A pocket guide on colours and their symbolism in China

Written by Juliette Pitt

Like in all cultures colour plays an important part in Chinese culture. Indeed, there are many superstitions and traditions surrounding various colours.

And so, its a good idea to pay attention to these when choosing one’s wardrobe for a formal function.

Dont’ wear a green hat!

For non-formal events pretty much anything goes, however do not wear a green hat as it means that your wife is cheating on you.

Video: Check out this video to learn more about the taboo of wearing a green hat! Follow our Instagram page for similar content!

Let’s dive into the main colours to pay attention  or getting dressed!

#White (:báisè)

It is best to avoid wearing all-white suits or dresses as white represents death and is thus the traditional colour for funeral garments in China.

If you are wearing a white shirt or blouse it is best to pair this with trousers or skirt of a different colour.

#Red (:hóng)

As I’m sure you are aware, red is traditionally a very lucky colour! It is symbolic of happiness.

Family wearing red for Chinese new year!

A splash of red in any outfit, say on a tie or scarf, will go down well. However, it is best to avoid an entirely red outfit as this may  give the impression that you are attending a wedding – as the bride or groom!

Did you know: If it is your zodiac year it is considered good luck to wear red socks and undergarments during the year.

#Black  (:hēi)

Black is regarded the most important of all the colours. This is because the Taiji symbol uses black and white to represent the unity of Yin and Yang.

Yin and Yang symbol

The ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Zi said that ‘the five colours blind the eye’, so the Taoists chose black as the representative colour of the Tao, their religion.

Indeed, like many other countries, the colour black is often used in daily clothing.

#Yellow(: huáng)

In China,  yellow is considered to be the most beautiful colour; it was the official colour of Imperial China, and  is viewed as symbolic of the five legendary emperors – the chief among whom was 黄帝 (huángdì), the Yellow Emperor.

The Yellow Emperor

Yellow is used as a decoration in royal palaces, on altars and temples and as  the primary colour of the emperor’s attire – the Dragon Robe.

It  also represents freedom from worldly desires and  is a key colour in Buddhism. Indeed, if you’ve been to China then I’m sure you would have noticed that Monk’s robes are ochre an orangey-yellow colour. Also, it is common to see parts of Buddhist temples painted yellow. 

A Buddhist Monk’s dress robe

#Key Takeaways

Clothing etiquette is an important part of Chinese culture and although times have changed it is still good to be aware of which colours are seen as taboo.

We hope this short guide has served somewhat useful to you. Please share down below in the comments your experiences with wearing certain colours in China.