Why Do Chinese Websites Use Numbers in their Addresses?


New Republic explains the meaning behind the seemingly random numbers that make up URLs for Chinese websites.   Used as a clever workaround to a global domain name system that until recently only permitted Latin characters, the digits are clever homophones or oblique references to the company or its services. For example, online merchant Alibaba’s Chinese portal is 1688.com because “1688” (pronounced yāo liù bā bā) sounds like “Alibaba”.   Said aloud in Mandarin, the web address for employment site 51job.com sounds like something job hunters would say; “51”(pronounced  yāo) sounds like “I want” (wǒ yào).  Internet service provider NetEase uses took the old dial-up number for internet access and used it for its web address, 163.com. The article gives a few more examples and invites non-Chinese speakers into the club teaching some of the lingo.  Once the basics are mastered, those who want to speak only in numbers can try deciphering these. Of course, numbers have a long tradition of being used as homophones in Chinese, perhaps the punniest language and culture.  Auspicious numbers appear everywhere from company names like Motel 168 and Luk Fook to telephone numbers which, as an American, find very disorienting because they lack dashes. If you think about it, using numbers in this way can make sense and may be more memorable than the nonsensical words, like hipmunk, that make up many companies’ names and web addresses and might as well come from a random word generator.