Unlocking the Meaning Behind: What Does Yellow Symbolize in China?

Yellow is an ever-present hue in China. From the national flag to traditional clothing, the color finds itself ingrained in Chinese culture in more ways than one. However, yellow’s significance in China goes beyond just being a popular shade. It serves as a symbol of great cultural and historical importance, with references dating back to the ancient dynasties of China. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into what exactly yellow symbolizes in China and why it holds such great significance to the Chinese people.

While some cultures associate yellow with happiness, joy, and sunshine, it holds a different meaning in China. Yellow is the color of the earth in Chinese philosophy, representing neutrality, as well as humility. When worn by the Chinese emperors, yellow represented their close relationship with the earth, their duties to govern justly and fairly, and the power they possessed by virtue of being chosen by the heavens. Moreover, the color finds frequent mention in ancient Chinese texts, such as The Book of Changes, which describe the significance of the color in different contexts.

Yellow’s significance in China is more than just a symbol of power and authority. It represents the deep cultural roots and values that are central to the country’s history. Today, yellow continues to be an integral part of China’s culture, symbolizing the country’s rich history, its unity as a people, and its future aspirations. In the following paragraphs, we’ll examine the different contexts in which yellow plays a role in Chinese culture, giving you an insight into why Chinese people hold this color so dear to their hearts.

Yellow in Chinese culture

In China, yellow is considered the most beautiful and prestigious color thanks to its association with the emperor. Due to this association, yellow has great cultural significance and is often used in important ceremonies and events. However, yellow also has negative connotations related to the imperial monopoly on the color – these negative connotations can be seen in political connotations attached to yellow.

The color yellow symbolizes happiness, glory, wisdom, harmony, and culture. In addition, yellow is thought to be the earthly representation of the five elements in the Five Element Theory – earth, gold/metal, fire, water, and wood. This theory guides various approaches in Chinese culture, including traditional medicine, martial arts, and feng shui.

Moreover, in Chinese astrology, each of the twelve zodiac animals is associated with one of the five elements. The yellow dragon, associated with earth and the color yellow, is the only mythical animal in the zodiac and considered the most influential in Chinese astrology.

Historical significance of yellow in China

Yellow has been a significant color in the cultural and political history of China. It holds a special place in Chinese culture, symbolizing power, royalty, and prosperity. It is also associated with the earth element and Yin, one of the two primal opposing but complementary principles in Chinese philosophy.

  • Yellow was reserved for the emperor since ancient times. The use of yellow in clothing, homes, and other personal effects by anyone other than the emperor or his family was punishable by death. The rulers of different Chinese dynasties wore yellow robes to signify their power and control over the land.
  • Yellow became a symbol of prosperity during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), when it was used to represent gold, and the wealth and abundance associated with it. This symbolism led to the development of yellow-colored ceramics, carvings, and other artworks that were exported to other countries.
  • Yellow is also associated with one of the five elements in Chinese philosophy – the earth element. In Chinese culture, the earth element is related to fertility, growth, and stability, and yellow is considered a representation of these qualities. Many temples and other religious structures in China feature yellow walls and roofs.

During the Communist revolution, the importance of yellow as a color of power declined. The use of the color was largely discouraged, and the association with royalty and wealth was deemed inappropriate for the new Communist ideology. Nevertheless, yellow remains an important cultural symbol in China. It is still used in arts and crafts, clothing, and architecture. In recent years, the color has made a comeback as designers and artists explore its rich cultural history and meaning.

Overall, yellow is a significant symbol of royalty, power, and prosperity in Chinese culture. Its historical and cultural significance is deeply ingrained in the fabric of Chinese society, making it an integral part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Symbolism Description
Power Yellow was reserved for the emperor since ancient times, symbolizing his supreme power and control over the land.
Prosperity Yellow is associated with gold, abundance, and wealth, especially during the Tang dynasty.
Earth Element Yellow represents the earth element, which is associated with fertility, growth, and stability.

The importance of yellow declined during the Communist revolution, but it remains an important symbol in China’s rich cultural heritage.

