What's Your Number?

Each country has its own pattern of phone numbers, usually 8-10 digits, separated into groups of 3-4 numbers. China has the same pattern for the country's 11-digit phone numbers, specifically xxx xxxx xxxx. The first three numbers are an area code and the rest of the numbers are the actual phone number. This is still relevant for land lines where you can call another land line in the same area code without dialing the first three numbers. Some companies still list their phone number without the first three, assuming that everyone knows the local area code. Here are the area codes for popular cities in China:

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  • Beijing - 10
  • Shanghai – 21
  • Tianjin – 22
  • Chongqing – 23
  • Shenyang, Tieling, Fushun, Benxi – 24
  • Nanjing – 25
  • Taipei – 26 (proposed use)
  • Wuhan – 27
  • Chengdu, Meishan, Ziyang – 28
  • Xi'an, Xianyang – 29
  • Guangzhou – 20

Over the years, phone numbers have evolved, mainly growing longer as the population increases. Additionally, cell phones have changed the importance of area codes. The cities listed above were the first major cities in China to use phone numbers so they all have 2-digit area codes starting with 2. Beijing, being the national capital, is the only exception with an area code of 10. To fit the current standard 11-digit phone number when dialing land lines in these major cities, add a 0 before the area code (021 for Shanghai).

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Cell phones all have 3-digit area codes starting with 1. When you get a new cell phone number, you can choose the area code and phone number on a computer in the store. This is one of the hardest decisions because in Chinese, numbers have meaning and are associated with good and bad energy. For example, 0 represents perfection because it's a circle that never ends. The number 1 represents unity. The negative association with the number 4 sounding like death actually comes from its pronunciation in Cantonese, not Mandarin, but the aversion to the number also exists in Mainland China. Numerology in China is very complicated and used for telling fortunes and choosing favorable dates for weddings, funerals, business openings and more. So you may want to bring a Chinese friend along when you choose your phone number.


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.