This thesis is dedicated to a proposal for a study of the cross-cultural obstacles between Chinese and Western number symbolism with a cultural approach. Based on the accepted theories and representative facts and examples, the author analyzes the sources of number symbolism, and reveals how extensively and profoundly number symbolism was ingrained in the culture. Certain stumbling blocks of number symbolism in China and the West are explored, mainly manifesting themselves in the aspects of cultural meanings and properties of numbers and their effects on social customs and languages. A number of suggestive strategies are also presented in a cultural perspective on tackling such problems in translation and other forms of intercultural communication. In virtue of all these, the author argues that number symbolism is explicable only by reference to its cultural origins. The thesis consists of five chapters.
Chapter I offers a general introduction of a number, number systems and number symbolism. In a number system a numeral is a symbol used to represent quantities. However, a number is not the symbol to represent quantities only. A number is the abstract concept with a set of connotations. As scholar Vincent Foster Hopper put it, numbers were not mere mathematical tools, nor were they simply like counters in a game. Rather, they were "as fundamental realities, alive with memories and eloquent with meaning." (Hopper, 1938: Prefix viii) On the basis of the dual uses of numbers, numbers are endowed with quantitative and qualitative meanings. Number symbolism involves the revelation or figurative suggestions of intangible truths springing from the use of numbers. Numbers originated historically. Numbers are the key to the ancient views of the world and human himself. Thus sources of number symbolism should be traced back to how people perceived the world and themselves.
In Chapter II, the author makes a thoughtful examination of the results of the former theories on symbolism attached to certain numbers during different ages in Chinese and Western cultures. Number symbolism is derivation from three main sources. The first and
basic "elementary" number symbolism, as labeled by Hopper, was derived from original man's enumeration and his identification of certain immediately observable and fixed natural groups; for instance, ten is the number of fingers or toes. The second source of significant numbers is the science of astrology. Numbers derived from constellations, planets, and stellar revolutions were held in awe and given sacred or baleful connotations. Take seven, the number of planets, for example. It was held sacred by almost all nations. Thus there are seven days a week. The third source is the religious and philosophical number theories. The sanctity of the astrological numbers was further strengthened by their prominent presence in religious texts. For instance, God created the world in seven days. Besides, Western number symbolism owes much to the philosophy of the Pythagoreans while Chinese number symbolism is also deeply engrained in ancient Chinese philosophy, from the theory of Yin-Yang and The Five Elements to The Eight Diagrams.
Chapter III is an engrossing guide to the symbolism of numbers. After exploring the
sources of number symbolism, efforts have been devoted to explaining meanings and
uses of symbolic numbers in all fields so as to achieve a comprehensive approach to
cross-cultural communication. It is next to impossible to write an exhaustive work on all
numbers. Instead, this chapter examines numbers which seemed more frequently used
and more immediately meaningful, and discusses their uses and the meanings they have
had for Western traditions and Chinese traditions, with examples from Chinese and
Western cultures. Two, for instance, has widely been seen as a number of duality,
contradiction and polarity. And six, according to ancient Pythagorean thinking, is the
most perfect number because it is both the sum and the product of its parts (1+2+3=6 and
1x2x3=6). Using ex