Yellow in Chinese Art and Architecture

Yellow has been a significant color in Chinese art and architecture throughout history, symbolizing a plethora of meanings and cultural significance. From imperial palaces to religious temples, yellow holds an important place in Chinese culture.

One of the most prominent uses of yellow in Chinese art is in religious paintings. Many depictions of Buddhist figures and deities are depicted wearing yellow robes, symbolizing enlightenment and purity. The color also represents the earth element in feng shui, a Chinese practice of arranging living spaces to bring good fortune and harmony.

In traditional Chinese architecture, yellow is also a favored color used for imperial buildings or structures. The Yellow River is viewed as the “mother river” of Chinese civilization, and the Chinese emperor was considered the “son of heaven,” so the use of yellow for imperial structures represented the close relationship between heaven and earth.

  • The carved beams and painted rafters of the Forbidden City are all painted in yellow, representing the emperor’s power and authority.
  • In Chinese art, the use of yellow creates a sense of harmony and balance.
  • Yellow is also believed to bring good luck and fortune.

In Chinese painting, the blending and shading of yellow create a sense of depth and texture, creating a unique style that represents the artist’s cultural heritage. A variety of yellow hues are used in Chinese art, including lemon yellow, ochre, mustard yellow, and gamboge.

Yellow can also be seen in Chinese opera, costumes, and clothing, with yellow being reserved for the emperor, empress, or members of the royal court.

Yellow Symbolism in Chinese Art and Architecture Meanings
The Yellow Emperor The legendary founder of the Chinese civilization, symbolizing power and authority.
The Five Elements in Feng Shui Yellow symbolizes the earth element, representing stability and fertility.
Buddhist Art Yellow represents purity, enlightenment, and wisdom.
Imperial Architecture Yellow represents the emperor’s power and authority, and the close relationship between heaven and earth.

In conclusion, yellow carries immense cultural significance in Chinese art and architecture, representing power, authority, luck, and purity. It has been a favored color for imperial structures and religious temples, creating a sense of harmony and balance in Chinese art.

Yellow as a Symbol of Royalty in Ancient China

In ancient China, yellow was considered the most important and prestigious color. It was believed to be the color of the Emperor and symbolized his authority and power. The use of yellow in many aspects of Chinese culture is a testament to this belief, including the Emperor’s garments, palace decorations, and even the Imperial flag.

  • The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, was known to have dressed entirely in yellow.
  • The Chinese term for the color yellow, huang, was used in honorific titles for many high-ranking officials and can still be seen in the names of many Chinese cities, such as Huanguoshu and Huangshan.
  • Yellow was also used to represent the center of the universe, which was believed to be the Emperor’s capital city of Beijing.

The use of yellow as the color of royalty extends beyond the boundaries of China, as it has been used to symbolize royalty and power in many cultures throughout history. In fact, the use of yellow as a symbol of power and authority can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where it also represented the sun and the pharaoh.

Symbolism of Yellow Examples in Ancient China
Power and Authority Yellow clothing of the Emperor and use of the color in palace decoration
Center of the Universe Yellow represented the capital city of Beijing
Renewal and Rebirth Yellow chrysanthemums were used in the Emperor’s New Year celebrations to represent renewal and rebirth

The significance of yellow as a symbol of royalty in ancient China cannot be overstated. It represented the highest levels of power and authority, and its use was reserved exclusively for the Emperor and those in his closest circle. Today, the color yellow remains an important part of Chinese culture and can be seen in everything from flags to traditional clothing to the iconic yellow taxis that roam the streets of Beijing.

Yellow in Chinese mythology and folklore

In Chinese mythology and folklore, the color yellow holds significant importance. It represents the center and harmony that comes from balance and equilibrium. The color is associated with the earth element, which is seen as the most stable and powerful of the five elements in traditional Chinese beliefs.

  • Yellow Emperor: In Chinese mythology, the Yellow Emperor is considered the ancestor of all Chinese people. He was believed to have invented agriculture, and the color yellow represents the rich and fertile soil.
  • Imperial color: During the reign of the legendary Xia Dynasty, yellow became the official color of the Chinese emperors. It was believed that the emperor had a special connection to the divine realm, and yellow symbolized this connection.
  • Yellow Dragon: The yellow dragon is one of the four dragons in Chinese mythology. It is believed to be the ruler of the center and represents balance and harmony.

