Introduction: HOW TO COUNT TO TEN ON ONE HAND (in Chinese)

Picture of HOW TO COUNT TO TEN ON ONE HAND (in Chinese)

In this instructable I will not only teach you to count to ten in Chinese, but also how to do it using only one hand!

So as long as you have one good hand, and a good brain in your head, you are good to go. The only thing left to worry about is what your other hand will do in the meantime.

Let's begin...



As in the West, the Chinese count one to five using the first five digits on one hand.

Check out the boxes below for details on how to say the numbers in Chinese.



Whereas in the West we would probably start using our other hand right about now, here in China we simply start using different permutations of hand signals on just one hand.


In the West once we have reached TEN then that is it. With this counting system you can count as high as you like by combining numbers.

To show 100, you show ONE, TEN, TEN

To show 200, you show TWO, TEN, TEN

To show 250, you show TWO, TEN, TEN, FIVE, TEN

To show 500, you show FIVE, TEN, TEN

To show 1000, you show ONE, TEN, TEN, TEN

With each ten you shake your fist, but don't do it too violently, you don't want to start a fight!

Now that you are all familiar with the system, time for a test.

Move to the next stage and guess the number...

Step 4: TEST 1

Picture of TEST 1

What is the number below?

Step 5: TEST 2

Picture of TEST 2

What is the number below?

Step 6: TEST 3

Picture of TEST 3

What is the number below?

Post your answers in the comments section.

I look forward to marking your homework, and good luck with using this great technique!


GameGod (author)2016-11-17

Also, I made a sketch of myself at school. CHECK IT OUT!

GameGod (author)2016-11-17

Wow! I actually had NO IDEA you could do that, I guess I'll go to China, and when they ask my age I'm going to "say" it, only... How do you say 11 in Chinese? With a hand?

gaoxiong (author)2013-03-17

Different places in China, North and South, sometimes the opposite order of seven and eight, to be honest, I sometimes have seven and eight, regardless of the

hitblot (author)2010-07-22

The Seven and Eight is wrong, they should be reverse

penguintribe (author)hitblot2011-10-10

no this is correct. as someone explained to me, the 8 is supposed to look similar to the character 8 as written in chinese

nwuhwl (author)penguintribe2012-09-10

haha, this is very fun to see you this article and pictures. The Eight, 8, in spoken Chinese, pronounced "ba" , like the sound of gun fire, so make this hand gesture is like a gun to present Eight.
Besides, the thumb present number Five in chinese. So, a thumb and a little finger is Six, a thumb and forefinger and middle finger present Seven.

chello2k9 (author)2011-10-26

Or, you could learn to count to ten or any other number in ASL, which all can be done on one hand

seabee890 (author)2010-07-08

i will now take a moment to thank advil for suppling the drug that took away the headache i go t from tryihng to fiure out the biinary system in the first place.. I thought that i was doing well by using the knuckles and tips of my fingers to count to 16 on one hand and use both hands to count to 256.( theni remembeed that i could hold a piece of paper and pen/pencil with both hands and not get a headache while trying to remember what right ring second knuckle was). cool info though. (It's 176 BTW)

~Z~ (author)2010-02-07

 No its a gun

~Z~ (author)2010-02-07

In cantonese:

1 Yut
2 Yee
3 Saum
4 Say
5 Mm
6 Lut
7 Chut
8 Baut
9 Gauw ( Hard to do in letters)
10 Sup (lolz)

oggiedoggy (author)2009-07-08

if this is 42,001 then this doesn't make sense at all. If it were 42,001 then wouldn't it have 4 fist fist fist fist 2 fist fist fist 1?

theformatter (author)2007-05-04

Of course, for the bit twiddlers in the crowd, you can count to 31 on one hand using binary.

an interesting note:
lol in 1337 is 101

101 in binary is 5

so, lol = 5

Jawatech (author)WesDoesStuff2007-05-05

lol you can not have a '5' in binary. That wouldn't make sense. binary is based on a sequence of 1's and 0's. Thats robot talk buddy. They don't know what a 5 is. :D

fwjs28 (author)Jawatech2009-04-17

tehehe.....i must say...LOL

nafango22 (author)theformatter2008-06-03

ill give you a dollar if you can comfortably make 26 in binary with your hand.

