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Colors are everywhere. They’re our brain’s way of sorting out the light reflected off every object and surface. We associate different colors with different meanings and ideas, and use colors to stir emotional reaction. Chinese culture and tradition use colors that have become an integral part of much of ancient and modern Chinese life.

The ideas that are associated with colors in China are often very different to colors in modern Western culture. Here are some of the main colors and what they symbolise in Chinese culture:

hohng suh  (sounds like)
[hóng sè]  (pinyin)

Red is the color of joy, happiness and excitement in Ancient Chinese tradition. Even today, is commonly worn by the bride and groom at traditional Chinese weddings so that their celebrations can be full of joy. Red is also a predominant color in decorations at Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year, because it is believed to bring luck and happiness to festival-goers.

hwahng suh
[huáng sè]

The color of royalty and prosperity, yellow was worn by the feudal emperors of Ancient China to show their imperial status. Yellow is also the predominant color of Buddhism, so it is often associated with spirituality and being tied down to worldly cares.

lu suh
[lǜ sè]

Blue is the color of immortality, healing and a long life. It also represents the season of spring, and so is associated with growth and exploration. It is often coupled and interchanged with green (lǜ 綠) to symbolise the growing and harmony of nature.

hay suh

Black symbolised winter, the heavens and the unknown in ancient Chinese tradition. In modern Chinese culture, black is an unlucky color that represents destruction and suffering.

bai suh

White is the color for mourning and death, so is exclusively worn at Chinese funerals. It is also an unlucky color to wear or use when giving gifts, because of the reminder of death that it conveys.

Whether we developed our beliefs from Chinese culture, Western tradition, or one of the multitudes of other cultures worldwide, colors are an important part of our visual sensations and how we experience the world.