Furthermore, the color yellow is also closely associated with the Chinese zodiac sign of the earth element, the Dog. It is believed that people born in the Year of the Dog possess qualities such as loyalty, honesty, and an unwavering sense of justice.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the color yellow is associated with the spleen and stomach, which are responsible for digestion and the absorption of nutrients. The color is believed to have a positive effect on these organs and can aid in digestion and ensure overall physical well-being.

Symbolism Representation
Element Earth
Zodiac Sign Dog
Direction Center
Emperors Yellow

In conclusion, the color yellow holds significant symbolism in Chinese mythology and folklore. It represents balance, stability, and connection to the divine realm. From the earth element to the yellow dragon and the Yellow Emperor, the color holds a revered place in Chinese culture and beliefs.

The significance of yellow clothing in Chinese society

Yellow is considered a color of significance and importance in Chinese culture. It is believed to be the imperial color, representing the emperor and his power. For this reason, yellow clothing was reserved for the Emperor and his immediate family members. Anyone else caught wearing yellow clothing without permission could face severe punishment.

  • Yellow clothing was highly valued and only worn by those privileged enough to afford it. It was seen as a way to display one’s wealth and status.
  • During the Ming dynasty, officials and scholars wore yellow robes as a sign of their education and knowledge. This tradition continued until the end of the Qing dynasty.
  • It was also customary for the bride to wear a yellow wedding dress as a symbol of her fertility and purity.

The significance of yellow clothing in Chinese society goes beyond just clothing. The color is also associated with the earth element, which is believed to be nurturing and grounding. As a result, yellow is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat digestive and respiratory issues.

In traditional Chinese art, yellow is often used to depict symbols of good luck and prosperity. This is especially true during the Chinese New Year, where the color yellow is used in traditional decorations and clothing to bring good fortune for the coming year.

Yellow Symbolism in Chinese Culture Description
Emperor’s Color Yellow represents the imperial power and was reserved for the Emperor and his immediate family members.
Wealth and Status Yellow clothing was seen as a way to display one’s wealth and status.
Wedding Dress The bride traditionally wore a yellow dress as a symbol of her purity and fertility.
Earth Element Yellow is associated with the earth element, which is believed to be nurturing and grounding.
Good Luck Yellow is often used in traditional Chinese art and decorations to depict symbols of good luck and prosperity.

Overall, the significance of yellow clothing in Chinese society is deeply rooted in tradition and symbolism. From the power of the Emperor to the prosperity of the New Year, yellow represents many important aspects of Chinese culture and history.

The Use of Yellow in Chinese Weddings

In Chinese culture, the color yellow symbolizes wealth, prosperity, and royalty. It is often used in weddings to represent these meanings and to bring good luck and fortune to the couple. Here are some ways in which yellow is used in Chinese weddings:

  • Yellow Wedding Attire: In some regions of China, the bride wears a yellow dress or incorporates yellow into her wedding attire to symbolize her connection to royalty and wealth. However, this tradition is not as common as it used to be, and most brides now prefer to wear a traditional red dress.
  • Yellow Decorations: Yellow is often used in wedding decorations, such as floral arrangements and table settings, to represent prosperity and good luck for the couple.
  • Yellow Themed Weddings: Some couples choose to have a yellow-themed wedding, where everything from the invitations to the favors is in shades of yellow. This is a way to incorporate the color and its symbolism throughout the entire celebration.

While yellow is a popular color in Chinese weddings, there are some superstitions associated with it. For example, it is believed to be bad luck to give yellow flowers as a gift because they are associated with death and funerals. It is also considered unlucky to have yellow as the main color in a wedding dress.

Overall, the use of yellow in Chinese weddings adds a meaningful and auspicious element to the celebration. Whether it’s incorporated through attire or decorations, the color symbolizes wealth, prosperity, and happiness for the newlyweds.

The Significance of the Number 7

Aside from the color yellow, the number 7 also holds significance in Chinese weddings. It represents togetherness and unity, as well as good luck and blessings for the couple.

