Numbers are tricky things in Chinese. If you’re not careful, you might unintentionally invoke death and misfortune, all because you used the number four (), a homophone for the word “death” ().

The Chinese language is rich in homophones, which makes it easy to turn numbers into proxies for words and phrases, like 88 (bābā) or ‘bye-bye.’ That explains why 666 (liùliùliù) refers to the Chinese word for smooth or skilled (溜, liù) instead of the devil.

From League of Legends To Livestreaming

According to Baidu, Chinese League of Legends gamers were the first use the number 6 to express awe and respect for good gameplay. At first, this took place in League of Legends’ chat feed, but now it’s not uncommon to see 666 on livestreaming platforms, which overlay text from chat feeds onto the screen.

With thousands of viewers in one livestreaming ‘room’, throwing a bunch of 6’s across the screen can be a way to applaud in a virtual setting:

Um…what am I watching again?

Also, in China, there are special hand gestures for numbers 1 to 10. The hand gesture for number 10, for example, is a closed fist. To physically express 666, Chinese people will sometimes shake their hand while it’s in the 6 position, where your pinky and thumb are out, like this guy:


‘Lost In Translation’ is a weekly column that covers netizen-speak from China’s Interwebs. China’s internet slang is a fast-moving linguistic phenomenon and staying fresh has never been harder. Here, you’ll find new words or phrases every week with a breakdown of what they mean, how they’re used, and how they came to be.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Eva Xiao

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).

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