What Does Black Symbolize in China? Understanding the Symbolic Meaning of Black in Chinese Culture

Black has long been a staple color in the world of fashion, with its understated elegance and slimming effects, it’s a color that never goes out of style. But did you know that in China, black holds a whole different set of meanings and symbolism? From ancient mythology to modern-day culture, black plays a prominent role in Chinese life. But, what does black symbolize in China, exactly? To answer that question, we have to delve into the fascinating world of Chinese folklore and iconography.

In Chinese mythology, the color black is associated with the Northern Celestial Emperors, the seven deities who rule over the Big Dipper. These seven stars were believed to represent the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a group of scholars and poets who rejected the conventional Confucian lifestyle in favor of a more individualistic, free-spirited existence. Because of this association with wisdom and enlightenment, black is often worn during important ceremonies and formal occasions in China.

However, black also holds a darker connotation in Chinese culture. The color is linked to death and mourning, and is traditionally worn to funerals and other somber occasions. In some parts of China, it is believed that wearing black during happy events can bring bad luck or even death. Despite these negative associations, though, black remains a popular choice for clothing, art, and home decor in China, illustrating the multifaceted nature of such a powerful symbol.

The meaning of the color black in Chinese culture

In Chinese culture, colors hold deep symbolic meanings. Black, in particular, is a powerful and complex color that often carries both positive and negative connotations. Here are some of the meanings behind the color black in China.

  • Power and strength: Black is associated with power and strength, making it a popular color for business and official settings. It is often used in the uniforms of police officers, judges, and government officials.
  • Mystery and the unknown: Due to its association with darkness, black is often linked to the mysterious and the unknown. In ancient China, black was the color of the Northern Stars, which were believed to hold the secrets of the universe.
  • Sophistication and elegance: Black is a classic color often associated with sophistication and elegance. It is a popular color in fashion and is often worn at formal events such as weddings and banquets.
  • Death and mourning: Unfortunately, black is also associated with death and mourning in Chinese culture. It is the color worn at funerals, and it is considered inappropriate to wear black to happy occasions such as weddings and birthdays.

Overall, the meaning of black in Chinese culture is multifaceted and layered. It can represent power and elegance as well as death and the unknown. Understanding these various connotations is important for anyone looking to do business or make cultural connections in China.

Historical significance of black in Chinese art

Black has been an important color in Chinese art history, symbolizing various ideas and concepts that have shaped Chinese culture. Here are some of the historical significances of black in Chinese art:

  • Yin and Yang: In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are two complementary yet opposing forces that are present in everything. Yin represents feminine, passive, and cool energy while yang represents masculine, active, and warm energy. Black is often associated with yin energy and represents the dark, cool, and mysterious side of life.
  • Five Elements: The Chinese believe that there are five elements that make up everything: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Black is linked to water and represents the deep, still, and contemplative qualities of this element.
  • Buddhism and Taoism: Both Buddhism and Taoism have had a significant impact on Chinese art and culture. In Buddhism, black represents the absence of desire and attachment, which are important for achieving enlightenment. In Taoism, black symbolizes the void, which is the state of pure potentiality and creativity.

Black has also been used in Chinese art to portray various emotions and moods:

  • Black ink was used to create calligraphy and brush paintings, which were highly respected art forms in China. This type of art was used to convey deep philosophical ideas, emotions, and moods through a combination of brush strokes, ink, and paper.
  • The color black was used in ink wash paintings to represent darkness, depth, and mystery. These paintings were often used to depict landscapes, nature, and everyday life in a poetic and ethereal way.
  • Black was also used in monochrome pottery and porcelain, which were popular in the Song Dynasty. These pieces were created using a special glaze that turned black when fired in a kiln. The black color was used to create a sleek and elegant look that was highly prized by collectors.


Black has played a significant role in Chinese art and culture, representing various ideas, emotions, and moods. From the philosophical concepts of yin and yang and the five elements to the creative potential of the void, black has been used to convey deep philosophical ideas and emotions. In Chinese art, black has been used to create calligraphy, brush paintings, ink wash paintings, and monochrome pottery and porcelain, all of which are highly respected art forms that showcase the rich cultural heritage of China.

Concept Meaning
Yin and Yang Represents feminine, passive, and cool energy
Five Elements Linked to the element of water and represents its deep and still qualities
Buddhism and Taoism Represents the absence of desire and attachment and the state of pure potentiality, respectively

These concepts have been influential in shaping the culture and art of China, and continue to inspire artists and thinkers around the world today.

