“What do the new Chinese believe?: Science and Superstition” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

A large part of Chinese superstitious beliefs is tied up in numerology – lucky numbers and unlucky numbers. I talked about it before in Rich Chinese ; crazy things are done and large amounts of money is spent to get the right numbers and avoid the bad ones. Barry Li, author of The New Chinese: How they are changing Australia recounts a story of a Sydney house that failed to achieve the same ludicrous selling price as other Sydney properties, all because it had the street number of 74 (it probably still sold for other 1million AUD though). With different tonal inflictions, the pronunciation of 74 can easily become ‘wife dies’, ‘angry to death’ or ‘die together’, so Chinese buyers steered clear. Li says that “the sellers could have avoided this disappointment if they had known something about Chinese numerology and unlucky numbers” which I think is a bit unfair. If those owners bought that house more than ten years, how were they to know that Chinese buyers were about to become tightly tangled in the Australian property market?

This excerpt doesn’t actually talk much about science (sorry chemistry people – you know who you are). Instead, Li goes off on a bit of a tangent, leaping from talking about how the influence of ‘science’ during the establishment of the Republic of China bought about the choice of either Europe, US or Japan as popular places for tertiary study, to explaining that countries like Australia and Canada become popular in the following generation of international students, for their liveability. From this introduction of Canada, Li expresses his views on the changing Chinese culture in overseas Chinese communities. He relates this from a documentary he watched on Vancouver, where an elderly Cantonese gentleman complained about the lack of interest from young Chinese immigrants in traditional Chinese arts, cuisines and customs. Li rationalises that this complaint is not completely justifiable. While the elderly Cantonese gentleman was from the southern region of China, like many of the early original Chinese migrants – partly in thanks to Guangdong’s proximity to Hong Kong, a British occupied international trading port – the new Chinese immigrants mostly come from the developed cities all along China’s eastern seaboard. They may be from the same country but the traditions, such as lion dancing the Cantonese gentleman is lamenting the lack of interest in, are not the same. Likewise, the style of restaurants in China Town – if Cantonese dishes are predominately on the menu – do not appeal to the ‘new Chinese’, as the food isn’t seen as either modern or reminiscent of home. The disconnect, Li says, can be helped out simply by the science of marketing.

Thankfully, Li says that the Melbourne and Sydney China Towns are not in this ‘out-dated’ category. While I haven’t yet been to the Sydney China Town, the Melbourne and Adelaide ones, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, are intensely busy, filled with a variety of ethnicities, all looking to try varying dumplings, noodles, rice dishes and vegetables. Regardless of where in China, or Australia, or elsewhere in the world people come from, the common factor seems to be a shared love of Chinese food!


Photo taken in Adelaide China Town, during the Chinese New Year celebrations February 2017. Not a photographer – just going through the photos I have and finding a new purpose for them.