A Quick Overview of the Color Meanings & Symbolism in China

The color symbolism in China is closely related to the five-elements theory. This theory has played a significant part in influencing the Chinese customs and beliefs.  Therefore, these 5 elements are also represented by 5 colors.

The Five-Elements Theory

Based on the Chinese fengshui, colors can be associated with 5 basic elements.

Fire – This is the element that determines the level of energy. It is commonly associated with warm colors such as pink, scarlet, and red.

Earth – This element is depicted through yellow and brown pigment. A lot of homeowners will prefer to use hardwood as their flooring materials not only due to its premium quality, but it helps them feel more grounded.

Metal – This is the element that highlight stability. The color used to identify this element is silver and gold.

Water – It is the element that dictates the motion and the flow of life.

Wood – Growth and birth are represented by this element. The colors used to symbolize wood are teal and blue.

Red is the Symbolism of Fire

Red is perhaps one of the most prominent colors on the Chinese culture. It is a color that indicates prosperity, luck, and happiness. It is also the representation of the South and summer season. The bride will wear a traditional red gown that can ward of negative energies and evil. Apart from that, it is also a sign of fertility, vitality, and celebration.

Nowadays, the West consider red as a symbol of Chinese political system and revolution. Nonetheless, this is not necessarily the situation since Chinese people did not relate red with revolution.

If you plan to expand your business in the Mainland, consider using a red in your marketing strategy. However, you should also be cautious since too much red energy can be detrimental for the growth of your business.

Yellow Pertains to Earth

Yellow is known as the imperial color that indicates power, prosperity, and royalty.  In terms of direction, it represents the central and the late summer season. These days, yellow has been used as a symbol of pornography in China. Therefore, you need to be extra careful when using yellow to market your brand.

  • Traditionally, the official seals will be wrapped using a yellow fabric.
  • In Buddhism, this color is associated with freedom to the materialistic needs. Monks will often wear something yellow that indicates their indifference towards mundane subjects.

Black Represents Water

In the west, blue will commonly be associated with water but in the ancient Chinese culture, black is the symbol of water. This might be surprising to some. Black has been related with suffering, sadness, cruelty, disaster, evil, and destruction. It is a bad omen and should never be worn during weddings and other lively occasion.

  • Hei is the Chinese term for black. This is also a term used to describe illegality, irregularity, and bad fortune.
  • You should avoid using black when executing your brand marketing campaign.

White Corresponds to Metal

White is a symbolism of the metallic elements. Additionally, this is also a sign of purity to the ancient Chinese tradition. Nonetheless, there are also instances when it indicated death. It is the color that will be worn during a funeral.

  • White is most popular color of the cars in China today. Together with other colors such as black, this is widely used in manufacturing a range of products such as clothes, cellphones, and watches.
  • You should be sensible when using white in your marketing. You should also avoid wrapping your present using the white paper.

Blue is the Symbol of Wood

It should be surprising to some that blue represents wood. This can also be the symbol of advancement, immortality, and spring. With regards to marketing, you may use blue liberally on your brands. Blue can be used together with green when decorating home to invite luck, harmony, and longevity.

Other Colors and their Meaning

Aside from these colors that represents the 5 elements of the Chinese culture, other colors can also carry different meanings and symbolism.

  •  Gold – Just like in the Western culture, gold is also a symbol of wealth in the Chinese culture. You can freely use this in your marketing and branding strategy together with other colors. However, you should be cautious when using it on your website since this can make your website appear cheap.
  •  Green – With regards to the meaning of green, there is not necessarily much difference between the Chinese and Western symbolism. Perhaps the only striking difference is that the West look at green as a sign of wealth, money, eco-friendliness, growth, and harmony. On the other hand, it refers to cleanliness in China.

Green can also be used to determine organic and natural products such as Green tea, green vegetables, and green milk. This means that the food is free from any type of contamination such as pesticides. Green can also be used to describe negative things. For instance, someone wearing a green hat can mean having an unfaithful spouse. You should be cautious when using green on your marketing campaign.

  • Purple – In the early western culture, purple is the color that is reserve for royalty. In the east, purple stands for immortality and divinity. Today, purple is used to indicate romance, passion, and love. If your targeted market is the younger audience, this is a good choice for your business.
  • Rainbow – Chinese color will often use the spectrum of colors in the rainbow on a variety of things. China do not have the same Pride Month where they will use rainbow. They will, however, use this on their marketing strategy. During the early times, the manifestation of the rainbow is a sign that the emperor will soon face a challenge, or he might die.
  • Qing – This is a color that you will not find in the standard color spectrum. Some Chinese claim that it is a shade of blue while others think that this is a part of the green family. Qing is the color in between blue and green. This can also have a hint of grey. This is the color that represents history and tradition in China.

Lucky Color Combinations in the Chinese Culture

During the Chinese New Year, yellow and red will be a staple part of their decoration. They believe that it can double the prosperity and wealth of their household. When you look at the chart of the five elements, the red is positioned in the opposite direction of black.  Red can commonly be found in all Chinese homes. This is the color that invites invigoration and stability that encourages good fengshui.

In eastern homes, people will usually coat their walls with blue, purple, and yellow. Purple is a very powerful symbolism in the Chinese culture since this represents a higher form of wisdom. This symbolism originated during the early Chinese civilization when the advisor of the Emperor will often wear purple clothing.  Golden is another lucky and positive color in China since it has been related with wealth and fortune. We will often encounter this color during lavish and sophisticated occasion.

Negative Color Combination

Yellow is traditionally a positive symbol but in terms of marketing, using this can be a bad decision. This is because it is a symbol of pornography and eroticism. This is a color that is not often picked by the business. Not a lot of packaging will be done using yellow wrappers.

Black also invites negative energy since this is a sign of death. Some Chinese will wear something black, but it is more common to encounter this on labels, gifts, and packaging. It is also rare to find black in the Chinese supermarkets. Blue is a neutral color that can be positive or negative depending on different factors. Nonetheless, some shades of blue are used as the color of the Chinese preschool uniform. Thus, it has been related with childish behavior.

Pink is a symbol of femininity in the western culture. Most cosmetic and body-treatment product will use pink to attract the attention of their female customers. However, you should still be careful since some brothel and places for prostitution will use pink. White can be a sign of purity, but at the same time it can also be a sign of death.

Colors has transformed into something that can greatly affect the viability and commercialism of your business. It is necessary to choose color that is effective and cultural-appropriate for your branding campaign and corporate identity. Learning about the color meaning & symbolism in China will help you choose the color that appeals to the local people.