Black symbolism in Chinese philosophy

Color symbolism holds a significant role in Chinese culture and philosophy. Among all the colors, black has been given a unique meaning in Chinese philosophy, which is different from the western notion of death, darkness, and negativity. Below are some of the significant beliefs related to black symbolism in Chinese philosophy:

  • Balance: In Chinese philosophy, black symbolizes the concept of yin, which is the passive and receptive energy in nature. Yin represents the feminine, the moon, and the night. It complements the energy of yang, which is the masculine, active, and bright. Together, they create a harmonious balance, which is essential for overall well-being.
  • Mystery: Black represents the unknown and mysterious. It is associated with the depth of thought and creativity. Black is used to express the unfathomable depth of the universe and the human mind. Black, therefore, is seen as an alluring color that is often used in poetry, literature, and art.
  • Rejuvenation: Chinese philosophy associates the color black with the element of water, which is one of the five primal elements of nature. Water is believed to have healing properties that can rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul. Thus, black is considered to be a significant color in healing practices, meditation, and other spiritual rituals.

Black symbolism in Chinese culture

Colors play a significant role in Chinese culture, from fashion and art to food and festival decorations. Black too holds a unique place in the cultural traditions of China. Below are some of the important beliefs regarding black symbolism in Chinese culture:

  • Mourning: In Chinese culture, black is the traditional color of mourning and grief. During funerals, people wear black clothes and accessories as a sign of respect for the deceased. Black is believed to be a solemn and respectful color that expresses sincerity and reverence towards the departed loved ones.
  • Clothing: Black clothing is considered to be a fashionable and elegant choice in Chinese culture. Black is a versatile color that can be paired with different accessories and fabrics to create a chic and sophisticated look. Black is a staple color in traditional Chinese clothing, such as Qipao and Cheongsam, which are worn on formal occasions and celebrations.
  • Feng shui: Black is often used in feng shui practices as a symbol of protection and security. Black colored objects, such as amulets, statues, and paintings, are believed to absorb and neutralize negative energies and ward off evil spirits. Black is also used as a grounding color that can bring stability and strength to the environment.

Black symbolism in Chinese art and design

Black has been a prominent color in Chinese art and design for centuries. From calligraphy to pottery, black is used to express various emotions and aesthetics. Below are some of the notable instances of black symbolism in Chinese art and design:

  • Calligraphy: Chinese calligraphy uses black ink to create intricate strokes and curves. Black ink is believed to be the purest form of ink that represents the painter’s soul and emotions. Calligraphy artists often use black ink to express different moods, such as serenity, sadness, and awe.
  • Pottery: Black pottery is a popular form of Chinese ceramics that dates back to the Han dynasty. The rich color and texture of black pottery are achieved by using a special clay and firing the pieces at high temperatures. Black pottery is often used to create simple and elegant designs, such as tea sets and bowls.
  • Feng huo lun: Feng huo lun, also known as fireworks, are an integral part of Chinese culture and traditions. Fireworks are believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and prosperity. Black fireworks are used to create mesmerizing patterns and shapes that fill the night sky with the essence of mystery and beauty.

Black symbolism in Chinese culture and philosophy is extensive and diverse. It represents the balance of yin and yang, the mystery of the unknown, and the rejuvenating power of water. Black also plays a vital role in expressing grief, fashion, feng shui practices, and art and design. It is a color that evokes various emotions and aesthetics, making it an integral part of the rich and colorful cultural heritage of China.

The Role of Black in Traditional Chinese Clothing

The color black has always played a significant role in traditional Chinese clothing and is often associated with funerals and mourning. However, the symbolism of black in Chinese culture goes beyond mourning. Here are some significant meanings and uses of black in traditional Chinese clothing:

  • Authority: Black clothing was once exclusive to high-ranking officials in the Imperial Court during the Ming and Qing dynasties. This was seen as a symbol of authority and power.
  • Simplicity: Black clothing is also linked with simplicity and modesty. In ancient Chinese philosophy, a simple and austere life was considered more virtuous than a life of luxury and extravagance. That’s why black clothing was a popular choice for scholars, poets, and other learned individuals who sought to embody this philosophy in their way of dress.
  • Balance: Black is also associated with the balancing of energy in the body in traditional Chinese medicine. Wearing black can help restore balance and harmony to bodily functions, which is why black clothing was common among practitioners of traditional medicine and martial arts.

Moreover, in Chinese culture, the color black is considered a yin color, associated with passive and receptive energies. Traditional Chinese clothing is designed to promote balance in the wearers’ bodies and convey a sense of harmony with nature.


