changing 十 to 于. (康熙 had supposedly written 傳位四太子 which 雍正 allegedly changed to 傳位四太子)

Knowing the vulnerability of the numeric characters, how do Chinese maintain the simple way of writing numbers so that our everyday life is not affected, yet at the same time prevent easily committed crimes, such as changing the amounts on cheques?

As it turns out, there are “capital letters” for Chinese numeric characters. Let’s have a look below.

Number

Everyday writing Capital letter

More explanations

0

Chinese zero can usually be written as 〇. The year 2020 is written as 二〇二〇.

Note that, although 零 can be written as 〇 in numbers, it is not the case in some words or expressions, such as 零零碎碎 (fragmentary) or 零食 (snacks).

1

壹 is often used in proper names (such as the magazine 壹週刊). Its bushou is 豆 at the bottom.

2

It’s bushou is 貝, with a 二 right above it.

3

參(叄)

This is the same as in the word 參加 (“to participate”). In classical literature one of the meanings of 參 is "three". Gradually the character 叄 was created, specifically to mean three.

4

Besides the meaning of “four”, this character is also used in 食肆 (restaurants), or 放肆 (impudent).

5

This character is made up of the bushou 人 and the character 五. In the ancient military system, a team of five soldiers is known as a 伍. The idiom 五人為伍 means just that. “A team” is 一支隊伍 in Chinese.

伍 is also a surname. One of the most famous politicians around 600 BCE is called 伍子胥 /wǔ zi xū/.

6

This character also means “the land” 陸地, or “continuously” 陸續.

陸 is also a surname. Two famous historical scholars are 陸遊, a poet of Tang dynasty, and 陸羽 who penned the famous Classic of Tea.

7

The bushou of this character is 木. It is simply the capital writing of seven.

8

With a bushou of 扌(手), this character also means to separate something into two halves by hand.

9

Note that the bushou of 玖 is 玉 (not 王). It is the name of a jade-like gemstone which is greyish black.

10

Apart from meaning “ten”, it also means “to pick up” 拾起, “to pack” 收拾.

Hundred

In the ancient military system, 佰 is the name of the commanding officer of 100 people. It also refers to an armed force of 100 people.

Thousand

Quite similar to 佰,仟is the name of the commanding officer of 1000 people in the ancient military system. It also refers to an armed force of 1000 people.

萬, or 万 in simplified Chinese, is ten thousand. It is thus often used to signify plenty and many. It also means “very” or “absolutely”, such as in the idiom 萬不得已 or 萬萬不可.

The use of 整 or 正

In formal occasions, such as writing a cheque, the word 整(or the simplified version 正) is added to the very end of an amount. This prevents anyone else to add to the amount, much like the use of ONLY in the English way.

Here is an example of how ¥12,345.00 is written:

壹萬貳仟叄佰肆拾伍圓整

instead of 一萬二千三百四十五元

 


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