When counting things or bargaining in China, it’s common to use hand signals to express the quantity or amount you would like. The number gestures are a method of using one hand to symbolise numbers one through ten.
There are varying theories as to why this method of counting exists. A commonly held belief is that this method may have been developed to use as a common method of communication between people speaking different Chinese dialects. Also, this helps clarify numbers which sound very similar, such as 4 (Chinese: 四; pinyin: sì) and 10 (Chinese: 十; pinyin: shí). Some theorists also believe that these counting methods were used by business people during bargaining for when they wished to keep their offers secret from those around. The seller would feel the buyer’s hand through their sleeve and be able to tell the amount they wished to pay from this simple touch.
See the gallery below for a complete guide to counting with your fingers in Chinese. Click on an individual picture to enlarge it.