Era Description
Ming Dynasty High-rank officials wore black to show their authority
Qing Dynasty Black was a popular color for women’s clothing
Shanghai-style Black has been a staple color in modern Chinese fashion

In contemporary fashion, black is still a popular color that’s used to convey a sense of sophistication and elegance. This color is often paired with vibrant and bright hues to create a balance of yin and yang energies that reflect the wearer’s personality and fashion sense.

Whether you’re looking for an outfit that conveys power, simplicity, or balance, black is undoubtedly a versatile and meaningful color that holds a prominent place in the world of traditional Chinese clothing.

Black in Chinese Symbolism and Iconography

Black is often considered as a color of negativity and fear in some cultures, but in Chinese symbolism and iconography, black holds an auspicious meaning. It is often associated with the five elements and the north direction. Below are the subtopics explaining the symbolism and iconography of black in Chinese culture:

Number 5: The Five Elements

  • The color black represents the “water” element in the “Five Elements” theory in Chinese philosophy which is used to depict the universe’s natural cycle.
  • The five elements theory is represented in Yin and Yang through the Five Phases; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. The element water is associated with the north direction which is also connected to darkness and the winter season.
  • Despite being associated with negative things like cold and darkness, it is also the element that can bring life and growth in Chinese culture. Water nourishes the plants and brings greenery, thus representing hope and harmony. Water is also related to the wisdom and power of the introspective mind.

Apart from the five elements, black is also associated with other symbolism in Chinese culture:

The Significance of Black in Chinese Symbolism and Iconography

The color black has been used for a range of symbolic purposes:

  • Honoring the dead: Black represents the meaning of mourning, respect and paying tribute to the deceased in Chinese tradition. Mourning is traditionally observed for three years, showing the importance of respect in Chinese culture.
  • The color of heaven: Some ancient texts in China portray Heaven as black which refers to its mysterious and profound nature.
  • Protection: The Chinese believe wearing black clothing and accessories can offer protection to the wearer by repelling negative energy, bad luck, and misfortune.

Table: Black in Chinese Culture

Symbols Meaning
Water Nourishment, introspection, winter season, wisdom, power
Mourning Respect, tribute, honoring the dead
Heaven Mystery, profundity, wisdom
Protection Ward off negativity and misfortune

Understanding the significance of black in Chinese symbolism and iconography is crucial in gaining a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and traditions. It provides a rich insight into the way Chinese people think, feel and perceive the world around them.

Black as a representation of Yin energy in Chinese medicine

In Chinese philosophy, everything has two complementary and opposite principles, known as yin and yang. Yin represents the feminine, receptive, and passive energy, while Yang represents the masculine, active, and creative energy. The philosophy of yin and yang applies to many aspects of Chinese culture, including Chinese medicine.

The Significance of Black in Chinese Medicine

  • Black represents the water element in the five-element theory of Chinese medicine. Water elements are associated with the kidneys and bladder, which are responsible for elimination and purification.
  • Black is also associated with the winter season, which is believed to be a yin season. Winter is a time of rest, storage, and reflection, which are all essential aspects of yin energy.
  • The color black is believed to calm excessive energy and provides a sense of grounding and stability. It is often used in acupuncture and acupressure therapy to support the body’s healing process and promote relaxation.

The Symbolism of the Number Six in Yin Energy

The number six is significant in representing yin energy, particularly in Chinese medicine. This is because the six organs in the body that are regarded as yin organs include the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, and pericardium. These organs are considered yin because they are responsible for the fundamental processes that support and nourish the body.

In Chinese medicine, each of these yin organs is associated with a specific emotion, and when these organs are out of balance, it can lead to emotional and physical imbalances. For example, the lungs are associated with grief, and when the lungs are weak or imbalanced, a person may experience sadness, depression, or unrelenting grief.

Yin Organs Associated emotion
Heart Joy
Lungs Grief
Liver Anger
Spleen Worry
Kidneys Fear
Pericardium Shen (spirit)

Overall, the color black represents yin energy, which is necessary for balance and harmony in both the body and the environment. Understanding the significance of yin energy and the role that black plays in Chinese medicine is essential for achieving optimal health and well-being.

Taboos and superstitions associated with black in Chinese culture

In Chinese culture, black is often associated with negative emotions and events. It is a color that is believed to have a great deal of power, both positive and negative. Many taboos and superstitions are associated with the color black, particularly the number 7 which is considered unlucky.

