The Secret Sauce to Chinese Numbered URLs

Technology World


Decoding a Chinese URL might be difficult for you, but not for people in China. Why there is a preference for digits over letters in China? It mostly has to do with ease of memorization. To a native English-speaker, remembering a long string of digits might seem harder than memorizing a word.

For many Chinese, numbers are easier to remember than Latin characters. Chinese children learn the pinyin system that uses the Roman alphabet to spell out Mandarin words (for example, the word for “Internet,” is spelled wangluo in pinyin).
The Internet company NetEase uses the web address Chinese Internet users had to enter 163 to get online. The phone companies China Telecom and China Unicom simply re-appropriated their well-known customer service numbers as domain names, and, respectively.

Similarly, the URL for the massive e-commerce site Alibaba, is, pronounced “yow-leeyoh-ba-ba”—close enough! Those digits can just as often have individual meanings. The video sharing site works because the word for “six” is a near-homophone for the word “to stream.” The number five is pronounced wu, which sounds like wo, which means “I.” The number one is pronounced yao, which with a different tone means “want.” So the job-hunting site sounds a lot like “I want a job.” Likewise, to order McDonald’s delivery online, just go to, the “517” of which sounds a bit like “I want to eat.”

Here is a list of numbers with meanings:
1 –  want (to) / will (1’s formal pronounce is more like you in English)
2 –  love (this is also not a perfect homophone)
4 –  dead
5 –  I, me
6 –  smoothly, successfully, lucky, or road
7 –  wife
8 –  make money, get rich (also not a perfect homophone)
9 –  (for) a long time

520/521 – I love you
514 – I will dead
518 – I will get rich
968 – be lucky and rich for a long long time
168 – make money along the road (for ever)
Combination they avoided is “124” or “214”. The meaning would be along the lines of “go die together”.

Why don’t Chinese web addresses just use Mandarin characters? Because for them, that’s a pain.  Some devices require a special plug-in to type in Chinese URLs, and even then it takes longer to type or write out characters than to input a few digits. Plus, for web sites that want to expand internationally but don’t want to alienate foreign audiences with unfamiliar characters, numbers are a decent compromise. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which sets the rules for web addresses globally, has periodically hyped the expansion of domain names to include non-Latin scripts, but Chinese web sites have yet to take full advantage.

There may be another dimensions to this. Netease uses as their domain name. But 163 is not just some random number, in older times 163 used to be the main dial number of Chinese people to connect to internet. And is a very similar story, 263 it was China’s capital Beijing’s internet dial number. Many use their QQ number (instant messenger) for their email.

Numbers carry importance in Chinese culture and it is not limited to web sites. Numbers are considered in many other facets of daily life in China. Chinese have adopted this numerical system as a universal standard that is independent of language, and therefore learn it from an early age. 



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By Vinit

Masters in Business Management he currently works as a marketer and a strategic planner. Loves to travel and write about technology, business trends and the ever changing world. He is effortlessly funny and consistently engaging.

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