brendanconnal (author)nafango222008-06-05

Dear nafango22, Thanks for the comment. I hope you have your dollar ready. 26 equals 11000 in binary. That means: THUMB UP / FOREFINGER UP / MIDDLE FINGER DOWN / RING FINGER DOWN / LITTLE FINGER DOWN Thanks for the challenge. It reawakened my use of binary from the old days of doing electronics at school. Hope to hear from you again with future challenges. Best regards, Brendan

nafango22 (author)brendanconnal2008-06-12

pics or it didnt happen. (the muscle on your ring finger is connected to your pinky, its impossible to lift the ring finger without lifting the pinky or middle finger aswell), unless you hold it with your thumb, which is also up)

zako (author)nafango222008-08-14

i can do that trick and keep my finger up though. im doing it properly and i can still do it, thus not impossible :P

DrCoolSanta (author)nafango222008-08-14

I can do it... Just need a camera to show it to you. And btw brendenconnel, it is 11010

jmvp (author)theformatter2007-05-05

This instructable isn't right. North-east Asians count 1, 2, etc., by folding their fingers into their palm starting with their thumbs. Therefore, 2 looks like "3" (to us) with the index finger folded over the thumb which touches the palm. In addition, 8 should point down (it mimics the actual chinese character for eight, which "opens down") and 10 is also, or generally (forgot which) shown by crossing the index and middle fingers over to make an elongated "x" which also mimics the chinese character for 10. 9 is also a hand-gesture which mimics the curve of the traditional character for the number 9. I've forgotten the gesture for 7, but the one shown here may be right. perhaps there are regional differences regarding how to count to 10 with the fingers (within China), but I've never seen the fingers pointed out - as a rule - in northeastern Asia. I believe what we have here illustrated as 4 is actually 1, and 5 looks like a fist, just with the thumb under all the fingers. In this approach, sometimes 6 is the same as 4 and 7 the same as 3 (and 8 and 2, 9 and 1), when context allows for understanding. The fingers are just opened back up the way they were closed down during the counting from 1 to 5. During bargaining this "shorthand" ( :p ) is not used as it is potentially confusing.

brendanconnal (author)jmvp2007-05-13

Dear jmvp, Thank you for you comments. Wanting to check out whether my instructable was indeed correct, I went out onto the streets of Hangzhou (near Shanghai) to recheck the numbers. You are indeed right about TEN being a cross, but that uses TWO hands, and the point was to only use ONE. You are similarly right about the EIGHT poiting downwards, but for the most part traders recognised the number. Everyone in the market that I visited seemed to recognise that ONE finger held up meant ONE as I previously stated, and given that I learned this counting system in North Eastern China (Changchun), and I frequently use it without problem then I guess that it is pretty standard. However, I do not want to dismiss your views, as China is a very big place with many regional differences. I would be interested to learn where in China you are so that we can compare ideas. Hope to hear from you soon, Brendan p.s. I am in Bangkok on holiday, and they use this counting system here too.

jmvp (author)brendanconnal2007-05-13

Brendan, I think your instinct is right that there may be significant regional differences. My guess is we have also to account for the Chinese capacity for stripping away unnecessary things and getting down to brass tacks. Perhaps for the same reason all manner of variations are understood. Context must clearly play a strong role - the person you're bargaining with knows what amount the discussion started out with and so is generally well aware of which number is meant by the potential purchaser. I remember being (I still am) quite fascinated by the idea of displaying all numbers on one hand. Some of the oldest human counting systems are in base 16 - and I seem to recall also base64 goes back to the dawn of history (Sumer, Ur, etc.). Base 16 is counted by using the thumb to indicate the tip of the finger, the first crease where the first knuckle is, the 2nd crease, and then the 3rd crease where the finger meets the palm. It continues with the next finger and we have 16 (4*4) countable units there. Though I find it somewhat hard to believe (seems unwieldy), I remember reading that base 64 was used too, because of a different counting system merging with the base 16 one that was only base 5. Then you can use the fingers on one hand to indicate the second place with the thumb/knuckle-crease method on the other hand indicating the "digits" place (yay! Another hand-counting pun!). Human ingenuity is pretty amazing. My instinct is still that the fingers are to be folded into the palm in the Chinese approach - as if the number of fingers folded onto the palm is where the counting occurs (at least for numbers 5 and below). But the market is very adaptive! Safe travels -- jmvp

So, middle finger means 4 ? ;-)

Dear chooseausername, That's an interesting point. However, in China people tend to hold up their little finger instead of their middle finger. This is more a slur on a man's prowess in the bedroom, and literally says, "Your penis is the size of my little finger." Most Chinese don't really understand the middle finger. Thanks for your comment. Brendan