  • The number 7 is considered bad luck because it sounds like the word for death in Mandarin. In many buildings in China, there is no 7th floor, as the number is considered so unlucky.
  • Gifts wrapped in black are generally not given, as they are believed to symbolize death. This is especially true when giving gifts to elderly people, as it is considered impolite and disrespectful.
  • Wearing all black to Chinese weddings or other celebrations is discouraged, as it is seen as a sign of disrespect to the guests of honor. In Chinese culture, celebrations are a time for wearing bright colors and bringing happiness, so black is seen as inappropriate.

Black is also associated with the concept of yin, which refers to feminine energy, coldness, and darkness. Many traditional Chinese remedies involve bringing balance to the body’s yin and yang energies, and black is considered an important part of this process.

There are also many positive associations with the color black in Chinese culture. It is often used to represent water, which is a symbol of life and prosperity. In Chinese calligraphy, black ink is used to write characters that represent wisdom, strength, and perseverance.

Taboo/Superstition Explanation
The number 7 Considered unlucky because it sounds like the word for death in Mandarin.
Gifts wrapped in black Symbolize death and are considered disrespectful, especially when given to elderly people.
Black clothing at celebrations Seen as disrespectful to the guests of honor, who should be honored with bright colors and happiness.

Overall, while black is a color with many meanings in Chinese culture, it is often associated with negative emotions and events. Many taboos and superstitions are tied to the use of black, particularly the number 7. Understanding and respecting these cultural beliefs is an important aspect of building relationships with Chinese counterparts and friends.

Black Symbolism in Chinese Astrology and Feng Shui

In Chinese culture, the color black has a variety of symbolic meanings, with its significance depending on the context and situation. In astrology and feng shui, black is associated with the Water element and the North direction. It also represents the season of winter and the career path of a person.

The Number 8

When it comes to numerology, the number 8 holds a special place in Chinese culture. This number is considered to be very lucky and auspicious, especially in the world of business and finance. The pronunciation of “8” in Chinese sounds similar to the words for “wealth” and “prosperity,” making it a popular choice for phone numbers, license plates, and even addresses.

  • In feng shui, the number 8 is associated with the Southeast direction and the Wealth area of a home or office. Placing eight Chinese coins tied with a red ribbon in this area is said to attract financial abundance and good fortune.
  • The Beijing Olympics began on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08) at 8:08 pm, a deliberate choice to harness the luck and energy of this number for the success of the Games.
  • In Chinese astrology, each animal year is also associated with one of the Five Elements and a corresponding number. The Year of the Dragon, for example, is associated with the number 5. The Year of the Snake, which follows it, is associated with the number 6. The Year of the Horse, which follows that, is associated with the number 7, and so on.

To better understand the significance of these numbers, refer to the following table:

Animal Year Corresponding Number Element
Dragon 5 Earth
Snake 6 Fire
Horse 7 Metal
Sheep 8 Earth
Monkey 9 Metal
Rooster 1 Metal
Dog 2 Earth
Pig 3 Water
Rat 4 Water
Ox 5 Earth
Tiger 6 Wood
Rabbit 7 Wood

As you can see, the number 8 is associated with the Year of the Sheep or Goat (also known as the Year of the Ram) in Chinese astrology. This year is believed to bring good luck and financial prosperity, making it a popular time for business ventures and investments.

The use of black ink in Chinese calligraphy

In traditional Chinese calligraphy, black ink symbolizes power, strength, and dignity. It is also associated with the Yin (阴) energy, which represents shadow, darkness, and femininity. Black ink is the most common color used in Chinese calligraphy and has various symbolic meanings.

The number 9

  • In Chinese culture, the number 9 is considered the most powerful and auspicious number, as it sounds similar to the word for “long-lasting” (久, jiǔ) and “forever” (九, jiǔ).
  • The number 9 is often used in art and calligraphy, where nine strokes are used to form certain characters. This practice is known as “nine-fold auspiciousness” (九重吉祥, jiǔ chóng jí xiáng).
  • In traditional Chinese culture, there are 9 dragon sons, who are worshipped as deities. Each dragon son is associated with a different element, direction, and season.

The symbolism of black ink in calligraphy

Black ink is used in Chinese calligraphy to symbolize various emotions and things. Here are some of the most common symbolic meanings:

  • Power and strength: Black ink represents the power and strength of the brush and the calligrapher.
  • Simplicity and elegance: The simplicity and elegance of black and white ink is often preferred in Chinese art and calligraphy.
  • Depth and mystery: Black ink can represent the depth and mystery of the human soul. It is often used to convey a sense of introspection and contemplation.

