Learning Chinese

Cruising the Yangtze Day 3: The Three Gorges Dam
April 18, 2012
It’s time to leave China
May 2, 2012

Learning Chinese

Today we’re going to learn about Chinese number gestures

My Uncle has a joke that goes something like this: “I know Arabic.”

“What are you talking about, Uncle Jim? Of course you don’t.” We would think to ourselves, waiting for the punchline.

Then he proceeds to write the Arabic numerals from one to ten on a sheet of paper.

Well, Uncle Jim, I know Chinese. Here I go:

Chinese number gestures one

Chinese number gestures two

Chinese number gestures three

Chinese number gestures four

Chinese number gestures five

OK. Now the easy part is over. Here’s 6 thrugh 10.

Chinese number gestures six

6  –  The little finger and thumb are extended, other fingers closed, sometimes with the palm facing the signer. (The extended thumb indicates one set of 5)
Chinese number gestures seven

7 –  The fingertips are all touching and usually pointing upwards (not like I’m doing it).


Chinese number gestures eight

8 –  The thumb and index finger make an “L”, other fingers closed.


Chinese number gestures nine

9 –  The index finger makes a hook and the other fingers closed.


Chinese number gestures ten

10 –  The arms are raised and the index fingers of both hands are crossed in a “十”


The method probably came about to bridge the different dialects of Chinese (not to mention the completely different languages of the dozens of other minority languages included in Chinese territory.

Regardless, it is helpful for us travelers who don’t speak Chinese.

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Erma Jimenez says:

    The L shape looks more of number 7. Oh well, if that’s how it is done, glad that you shared what you have learned. Hope you’ll share some basic Chinese words next time. 🙂

  2. Ayngelina says:

    Very cool, I must remember as I will never learn Chinese.

  3. Mike B. says:

    This is a great post! I was just teaching my co-workers some basic sign language this past week. I really enjoyed this!

  4. Stephen Bugno says:

    Thanks Mike! Glad you enjoyed it.

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