Facts about the colour red in Chinese culture

November 3, 2015

While red is well-revered in North America, it is a powerful symbol in China. Red, a Chinese New Year's symbol, stands for luck and prosperity, and the meaning extends to language and cultural traditions, as well as festivities.

Facts about the colour red in Chinese culture

1. China's national colour

  • Red is broadly used in Chinese culture.
  • Double rows of red happiness letters or "Xi" are regularly seen on people's doors and gates.
  • During the Chinese New Year, money is given in red envelopes.
  • People also wear red during celebrations and weddings.
  • The vibrant hue represents good fortune, success, happiness, and beauty.
  • It's no wonder that the colour is intricately interwoven in celebrations for the New Year.

2. Yellow and green -- other lucky hues

  • Not only is red influential in the Chinese culture, the colours yellow and green are also considered lucky.
  • In fact, the first emperor to preside over China was known as the Yellow Emperor.
  • In addition, China is often called the Yellow Earth. Therefore, "yellow" appears to be strongly related to the country's history and geography.
  • Yellow is a symbol of royal power and influence.
  • Green is a symbol of money in the country.

3. A symbol for fire

  • In the ancient culture of China, the colour red was defined in terms of fire.
  • Although many countries in the world regard fire as a destructive symbol, fire has the opposite meaning in the Chinese language.
  • The Chinese follow a saying which says that life's meaning, at times, expands then prospers, cracks and rockets -- just like a red flame.
  • In fact, the Chinese symbol for fire and explosion describes places that are packed with people or entertainment that is filled with excitement and activity.

4. A political hue

  • Red was used as well when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949 and was adopted as the Communist's symbol of revolt and liberation.
  • However, this colour should not be confused with the root colour red of China, which does not advocate revolution.
  • The choice of red in Communist China was influenced by the powers that be in the USSR. It was not based on the colour that stems from China's ancient heritage and beliefs.

5. Chinese New Year and the colour red

  • During the Chinese New Year, red gains additional significance in the story of the mythical beast known as Nian -- translated to "Year" in Chinese.
  • Legend has it that the beast would come out each New Year's Day to devour villagers, crops and livestock. To safeguard themselves, people would place food at their front doors to prevent any attacks by Nian.
  • The people discovered that the beast was afraid of the colour red when he saw a child wearing the shade and fled.
  • The villagers started to hang out red lanterns and used red fireworks to frighten the beast away.
  • Eventually, the beast stopped coming and was transformed by a Taoist, named Hongjunlaozu, who converted Nian into his mount.
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