China's craze for 08-08-08

While more than 10,000 athletes from around the world converged on Beijing Friday to compete under the Olympic rings, thousands of Chinese couples in the city were expected to exchange wedding rings.

From weddings and births to cellphone numbers, a fever over good fortune

While more than 10,000 athletes from around the world converged on Beijing Friday to compete under the Olympic rings, thousands of Chinese couples in the city were expected to exchange wedding rings.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency says 9,000 couples were scheduled to tie the knot Friday, more than double Beijing's previous single-day record number of marriages.     

Gao Chow, 22, and his fiancée, Zhao Yuyun, seen in a photo taken before their actual wedding day, hope a Friday wedding will bring good luck. (Handout)

Gao Chow, 22, and his fiancée, Zhao Yuyun, were among the love-struck couples. They were to marry Friday and stage a wedding banquet for 40 friends and family.

The timing of the date was no accident. The Beijing Olympics began at 8:08 p.m. local time, on the eighth day, of the eighth month, of the year 2008.

And, as Gao explained: "Everybody knows eight is a lucky number in China."

Beijing residents have been in a frenzy to link themselves to the number in any way possible. They're planning events as large as childbirth and mundane as picking a cellphone number around the date.

The belief is based on Chinese language and culture. The number (ba ) sounds like "fortune" in some Mandarin dialects. Double and triple eights are believed to double and triple your fortune.

"Getting married on this day will bring us good luck," says Zhao, who demurely hides her face when asked what attracted her to her future husband.

"I plan to have a celebration every year on Aug. 8. I will always remember the Olympics."

Busy maternity ward

While Gao hoped the lucky wedding day would help his clothing business and his hunt for Olympic basketball and table tennis tickets, his bride-to-be had wishes of a more personal nature.

'Women who have babies this year feel very happy and feel they have good luck'—Dr. Li Shaofen

"I would like to start a family next year. I want to have a boy and girl," Zhao said.

Many others in Beijing clearly did not want to wait, targeting Aug. 8 as a possible birthday for their new additions.

"We are very busy. We are very happy because many newborns will come into the world," said Dr. Li Shaofen at Beijing's Jishuitan Hospital. "Women who have babies this year feel very happy and feel they have good luck."

Indeed, Dr. Zhang Yunping, director of the Maternal and Child Hygiene Hospital of the Haidan District in Beijing, told the Reuters news agency that his hospital delivered 30 babies between midnight and 1 p.m. Friday. Twenty of them were by caesarean sections, he said, a fairly typical ratio in China.  But Zhang also told Reuters that his hospital refused some parents seeking to take nature in their own hands and schedule caesareans for August 8.

Women interviewed by CBC News at Jishuitan hospital who expected to give birth on Friday claimed they did not specifically choose that date, but felt it would be fortunate if they had their babies that day.

"We're having our baby in August. We feel very happy, because China is [staging] the Olympic Games," said pregnant mother Zhang Li.

Dialling up 8s

A surge in newborns might be the talk of the hospitals, but some of the 08-08-08 buzz in mobile-mad China has been around cellphone numbers.

Unlike in Canada, where most cellphone numbers are assigned with the phone, many people in China prefer to pay extra for a custom phone number. Cellphones can be bought for as little as $10 in Beijing, but a lucky phone number can ring you up more than $3,000. (The average income for urban workers in Beijing is around $5,500.)

These cellphone numbers, which many Chinese believe bring good fortune, were available for sale in Beijing. (Simon Dingley/CBC)

A local man, Zhang Jianyun, reportedly paid $2,788 earlier this year for the cellphone number 2008-0808. And a cellphone with six consecutive eights reportedly sold for $6,750 last year in eastern China.

along "Cellphone Street," a strip of Beijing stores offering the latest Samsungs and Nokias, buying a mobile has become much more complicated these days, said cellphone clerk Jin Ying.

"The last four numbers of a cellphone are the most important," Jin said.

You have to negotiate the price of the luckiest numbers with the store, which has hundreds of phone numbers for sale, all catalogued in books. Numbers ending in 6888 and 1888 would set you back more than $3,000.

You can also take your chances at getting a lucky number from an automated machine at the state-run China Mobile chain.

But try for 2008 and you're out of luck. It's been sold out for months.

With files from Adrienne Arsenault