Fourth Floor in Chinese Culture
The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a Chinese belief regarding the number 4 and its connotations that continue to be passed down; here, they will be identified as F.
F: In China, in hospitals, they have no fourth floor, because four means death. Lot of Korean culture is adopted from China, lots of Asian countries are adopted from China, because it was so dominant. We have characters, and one word, depending on pronunciation, can mean a thousand different things. So, number four could also mean death. Different characters, though.
This interaction occurred on USC’s campus — I am friends with the informant, as we occasionally perform together in musical settings. While it took place in a public space, this performance, as opposed to my other collections, did not occur in the presence of many additional individuals; as a result, there were not many validating reactions in addition to my own. They provided me with two other topics in my collection.
I did not know of this belief prior to speaking with the informant. Still, it is similar to the lack of 13th floors in the U.S. However, there is no clear distinction between the usage of a 13th floor in hospitals and non-hospitals; my old dormitory, for example, lacked a 13th floor. While I find this additional layer interesting, upon researching the prominence of the number 4 in Chinese culture, it would seem that the lack of 4th floors goes beyond Chinese hospitals.
I also found that Chinese license plates often avoid ending in the number 4 — this concept is wholly new to me. It is also interesting how such beliefs, initially disseminated by way of colonization, still permeate separate cultures and are passed down from generation to generation. Here, Korea maintains this folk stigma of the number 4 largely due to China’s language (I also found that, in Korea, if a building is to include the 4th floor, the letter ‘F’ will often be substituted in place of the numerical character).