Dear brendanconnal, I did not think that my stupid binary joke was going to lead to this interresting information, about which i would like thank you ;-) Actually, that's very interresting. Here, most of my compatriot and myself would undestand those chinese numbers like this : Number 6 : "i will call you" or "call me" Number 7 : if you rub your fingers, that will mean "money" for "that's expensive" / "this person is rich". And if you don't move your fingers, that will mean "fear" for "was (too) afraid". Number 10 : is a sign mainly used by anarchist/revolutionnary etc, which mainly mean "i will resist to your autority !" I'd be curious to know if these "idiomatic hand signs" are also understood in China and in other countries. :-)

Dear chooseausername, My wise old Dad used to say to me, "There is no such thing as a stupid question, just a stupid answer." I mention this as I value everyone's comments and would like to be able to respond to them all. With that in mind... Number 6: This would depend on who you are talking to. The young techies at Nokia where I work, would soon understand this, as would much of the Chinese youth. I am not sure the older generation would understand it though. Number 7: Rubbing your fingers together similarly implies money, but people often do this when they want to know how much money (as a Westerner) I earn each month. I usually tap my nose three times (as is body language in the UK for a secret), but this is usually lost on them. Number 10: Yeah, you have to be quite careful with this one, as it can lead to a fight, as one time happened to me in Beijing, when the vendor misinterpreted my offer of 100 yuan (two shakes of the fist) for a fake Gucci shirt, as, "This shirt is crap, and not worth 100 yuan". It took a security guard to get him off me. I did not buy the shirt. I too would be interested to learn about other cultures' body language, and its reasons for use. Thanks for the idea. Brendan

Yeah, so for all those years when you thought people were saying you were number one, they actually meant you were number 4! :-}

Dear theformatter, Thank you for your comment. Binary is actually something I have been interested in since doing electronics at school. Our teacher Mr. Mahoney, taught us how to convert normal numbers to binary. This is a process I have long since forgot. Could you perhaps remind me how to do it? That would be uber cool. Brendan

lemonie (author)brendanconnal2007-05-05

May 5, 2007. 5:48 AMlemoniesays:
Base 10 value - 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
Power of two - 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20

To convert base 10 to binary, subtract the highest value, mark in the appropriate place, and repeat until zero.

e.g. '42'
-32 gives 10
-8 gives 2
-2 gives 0

128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1
_0_ _0 _1 _0 1 0 1 0


Which is 22 + 23 + 25

thats what i was gonna say >: [

sasuke31 (author)2007-07-30

i didnt think you could count to ten with one hand this way.

kl0an (author)2007-05-08

OR, you could just use good old AMERICAN Sign Language to count to 10. Google it.

Looks a lot easier than Chinese although, not nearly as many people in the world would understand it.

gracetung (author)kl0an2007-05-10

Hi, it's very interesting,does it just use for the American? Grace

kl0an (author)gracetung2007-05-11

American Sign Language, Chinese sign language, Portugese sign language.. It doesn't matter.. A number is a number is a number whichever sign you use.

vlxwgn (author)kl0an2007-05-09

yeah, asl is soooo easy to learn , and you can count forever on one hand!!! support the deaf community!!!

alexsolex (author)2007-05-04

hi ! Nice to learn chinese counting method, but I personnaly prefer the binary way. You can count up to 31 (32 numbers 0 to 31) with only one hand (each finger is a power of 2 ... hum I can't explain with my poor english words but an instructable already exist with this method).

brendanconnal (author)alexsolex2007-05-04

Dear alexsolex, Thanks for leaving a comment, and I am glad that you like the Chinese method. With regards to the binary method, I took a look at it, and that looks pretty cool too, so thanks for pointing that out. I am always searching for new knowledge. The method I illustrated is used on a day-to-day basis throughout China. I wonder how many people use the binary method. Thanks again for your commenys, and keep your eyes peeled my my future projects. Brendan

brianf25 (author)brendanconnal2007-05-05

I use the binary method and one of my friends so thats at least 10 people right there...

brendanconnal (author)alexsolex2007-05-04

Merci pour votre comments.

mewantbigboom (author)2007-05-05

u are right! and i thought americans always think that chinese people say chin chong ching chong....=P

pppoootttzzz (author)2007-05-04

this is cool, but you could just count to five normally, then turn your hand sideways and count normally. when you turn you hand just add 5 more. it's really easy to learn and teach other people, and it still uses one hand.

Dear pppoootttzzz, Thanks fot taking the time to comment. I like your idea, but I guess it has limited applications, in that you cannot really count to larger numbers like one million. The other point of this instructable, was to teach people a little about Chinese culture and how to count in Chinese. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us though, and I hope to see your comments again. Brendan

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