Chinese Color and Number Symbolism

Written by Admin,   on Jul 19, 2020

The Chinese color understanding differs significantly from the Western in more than one respect. Several thousand years before Christ, even before the Xia Dynasty, Chinese associated very specific colors with the seasons, directions, and many other things. It is not four, but five elements which determine the colors in the Chinese color scheme: wood, fire, earth, metal and water which correspond to the colors green, red, yellow, white and black. All elements and colors are directly related to each other. They do not exist without each other, nor do the five directions to which they are assigned: north, south, east, west, and the center. All elements, directions and the associated colors influence one another and can mutually reinforce or weaken.

Unlike the West, where white is the color of innocence and purity and white clothing is usually worn by the bride at a wedding, the color white in China is a sign of grief and misfortune. White clothes are for example worn at a funeral. At a wedding, however, the bride is wearing red. 

Red is the color of happiness and prosperity. You can see the color red everywhere in China. This has less to do with the communist government, but with the fact that red has a positive meaning in almost all cases. The only exception is the use of red ink in letters which should be omitted. Red envelopes, however, for example as an accompanying letter to a gift, are welcome.

Another important color in China is yellow, the color of Chinese emperors. As in Europe, there were strict regulations of clothing in the imperial China for the subjects. Yellow was the color which was often reserved only to the emperors and kings. And in Putonghua, the Chinese language which is called Mandarin in the West, the Chinese character for emperors is pronounced exactly the same as the character for the color yellow, namely huang.

Black is the resting point in winter, the time to enjoy the harvest. Black is the disappearance of the light. It is cold and symbolizes fear. But the black, the resting phase, leads over to the stormy green. 

With Green comes the morning, the time of birth and growth. Green relieves worries and promises peace, hope and freshness. It pushes the energies unleashed in the red. Accordingly, the impetuous green also stands for anger and wind. 

Also the numbers are related with mysticism in China. In China, the numbers Four, Seven, and Ten are considered unlucky numbers. The pronunciation of four si and ten shi in Putonghua sounds similar to the pronunciation of the word “death”. In the case of invitations, it is also important to invite an even number of guests to avoid misfortune.

Numbers with positive connotation are the Six, the Eight and the Nine, since their pronunciation is similar to that of some positive words. The word for six in Putonghua is liu which means as much as problem-free or promising. The number 8 is pronounced in Cantonese fa. Another meaning of the word is imminent wealth. The number 9 is pronounced as jiu in Putonghua, which is reminiscent of the word “forever” and is mostly associated in the context of friendship.


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