Colors Meaning in Chinese Culture

Colors Meaning in Chinese Culture

The colors in China have more importance than just an aspect of visual look. One of the oldest culture in the world enriched colors with ethnological and mythological links and prejudices. Color palette in China holds different meanings from western culture and by understanding it you can learn about Chinese traditions and even avoid some trouble.

First two colors who achieved special connection with ancient Chinese beliefs were black and white.


Black and white is present in Taiji or Yin and Yang (yīnyáng “dark—bright”) symbol which have very wide meaning and is widely recognized around the world as a symbol of dark and light duality convertion into a unity. Contrary forces are combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Many branches of classical chinese science, philosophy, marshal arts and ancient writings such as I Ching used this symbol.

Black (dark) sometimes associated with blue or green.

Dark Light
Negative Positive
Female Male
Night Day
Passive Active
Moon Sun
Intuitive Logical
Cold Hot
Soft Hard

Black is also a color of heaven symbolizes northern and western sky, hence it represents winter and the unknown. In modern times Chinese people tend to wear black clothes for daily use. Black represents solemnity, righteousness and equality it is formal color.

White corresponds with metal, representing strength, courage and sadness. Ghosts and ancestral spirits, death and mourning are associated with white color and people used to wear clothes and hats of such color in former Chinese funerals. Sometimes white also represents gold which symbolizes fulfillment and brightness.

white funeral

Pictures from Chinese funeral

Today in China, white 白 (bái) symbolizes stupidity, failure and disappointment. Chinese people tend to say “白忙 (báimáng)” or “白费力 (báifèilì)” when their hardwork are not giving any results and efforts are being put in vain.

In traditional chinese culture, color had strong connection with five elements so there were five main colors that represent them. It is important to note that one color can have many shades such as yellow can be seen as brown or golden and it has different meanings.

Mixed together or separately Green and blue in China is sometimes called color Qīng青. This word is used to describe colors ranging from light and yellowish green through deep blue to black.

As Michael Schiesser states in his article „The Five Elements“ ‘Along with the law of Yin and Yang, the ancient Taoists observed a pattern of expression in nature that they interpreted as and named, the Five Elements or Five Phases. Taoists observed a pattern of expression in nature that they interpreted as and named, the Five Elements or Five Phases.‘

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
color Green or Qīng青 Red Yellow White Black
Direction East South Center West North
Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Season Spring Summer Change of season (every third month) Autumn Winter
Climate Windy Hot Damp Dry Cold
Development Sprouting Blooming Ripening Withering Dormant

Everything in the world is composed of these five prime elements.

Yellow is one of the most important colors in China. During the reign of Huang Di also known as Yellow Emperor, this color was worshipped because it represented the earth and importance of Yellow River was essential in ancient China.  Water and ground produced grains such as rice, so farming and naturality in general also have a deep connection with the meaning of yellow color. It is considered to be most beautiful and prestigeous color by corresponding with the earth yellow enriches the treasures of the earth. Chinese says ‚yellow generates yin and yang‘ implying that the yellow is truly the gold middle of everything. Yellow also associates with neutrality and good luck. This color is sometime used instead of golden color in combination together with red. In emperial China, yellow was a color of emperor and this color often decorated in palaces, temples and altars. Yellow have big importance in Chinese Buddhism where it represents freedoom from worldly cares and monks wear yellow garments. In east countries, yellow also symbolises heroism while in western it symbolises cowardice and weakness.

Red is the most popular color in China and unlike in western countries its meaning is very positive mainly good fortune and joy. Red resembles blooming, enthuasiasm, celebration, vitality and creativity. It is considered in China that red and purple brings fame, good luck and wealth.


Pictures from Chinese holidays & festivals

Red envelope is common gift given during chinese holiday or special occasions. It‘s considered rude to wear red in funeral; however in the past, the names of death people were written in red. So normally to write a name in red can be considered rude, the red color is used for official seals.

In most Asian countries, red associates with marriage in India, Nepal, Japan and China brides wear traditional red clothes that symbolizes good luck and happiness.

To understand the opposite of red meaning in west and east countries note: In North American stock markets, color red signalize a negative meaning and is used to denote a drop in stock prices and in China it does signalize the positive rise.

Green is a color of spring, regeneration, hope, fertility, well being and health which is not too different from the West. Chinese man with green hat is considered to being cheated by his wife. Green has same meaning in Chinese stock market as red in North America that means green is more negative than red. However in modern days, China receives more and more influance from the west and as the world gets global, green color in China is being seen as symbol of nature, freshness and ecology.

qing vase

These vases considered to be Qīng 青 color. A color between blue and green.

Like green in the West, blue in China represents wood element and symbolizes spring. That is because blue and green commonly shares the positive meaning. It also symbolizes healing, conserving, immortality, calmness, trust and long life. Today blue can be used quite widely in marketing. It is feminine color and sometimes is associated with pornography and ‘blue films’. Shades of green and blue is commonly used for decorating homes as it brings harmony and longevity.

Golden color in China is often used for marketing purpose to increase value of the product. That is because same as in the West, gold symbolize riches and wealth. It’s also associated with nobility because in ancient times emperors wore golden or yellow garment. It represents pure and bright side of yellow, completeness. Golden and red combination is commonly used for holiday and packaging purposes.

Brown is a color for earth and ground.

Purple stands for immortality, spiritual awareness, divinity, symbolizes physical and mental healing and strength. In modern China, this color is being used to represent romance or love just as pink or red color in the West. While used in marketing it is very attractive color for young consumers.

Note that colors are interacting with each other and in China is common to mix one main color with a shade of another color. Such variaties of color mixtures can lead to a combined interpretations.

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