The use of different black inks

Not all black inks are created equal in Chinese calligraphy. In fact, there are several different types of black ink that vary in texture, consistency, and symbolism. One of the most popular types of black ink is known as “pine soot ink” (松烟墨, sōng yān mò). This type of ink is made from the soot of pine trees and is highly valued for its deep, rich color and long-lasting quality. Another popular black ink is known as “oil soot ink” (油烟墨, yóu yān mò). This ink is made from the soot of burnt oil and is prized for its smooth, even texture.

Type of Ink Symbolic Meaning
Pine soot ink (松烟墨) Power, strength, depth
Oil soot ink (油烟墨) Elegance, simplicity, clarity
Specialty inks Unique symbolic meanings based on their ingredients and production process

Overall, black ink is an essential element in Chinese calligraphy and is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Its symbolic meanings and varied uses make it a powerful tool for expressing emotions, thoughts, and ideas in the art form.

Modern interpretations of black in contemporary Chinese art

The color black is often used in Chinese culture to signify power, elegance, and sophistication. In contemporary Chinese art, black is still a prevalent color that artists use to convey deep emotions and powerful meanings. Here are some modern interpretations of black in contemporary Chinese art:

  • Minimalism: Many contemporary Chinese artists use black as a primary color in their minimalist works. These monochromatic pieces often convey a sense of tranquility and stillness that is characteristic of traditional Chinese landscape paintings.
  • Social commentary: Some Chinese artists use black to symbolize the oppression and hardships that people face in modern China. For example, Zhang Xiaogang’s “Bloodline: Big Family No. 2” uses black to represent the darkness and trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution.
  • Spirituality: Black is also used in contemporary Chinese art to explore spirituality and the unknown. The artist Xu Bing’s “Tobacco Project” uses black to represent the void and emptiness at the core of addiction.

One interesting aspect of contemporary Chinese art is the way that artists use both traditional and modern techniques to create works that explore the complexities of Chinese identity. Black is just one of the many colors that Chinese artists use to express these complex ideas.

For example, the artist Ai Weiwei uses black in his works to create politically charged pieces that critique the Chinese government. His piece “Straight” consists of 150 tons of twisted metal rebar salvaged from the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and the black metal bars are arranged in a pattern that recalls the structural form of traditional Chinese woodworking.

Artist Artwork Interpretation
Zhang Xiaogang Bloodline: Big Family No. 2 Uses black to represent the darkness and trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Xu Bing Tobacco Project Uses black to represent the void and emptiness at the core of addiction.
Ai Weiwei Straight Uses black to create politically charged pieces that critique the Chinese government. The black metal bars are arranged in a pattern that recalls the structural form of traditional Chinese woodworking.

Contemporary Chinese art continues to evolve and incorporate new ideas and techniques, while still drawing on the rich cultural traditions of China’s past. Black continues to play a central role in this ongoing artistic conversation, as Chinese artists explore the many meanings and possibilities of this powerful and versatile color.

What Does Black Symbolize in China: FAQs

Q: What does the color black represent in Chinese culture?
A: Black is known as the color of doom and destruction in China. It represents negativity, mourning, and evil. The color black is used sparingly in traditional Chinese cultures.

Q: Can the color black be used in any capacity in Chinese celebrations?
A: Yes, the color black can be used in certain celebrations, such as weddings. However, it must be complemented with a brighter color to neutralize its negative effect.

Q: Where is the color black utilized in Chinese art and literature?
A: In Chinese literature, the color black is used to represent the unknown and the invisible. In Chinese art, the color black is used to emphasize power and strength.

Q: Is there any positive symbolism linked to the color black in Chinese culture?
A: Yes, black is associated with the ancient Chinese philosophy of “Yin and Yang.” It represents the “Yin” or the feminine, passive, and quiet energy.

Q: Is wearing black clothing frowned upon in China?
A: No, black clothing is not frowned upon in China. However, when wearing black for formal occasions, it is customary to accent it with brighter colors to balance out the negative energy.

Q: Is there any history behind the negative connotations associated with the color black in Chinese culture?
A: Yes, black was associated with the loss of life and the underworld in ancient times. It was believed that the color black would attract these dark forces, which is why it was avoided.

Q: What are some things that are black in China that have positive connotations?
A: Some things that are black in China and are considered positive include black pearls, obsidian, and black sesame seeds.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about what black symbolizes in Chinese culture. While it is a color that is often associated with negativity, there are also some positive connotations to keep in mind. Remember that when using the color black, it is important to balance it out with brighter colors. Feel free to visit us again for more interesting insights!