Here are some ways in which the number 7 is incorporated into Chinese wedding traditions:

Tradition Explanation
Seven Bowls of Rice During the wedding banquet, the bride and groom each take seven small bites of rice from seven small bowls, symbolizing a long and prosperous life together.
Seven Circles Around the Ancestral Altar The couple walks around the ancestral altar in a circular motion seven times, representing the seven rounds that they will make throughout their life as a couple. This is a way to show their respect for their ancestors and to ask for their blessings.
Seven Lucky Items The couple may include seven lucky items in their wedding, such as a red umbrella or a jade bracelet, to bring good luck and blessings to their marriage.

Overall, the number 7 adds a meaningful and symbolic element to Chinese weddings. Its significance in different traditions reflects the values of togetherness, unity, and good fortune for the newlyweds.

The symbolism of yellow in Chinese cuisine

In Chinese culture, the color yellow is associated with royalty and imperial power. The use of yellow in food and cuisine is not just for its visual appeal, but it is also believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Here are some of the ways yellow is symbolized in Chinese cuisine:

The number 8

  • The number 8 is considered lucky in Chinese culture as it sounds like the word “fa” which means wealth and prosperity in Mandarin.
  • Yellow dishes are often served in sets of eight or include eight different ingredients to attract good luck and abundance.
  • Eight treasure rice pudding, an important dessert during festivals and celebrations, is made with eight different ingredients including lotus seeds, red dates, and water chestnuts.


Yellow ingredients are often used in Chinese cuisine to represent luck and prosperity:

  • Turmeric: A bright yellow spice often added to rice and noodle dishes to give them a vibrant yellow color and add depth to their flavor.
  • Egg Yolk: The yellow yolk of eggs symbolizes wealth and is often used in Chinese desserts like egg tarts and mooncakes.
  • Ginkgo Nuts: These bright yellow nuts are often used in savory dishes like soups and stir-fries during the fall months to represent good luck and long life.

Golden dishes

Golden dishes are also considered to bring wealth and prosperity and are often served during special occasions:

  • Roasted duck: A popular dish during Chinese New Year, the crispy skin of the roasted duck is a symbol of wealth and abundance.
  • Cantonese-style lobster: The bright golden color of the lobster is said to bring good luck and the sweet flavor of the meat symbolizes a prosperous year ahead.

The significance of yellow in food presentation

In addition to representing wealth and prosperity, the use of yellow in food presentation is also significant in Chinese cuisine:

Yellow Green Red
Represents imperial power and loyalty Represents growth and harmony Represents happiness and good fortune

According to traditional Chinese beliefs, the colors used in food presentation can influence a person’s appetite, mood, and health.

Yellow in Chinese medicine and health

In Chinese culture, the color yellow is significant as it represents the earth element and is associated with digestion and the stomach. It is believed that yellow foods, such as pumpkin and sweet potato, can aid in digestion and promote good health. Chinese medicine also associates the color yellow with the spleen and the liver meridians.

  • The spleen meridian is responsible for processing nutrients and regulating blood flow. When this meridian is balanced, it can improve digestion and increase energy levels.
  • The liver meridian is associated with detoxification and the purification of the blood. A balanced liver meridian can lead to improved overall health and wellbeing.
  • Yellow herbs, such as turmeric and dandelion, are commonly used in Chinese medicine to aid in digestion and detoxification.

Furthermore, the number 9 is also significant in Chinese culture and medicine. It is believed that there are 9 acupuncture meridians and that the body’s energy moves through these meridians in a 9-year cycle. Additionally, there are 9 specific abdominal acupuncture points that are used to balance the body’s energy and improve digestion.

Here is a table of the 9 abdominal acupuncture points, their associated meridians, and their functions:

Acupuncture Point Meridian Function
CV 8 Ren Meridian Promotes digestion, regulates stomach qi
CV 9 Ren Meridian Regulates stomach qi, promotes digestion
CV 12 Ren Meridian Regulates stomach and spleen qi, improves digestion
CV 13 Ren Meridian Regulates stomach and spleen qi, resolves dampness
CV 14 Ren Meridian Promotes digestion, regulates spleen qi
CV 15 Ren Meridian Regulates stomach and spleen qi, transforms phlegm
CV 16 Ren Meridian Regulates stomach and chest qi, resolves phlegm
CV 17 Ren Meridian Regulates chest and lung qi, transforms phlegm
CV 22 Ren Meridian Regulates lung qi, transforms phlegm, improves throat function

In summary, yellow is a significant color in Chinese medicine and culture representing the earth element and associated with the spleen and liver meridians. Furthermore, the number 9 is also important in Chinese medicine and is associated with the body’s energy flow and digestion through acupuncture points.

