Counting, Numbering, Naming of Parts

Chinese people use the latin version of arabic numerals (0, 1, 2,
3...) as well as roman letters (A, B, C...) to label and number things
that come in a sequence.  However, for the learner of Chinese,
there are several other systems for name sequential things to know
about.

The Ten Heavenly Stems (天干 tiān gān)

The Heavenly Stems (or Celestial Stems) are generally used where "A",
"B", "C", etc. would be used in English. The first four (甲乙丙丁, jia yi
bing ding) are more common than the last six, and are thus more widely
known and used.  They are, in order:

  1. 甲 (jiǎ)
  2. 乙 (yǐ)
  3. 丙 (bǐng)
  4. 丁 (dīng)
  5. 戊 (wù)
  6. 己 (jǐ)
  7. 庚 (gēng)
  8. 辛 (xīn)
  9. 壬 (rén)
  10. 癸 (guǐ)

This system can be seen used for:

  • Placeholder names in legal documents and contracts
  • Naming characters entertaining a dialogue in a
    short text
    (甲 speaks first, 乙 answers)
  • Choices on multiple choice exams or surveys
  • The names of organic chemicals (methanol: 甲醇 jiǎchún;
    ethanol: 乙醇 yǐchún)
  • Diseases (Hepatitis A: 甲型肝炎 jiǎxíng
    gānyán
    ; Hepatitis B: 乙型肝炎 yǐxíng
    gānyán
    )
  • Naming of sports leagues (Serie A: 意甲 yìjiǎ)
  • Places where 上, 中, 下 might have been used, but there are
    four parts to be named instead of three

Top, Middle, Bottom

If there are three parts to be named, then 上 (shàng—top), 中 (zhōng—middle), 下 (xià—bottom) can be used.  If there are only two parts, 中 (zhōng) is omitted leaving 上 (shàng—top), and 下 (xià—bottom). This system will often be seen in naming books or educational materials that come in two or three volumes.

Normal Numbers

Chinese characters for numerals are used for some things (Mahjong tiles, dates, and numbering volumes like books or seasons of a TV show), but not for other things (room numbers in a hotel, things involving arithmetic). Here are the digits:

0 〇 (líng)
1 一 (yī)
2 二 (èr)
3 三 (sān)
4 四 (sì)
5 五 (wǔ)
6 六 (liù)
7 七 (qī)
8 八 (bā)
9 九 (jiǔ)

The financial version of 0, "零" is sometimes used instead of
〇.  For example, the year 2004 is sometimes written in Chinese
characters as 二零零四年 and sometimes as 二〇〇四年.

The system is almost exactly the same as the arabic system
used in English, but there are a few differences:

  1. There are special characters for ten, hundred, thousand,
    ten thousand (4 zeros), hundred million (8 zeros)
  2. Each 0 in the middle of the number needs to be stated
    explicitly. One hundred five is read "one" "hundred" "zero" "five"
    (一百零五)
  3. All zeroes at the end of the number can be omitted. One
    hundred fifty can be read "one" "hundred" "five" (一百五)
  4. Large numbers are grouped by the ten thousand, instead of
    the thousand, like in English.

Financial Style Numbers (大写 dàxiě)

The financial numbers (大写 dàxiě) have the advantage that one character cannot be changed into another with the addition of a few strokes. You can see them on Mainland Chinese cash, and you can often find a table of these numbers printed on the teller glass in banks.

0
1
2 貳/贰
3 叄/叁
4 參/参
4
5
6 陸/陆
7
8
9
10

References

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavenly_Stems