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Why is red good luck in China?

Why is red good luck in China?

Red is widely regarded as a symbol of good fortune, joy, and prosperity in Chinese culture. But why did the color red come to be associated with luck and positivity in China? There are various historical, cultural, and linguistic reasons behind this.

The Symbolism of Red in Chinese Culture

In China, red represents fire, the summer season, the south direction, and the heart-mind in Chinese astrology and philosophy. Each of these associations contributes to red’s auspicious connotations.

Fire, as one of the five elements in Chinese thought, is considered a source of energy and power. Red symbolizes this vibrant elemental force. The passionate color is a reminder of the lively glow and warmth of flame. Just as fire brings comfort and life, red brings vibrancy and energy to those who encounter it.

Red is also connected to the summer season and the southern direction in China’s Five Elements theory. The south is associated with warmth, heat, and growth. Red evokes the lush flowering of nature in summer. This seasonal alignment reinforces the color’s link to energetic renewal and fecundity.

In Chinese astrology, red is connected to the fire element and the heart-mind system. The heart is considered the seat of both thought and emotion in traditional Chinese philosophy. Red represents the dynamism of the heart: creativity, joy, passion, romance, intuition. A red object or environment activates and energizes one’s mental and emotional state.

Red in Chinese Weddings and Celebrations

Red’s myriad positive associations make it a ubiquitous color in Chinese ritual and celebration. One of the most visible examples is the red clothing and decorations used in Chinese weddings.

The bride in a traditional Chinese wedding wears a bright red dress rather than white. This vibrant hue is believed to scare away evil spirits who may wish to harm the couple. The vibrant red qipao or cheongsam is also thought to bring the bride luck in fertility.

Red plays a major role in wedding decor as well. The marital bed is covered in red sheets. Wedding banners are red with gold lettering expressing Double Happiness. Red envelopes containing money or jewelry are given as gifts to the bride and groom. These bright accents symbolize the joy and vitality of love and new beginnings.

Beyond weddings, red dominates Chinese New Year celebrations. People wear red clothing and give children red envelopes with money on New Year’s Day. Homes and streets are decorated with red paper lanterns, banners, and other accents. These red hues symbolize luck, prosperity, and bounty in the coming year.

The Chinese belief in red’s power to ward off evil influences also makes it important in protection rituals. For instance, red string is sometimes tied around a baby’s wrist to protect them from harmful spirits. Brides wear red accessories for the same protective purposes.

Red’s Auspicious Linguistic Ties

Interestingly, red’s lucky connotations are also reinforced by similarities in word sounds and meanings in the Chinese language.

In Mandarin Chinese, red is hóng. The word for celebration is hóngli, containing the character for red. Moreover, red strings and banners are hung during Chinese holidays and celebrations. These red accents are called hóngsīlìng in Chinese. Due to these linguistic parallels, red becomes closely associated with festivity and cheer.

There is also a close relationship between the Chinese words for red and prosperity. Red is hóng, while the word for prosperity or greatness is hóngdà. The similarity links ideas of redness and success or abundance for Chinese speakers.

The Chinese word for wedding, hún, sounds identical to the word hún meaning mix or blend. By wearing red at their weddings, newlyweds are symbolically mixing their lives and blending their families. Once again, red gains positive connotations through linguistic resemblances.

Red in Daoism and Buddhism

Red has sacred symbolism in the two major religious traditions of China: Daoism and Buddhism.

In Daoism, also spelled Taoism, red represents the religion’s core principles of balance, compassion, and immortality. Daoist immortals were believed to wear red robes. Important religious buildings like the Hall of the Three Purities in the Forbidden City are painted red to honor this tradition.

Red also carries spiritual meaning in Buddhism, which came to China from India around the 1st century CE. The color represents the purified fire element of Buddhist meditation as well as the lifeblood that flows through all living beings. Monks’ robes are died red using the natural dye obtained from safflower or saffron flowers.

The red candle and red dot commonly seen in Chinese religious settings can symbolize enlightenment. These red spiritual accents further intertwine the color with qualities like inspiration, understanding, and insight.

Red in Chinese Legends and Customs

Various legends and customs surrounding red in China further reveal its privileged place in culture and psyche. Several of these long-held stories and practices contribute to red’s perception as fortunate and protective.

One prominent legend about red’s origin states that when the universe was first created, cosmic chaos reigned. To bring order and joy, the goddess Nüwa took red-hot copper and fused stones of five colors with it. These multicolored stones became the flowers and fruits that brought beauty to the world. In this tale, red was present at the very creation of natural abundance and pleasure.

There is a famous legend about the discovery of red lacquerware in China as well. Lacquerware made from the resin of the lacquer tree was developed in the Neolithic period. It gained artistic significance during the Shang Dynasty around 1600 BCE. According to legend, a Chinese alchemist came upon the process of creating lacquerware when his hat blew into a lacquer tree during travel. He found the sticky sap hardened into a beautiful, glossy, weatherproof red coating. From then on, lacquerware became a prized, luxurious artform in China.

Many Chinese customs reinforce red’s connection to luck and prosperity. For instance, in feng shui, the traditional practice of spatial arrangement, the front door to a home or business is often painted red. This is thought to ensure fortune and success for all who enter. Placing red carpets and lighting at entrances serves the same purpose.

Giving monetary gifts in red envelopes is perhaps the most recognizable of China’s red traditions. These “hóngbāo” contain money in even numbers, which are considered lucky. Red envelopes are gifted during holidays, weddings, and birthdays. The vibrant color brings luck and life force to people and occasions.


In China, the color red has been associated with vitality, abundance, protection, and good fortune since ancient times. Red holds positive meanings in Chinese philosophy, astrology, linguistics, religion, legend, and social custom. The color red activates people’s energy and excites the senses. It is intimately tied to beloved celebrations like Chinese New Year. While some Western cultures associate red with caution or danger, it is overwhelmingly viewed as a beneficent and auspicious color throughout Chinese history.