The Chinese Finger Counting System

The Open Road

Expressing Numbers in Mandarin Chinese

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The language barrier in China can make the simplest of transactions turn ugly — even between locals! Not everyone in China speaks Mandarin. To help with transactions, locals have devised a finger-counting system to convey numbers.

Hint: the way to count with the hands in Chinese differs from what we use in the West!

The pronunciations below are in pinyin and don’t always sound the way they are transliterated from one writing system to another. Pinyin is a “middle” language between Chinese and English, a system of romanizing their characters to a familiar alphabet. Chinese is a tonal language, so saying the word with the accompanying finger counting gesture may help you to be better understood if you don’t know the tone.

0 (ling)

0 in Chinese finger counting

1 (yi)

1 in Chinese finger counting

2 (er)

2 in Chinese finger counting

3 (san)

3 in Chinese finger counting

4 (si)

4 in Chinese finger counting

5 (wu)

5 in Chinese finger counting

6 (liu)

6 in Chinese finger counting

7 (qi)

7 in Chinese finger counting

8 (ba)

8 in Chinese finger counting

9 (jiu)

9 in Chinese finger counting

10 (shi)

10 in Chinese finger counting

or

Another way 10 in Chinese finger counting

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