Colours in Chinese culture have many associations. In this blogpost we look at the meanings behind some colours and their contexts.
To wear green hat is widely thought to mean the wearer’s partner is unfaithful. Although this story goes back to 14th century China, it still has this connotation in Mainland China. For more on this, see our post on gift giving in China.
If a photograph has black borders, it can show that the person in them is deceased.
White gift wrapping can make a recipient think of their own death.
The colour red often springs to mind when discussing China. The colour has a very complex history and modern relevance.
In ancient China red, or Hóng 红, gained its meaning from fire.
Fire is not seen as a symbol of destruction. Quite the opposite, it has multiple meanings of extended life and prosperity. It can also symbolise a rise in popularity: a book, film, restaurant or just a busy market with lots of activity. In Chinese popularity is called huǒ le 火了, which translates as ‘caught fire’.
In modern China, red symbolises prosperity and happiness, and is integral to major celebrations like Chinese New Year and wedding ceremonies.
When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, they adopted as a symbol of the Communist revolution. It was not the colour of choice due to its historical roots, but rather as a symbol of communism worldwide.
Yellow also has distinctive meanings.
Any publications or media using Yellow or huáng 黄 can have connections with pornography. Huáng tú黄图 translates as “yellow picture”, which refers to pornographic images.
On the other hand, it has strong roots in ancient Chinese culture and symbolism. Vibrant and pure yellow used in the Qing dynasty was an ‘Imperial yellow’, reserved only for the emperor. Anyone using the emperor’s yellow would be put to death!
More colours with meaning
Gold symbolises nobility, wealth and the colour of the sun. However, the over use of the gold in design can end up looking overdone rather than sought after and luxurious.
Purple is a symbol of nobility, immortality and spiritual awareness connected to Taoism where it is a symbol of divine presence. In modern China purple is also associated with love and romance, much like red and pink in western countries.
Green represents spring, hope, regeneration, fertility and wellbeing. It also has notions of nature, organic produce and ecology. As mentioned above, just don’t wear it on your head!
Qīng 青 is a colour recognisably used in Chinese art, ceramics and architecture. It is a sometimes green, sometimes turquoise colour. In Imperial China it was a symbol of intellectuals and scholars,also used for the robes of servants. It also served as a visual aid within the Peking opera to signify a woman of good standing and morals fortune had worsened, whether a distressed lover or an Empress.
Qing has a complicated history, and probably would serve to be used in very specific situations. In general further advice should be sought before using this, as it can be hard to get the correct message using this colour.
So before choosing colour schemes and iconography to promote your business in China make sure you do your research, as care over your materials and their message will show that you’ve put the effort in to understand China culture.