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What do the colors red and gold mean in china?

The colors red and gold hold deep cultural significance in China. These shades are embedded in traditions, beliefs, and customs across the country. Red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness while gold signifies wealth, prosperity, and royalty. Understanding the meanings behind red and gold provides insight into Chinese culture and values.

The Meaning of Red in Chinese Culture

Red is the most prominent color in China. It represents fire and summer and is associated with good fortune and joy. The color red permeates many aspects of Chinese culture and daily life.

Red in Celebrations

Red is the color of celebration in China. It is prominently featured during holidays, weddings, and other festive occasions. Red is thought to bring luck and scare away evil spirits. At Chinese New Year, red decorations and clothing are ubiquitous as people try to summon luck and prosperity for the coming year. Red lanterns, banners, firecrackers, and envelopes containing money are common New Year traditions. Brides in China often wear red wedding gowns, and red is used copiously during the reception. The vibrant color enlivens the mood and inspires cheerful celebration.

Red Symbolism in Customs

Red also factors into several Chinese customs. Newborn babies are given red eggs as a symbol of life and good fortune. Red ribbons are tied to the wrists of children for protection. Giving monetary gifts of cash in red envelopes is customary during holidays and weddings. And red posters containing poetic couplets adorn doorways during New Year festivities. These longstanding practices reveal how red is interwoven into celebrations of life’s milestones.

The Red of Happiness

In Chinese color symbolism, red represents happiness and good cheer. The Chinese word for red literally translates to “fire color” and is associated with the heart and summer season. Red summons feelings of warmth, excitement, and merriment. New Year couplets written on red paper express wishes for joy in the coming year. Red is also considered lucky in numeric symbolism and is used in naming occasions like the Double Ninth Festival that falls on the ninth day of the ninth month.

The Significance of Gold in Chinese Culture

The gleaming hue of gold also holds key symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. As it does in many cultures, gold represents wealth and prosperity. But it also signifies nobility, stature, and respect.

Gold as Wealth

Gold communicates opulence and valuableness in China. It is the color of choice for coins, jewelry, and other luxury items. At New Year, gifts of gold ingots or jewelry are given as a blessing for prosperity in the coming year. Gold furnishings and decorations symbolize the wealth of the owner. While average people cannot afford lavish gold items, they use the color gold in celebrations to herald in future economic success.

The Color of Power

Historically, gold symbolized high social status and power in Chinese culture. Yellow was traditionally the color of the imperial family, and the emperor’s robes and paraphernalia featured golden dragons, symbols, and detailing. Ordinary people were forbidden from wearing bright yellow garments. Gold remains associated with authority figures in modern China. Government officials and people of high rank wear golden pins as badges of office.

Respect and Nobility

Gold also represents respect, nobility, and excellence in China. Athletes who win gold medals in competitions enjoy elevated status and bring honor to their country. Golden anniversaries, like the 50th wedding anniversary, are especially esteemed. And golden birthdays at ages 50 or 80 are celebrated lavishly as reflections of longevity and virtue. The distinguished, dignified qualities signified by gold make it precious socially as well as monetarily.

Key Differences in Red and Gold Symbolism

While red and gold are both lucky colors in China, they have some differing symbolic associations:

Red Gold
Joy, happiness Wealth, prosperity
Energy, excitement Status, nobility
Vitality, passion Wisdom, maturity
Youthfulness Longevity
Good fortune High social standing

While both colors convey luck and positivity, red is more dynamic and spirited while gold implies sophistication and prominence.

Historical Origins of Red and Gold Symbolism in China

The symbolic meanings behind red and gold in Chinese culture originate from history, legends, and philosophical beliefs.

Associations with the Five Elements

In traditional Chinese thought, red and gold are linked to the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Red corresponds to fire while gold/yellow represents earth. The fiery red symbolizes summer, warmth, and energy. The earthen gold signifies the harvest season and the late stage of the life cycle.

Connections to Science and Nature

Red and gold also stem from observational associations in science and nature. The red sun sets in the west, making it an auspicious direction. Red flowers and fruits like peonies and pomegranates represent fertility and life force. The yellow earth provides nourishment for planting. Yellow foods like carrots and pumpkins reflect the earth’s bounty.

Imperial Associations

The imperial history of China contributed to color symbolism as well. Yellow was designated as the royal color in ancient times, so the emperor exclusively wore golden dragons and robes. During the Ming Dynasty, red became an emperor’s color too, featured on official seals and portrait backgrounds. Overall, the colors developed regal connections.

Meaning in Folk Legends

Chinese myths and folk tales further reinforced the luck and positivity ascribed to red and gold. A folk story about Nvwa using stones of five colors to create humanity gave red stones a lively spirit. Another legend proclaimed that a red string connected destined lovers. And yellow was the mythical color of the Mountain of Immortals.

Examples of Red and Gold Symbolism in Practice

The cultural significance of red and gold manifests itself in many facets of Chinese traditions and aesthetics.


Chinese temples and palaces integrate red and yellow features. Yellow tiled roofs sit atop red walls, with upturned yellow edges signifying nobility. Red pillars and golden accents embellish sacred architecture.


Food presentation relies on red and gold for symbolic flair. Red dyed eggs and gold-foil-wrapped treats are given out as gifts. Banquet dishes like Peking duck and lobster are served with red and gold garnishes.


From silk gowns to embroidered slippers, red and gold adorn Chinese fashion. Red qi pao dresses are worn by brides, while golden dragon robes indicate high rank. Red and gold shoes and clothing are donned by performers during New Year festivities.


Red and gold permeate home and event decorations. People hang red spring couplets on their doorposts and have red envelopes containing “lucky money” at weddings. New Year is celebrated with red lanterns while a golden dragon dance entertains. Gold furnishings increase a home’s grandeur.


Red and gold hold deep symbolic significance in Chinese culture that emerged from history, legend, philosophy, and nature. Bright red represents joy, passion, and good fortune. Shimmering gold signifies wealth, status, and respect. Chinese holidays, traditions, architecture, cuisine, fashion, and decor rely on these colors to convey cultural meaning. Understanding the heritage behind red and gold provides insight into the values that underpin Chinese civilization.