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As everyone knows, Chinese particularly like the colour red. In the past, when Chinese married, the bride and groom would both dress in red formal attire and carry a red flower. The bride’s head would even be covered by a red cloth when she arrived at the groom’s house by red sedan chair. The room of the bride and groom would also be red. The character for ‘happiness’ would be written in red and stuck on the wall, red fireworks would be lit, the sheets on the newlyweds’ bed would be red and the quilts would also usually be red. The guests would put money into red envelopes, called ‘hong bao’ (red paper envelopes with gift money) to give to the bride and groom. For what reason do Chinese like red so much? Today we’ll talk about what the colours red and white mean in Chinese culture.
Within the traditional culture of China, red is the colour of the sun and symbolises life. In China red represents: happiness, liveliness, luck and success. At Chinese New Year, Chinese like to write blessings on red paper and stick them in front of their door – these are called ‘spring festival couplets’. At the World Expo in 2010 in Shanghai, the Chinese pavilion was a crimson colour thus revealing the fondness the Chinese have for the colour red. As further examples, in the language ‘hongren’ (lit. red person) is a person welcome or a favourite of someone, ‘zouhong’ (lit. ‘to walk red’) means to become well-received or well-liked. In addition, red also symbolises revolution. So the Chinese flag is also red.
In traditional Chinese culture people believe that white symbolises death and sickness. At traditional funerals people should wear white and deck everything out in white. Moreover white has the meaning of ‘to be defeated’ and ‘to be foolish’. For example among other expressions with the word ‘white’ we have ‘baichi’, (literally ‘white imbecile’ which means ‘idiot’) and ‘baifeili’ (lit. ‘to expend effort in white’ which means ‘to expend great effort for nothing’). Both of these expressions have a pejorative meaning.
Of course the use of red and white to represent good and bad is not so black and white. (1) In pace with advancement over time, their meanings have undergone change. For example, nowadays when the majority of young Chinese women marry they choose to a wear a white wedding gown.
So understanding the meaning of colour in the culture allows us to better understand the country.
1. The English is almost like poetry!
by Robert Budzul