The role of yellow in Chinese agriculture and horticulture

Yellow holds a significant place in Chinese culture, and its influence extends to agriculture and horticulture. Here are some of the ways in which yellow plays a role in these sectors:

  • Yellow crops: Certain crops, such as corn and soybeans, turn yellow when ripe, indicating that they are ready to harvest. Yellow is a sign of abundance and prosperity, so a bountiful yellow crop is considered a good omen for farmers.
  • Yellow herbs: Chinese herbal medicine often uses yellow herbs, such as licorice root and ginseng, for their healing properties. Yellow is associated with the spleen and stomach meridians in Chinese medicine and is said to aid in digestion and help eliminate toxins from the body.
  • Yellow fruits: Fruits such as lemons and oranges are grown in China and are associated with the color yellow. These fruits are not only used for their nutritional value but also for their symbolic significance. The Chinese believe that eating yellow fruits can bring luck and wealth.

Yellow is also used in traditional Chinese festivals related to agriculture and horticulture. For example, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, people eat mooncakes that are traditionally yellow in color, symbolizing a bountiful harvest. In addition, during the Spring Festival, yellow decorations are often used to welcome the new year and to bring prosperity and good luck.

Finally, in Chinese culture, the number ten is associated with the color yellow. This is because the Chinese character for “ten” (十) is a combination of the characters for “one” (一) and “zero” (零), which are both yellow in color. The number ten is considered an auspicious number, representing completeness and perfection.

Yellow Crops Yellow Herbs Yellow Fruits
Corn Licorice root Lemons
Soybeans Ginseng Oranges

The color yellow has a rich history and deep symbolism in Chinese culture, and its importance in agriculture and horticulture reflects this. From the ripe yellow crops to the yellow fruits and herbs, yellow represents a bountiful harvest and the promise of prosperity.

FAQs: What Does Yellow Symbolize in China?

1. What is the significance of the color yellow in Chinese culture?
Yellow symbolizes power, royalty, and prosperity in Chinese culture. It has been associated with the Emperor and his family for centuries.

2. Why is the Forbidden City in Beijing painted yellow?
The Forbidden City in Beijing, which served as the Imperial Palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, is painted yellow to demonstrate the power and supremacy of the Emperor and his family.

3. Is yellow always considered a positive color in China?
While yellow is generally considered a positive color in China, it can also represent cowardice, betrayal, and deceit in certain contexts.

4. What role does yellow play in Chinese New Year celebrations?
In Chinese New Year celebrations, the color yellow is used to decorate homes and businesses to bring luck, prosperity, and happiness to the coming year.

5. Are there any traditional Chinese clothing items that are predominantly yellow?
The traditional Chinese silk dress known as the cheongsam, or qipao, often features yellow fabric or accents. Yellow can also be found in the embroidery and patterns of other traditional clothing items.

6. Do Chinese weddings incorporate the color yellow?
Many Chinese weddings incorporate yellow into the decorations, invitations, and clothing of the bride and groom as a symbol of happiness and good luck.

7. How does yellow compare to other colors in Chinese culture?
Yellow is considered one of the most important colors in Chinese culture, along with red and green. Red represents happiness and good fortune, while green is associated with growth and vitality.

A Color of Power and Prosperity

Yellow holds a special place in Chinese culture as a symbol of power, royalty, and prosperity. From the halls of the Forbidden City to the traditional clothing of the cheongsam, yellow can be found throughout Chinese history and celebrations. While it can also represent negative traits in certain contexts, overall, yellow is regarded as a positive and important color in Chinese culture. Thanks for reading and be sure to visit again for more insights into different cultures and traditions.