A single colour can have different connotations in different countries and cultures. In China, colours are branched according to traditional art and culture. The colours black, red, Qing (a combination of green and blue), white, and yellow correspond to the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal, and earth, taught in traditional Chinese philosophy. To select colours, China’s emperors used the Theory of the Five Elements, a five-fold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields use to explain different phenomena.
Black is “Heaven’s colour”. The saying “heaven and earth of mysterious black” was predicated on the observation that the northern sky was black for a long time. Black and white colours are also used to represent the famous unity of Yin and Yang, a concept describing how opposite forces are actually complementary. In modern China, black is used in daily clothing.
Red corresponds with fire, symbolising joy and good fortune. It is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is a colour of happiness. It is widely used during festivals, with invites sent in red envelopes, and red paper lanterns hung everywhere to ward off evil. Today, red is a popular colour and is also affiliated with the government.
Although Chinese has a separate word for blue which is “Lan”, it is grouped with shades of green under the name “Qing”. The word is derived from the idea of sprouting life. “Qing” corresponds to the Chinese element of wood, representing nature, renewal, and spring.
Green in Chinese culture symbolises health, prosperity, and harmony. Other qualities include self-assurance, benevolence, sensitivity, patience, and tranquillity. However, separately, green hats are also associated with infidelity, the only negative aspect of the colour.
Corresponding with metal, the colour white represents gold, brightness, purity, and fulfilment. It is, however, also the colour of mourning, used predominantly in funerals.
For the Chinese, yellow is the colour of heroes. It was the colour of Imperial China and is regarded as the colour of the five legendary emperors of ancient China. It corresponds with earth, considered the most prestigious colour of all. The Chinese believe that yellow is the centre of everything, and symbolises good luck. It is also attached with freedom from worldly cares and is therefore esteemed in Buddhism.
Orange, Brown, Purple, Silver, and Gold also appear in Chinese culture, but with less frequency than the five associated with the Theory of the Five Elements.
Find your nearest Asian Store