Etiquette – Wearing Colours in China

Colours play an important part in Chinese Culture, and there are many superstitions and traditions surrounding the various colours. It’s a good idea to pay attention to these when choosing one’s wardrobe for a formal function. For non-formal occasions however, pretty much anything goes.

Red – Red is traditionally a very lucky colour, and is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is symbolic of happiness. A splash of red on an outfit, say on a tie or scarf, will go down well, however avoid an entirely red outfit as this will give the impression that you are attending a wedding – as the bride or groom! Many Chinese have lucky red socks or underwear.

White – it is best to avoid wearing all-white suits or dresses, as white represents death and is thus the traditional colour for funerary garments in China. A white shirt or blouse is best paired with trousers or skirt of a different colour.

Black – the Tai qi symbol uses Black & White to represent the unity of Yin and Yang, and ancient people regarded black as the most important of all the colours. Ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Zi said that ‘the five colours blind the eye’, so the Taoist chose black as the representative colour of the Tao, their religion. In modern China, Black is used in daily clothing.

Yellow – In China, Yellow is considered to be the most beautiful colour. Yellow was the official colour of Imperial China, and is viewed as symbolic of the five legendary emperors – the chief among whom was Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. Yellow is used as decoration in royal palaces, on altars and temples, and yellow was the primary colour of the Emperor’s attire, the Dragon Robe. Yellow also represents freedom from worldly desires, and is a key colour in Buddhism. Monk’s robes are ochre – an orangey-yellow colour, and parts of Buddhist temples are painted yellow.

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