|Before the Five Elements Theory was used and according to Taoists’ believe, there were only two colours: opposing, yet complementary principles, black and white, yin- yang.
With the establishment of the Five Elements Theory, the spectrum of colours was enlarged, leading to the use of not only black and white, but red, green and yellow, a total of five ‘main’ colours.
It should be noted that the colour black is often considered ‘black- blue’ or ‘blue- black’, hence the specifics of the two colours can be found combined. The same applies for the colour green, as it is often considered ‘green- blue’ or ‘blue- green’.
In Chinese believes, the cosmos mirrors the Five Elements, hence each single colour is representing and is associated with a symbolic meaning. The Five Element Chart shows associated properties or aspects of each element. Together, these aspects form the integrated whole of the Five Element Theory.
Feng Shui incorporated the Five Elements while being based on the bagua. Hence, the bagua represents not only all elements, but the cosmos.
Historically, people actually worshipped the colour yellow during the reign of the legendary Chinese sage king, a chief diety of Taoism, Huang Di or Huang Ti, better known as the Yellow Emperor. He is the emperor that is said to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese people and is believed to have reigned around 2697 BC to 2598 BC.
Huang Di was coined the name Yellow Emperor because his army tribe honoured the value of the ‘Yellow Earth’ which was the symbol of farming and the ‘Yellow River’ of the central land (China).
During Huang Di’ s reign, his tribe was able to practice traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and acupressure, make bronze coins and his wife Lu Zu discovered silk and helped to create silk weaving for clothing. The emperor himself is said to have helped Fuxi to create the Chinese Calendar.
At the end of his Huang Di’s life, a yellow dragon is said to have appeared, carrying the Yellow Emperor off to the heavens by invitation of the gods.
According to the Five Elements Theory, the colour yellow belongs to the element earth, represented through the direction center or zenith, a stabalising energy, a balanced ying- yang. The associated grain is rice (which ripens in the yellow earth and as food stabilizes mankind).
The Chinese poems ‘Songs of Chu’ describe the Five Emperors to which the Yellow Emperor belongs, as directional God, granting the Yellow Emperor the direction ‘center’.
The colour yellow characterizes the center of a bagua chart.
Regarding colours with the understanding of the Five Element theory allows to understand the five ‘main’ colours as a process, showing the Chinese Taoistic thought of the Five Elements as a further and more refined step to understand and categorize or analyse the Yin-Yang philosophy, as the Theory of the Five Elements describes the interaction and relation between Yin and Yang, between phenomena.
Below a brief list of associations.
Note that colours are ‘in motion’ as well. A colour can consist of a “main, dominating” colour and a shade of another colour. Such a mixture of a colours can lead to a combined interpretation.
BLACK - colour for young boys (who will continue the family/ ancestor lineages),
delving into the depth of something, flowing, dormant, conserving, immortality, stability, knowledge, trust, adaptability, spontaneity, power, career, will, emotional protection, calmness vs lack of will
Five Elements: Water; Direction: North; Season: winter; Condition: cold;
Energy: conserving; Phase: full Yin; Development: dormant; Planet: Mercury;
Animal: shelled, especially tortoise; Celestial creature: (Black) Tortoise; Fruit: chestnut; Grain: millet;
Action: listening; Sense: hearing; Sound: moaning; Smell: rotten; Taste: salty;
Trigram bagua: K’an
BLUE - conserving, healing, relaxation, exploration, trust, calmness, immortality
BROWN - industrious, grounded
GOLD - completeness, wealth, metal, God consciousness
GREEN - growing, generating, sprouting, striving, refreshing, balancing, calming, healing, self assurance, foundation, benevolence, health, harmony, sensitivity, patience vs anger
Five Elements: Wood; Direction: East; Season: spring; Condition: windy, rain;
Energy: generative; Phase: new Yang; Development: generative; Planet: Jupiter;
Animal: scaled, especially dragon; Heavenly creature: (Azure, Green) Dragon; Fruit: plum; Grain: wheat;
Action: countenance; Sense: sight; Sound: calling; Smell: rancid; Taste: sour;
Trigram bagua: Xun/Sun, Zhen
GREY - dull, indefinite, though also silver, hence income
ORANGE - indicating change, adaptability, spontaneity, strengthens concentration
PINK - love
PURPLE - spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing, hence strength, abundance, red purple brings luck and fame. Purple (紫; zǐ) refers to the North Star (Polaris), which in ancient China was called the Ziwei Star, the North Star was in traditional Chinese astrology the abode of the Celestial Emperor. (see also: Purple Forbidden City)
RED - traditional bridal colour, expansive, blooming, dynamic, enthusiastic, reaching upwards, good luck, celebration, happiness, joy, vitality, long life; red purple brings luck and fame, money, recognition, propriety, creativity, joy vs. over excitation
Five Elements: Fire; Direction: South; Season: summer; Condition: heat;
Energy: expansive; Phase: full Yang; Development: blooming; Planet: Mars;
Animal: winged, especially poultry; Heavenly creature: Vermilion Bird, (Red) pheasant; Fruit: apricot; Grain: beans;
Action: sight; Sense: touch; Sound: laughing; Smell: scorched; Taste: bitter;
Trigram bagua: Li
SILVER - metal (income, wealth), trustworthiness, romance
WHITE - mourning, contracting, withering, righteousness, pureness, confidence, intuition, strength, organisation, death, ancestral spirits, ghosts, courage vs sadness
Five Elements: Metal; Direction: West; Season: autumn; Condition: dry, clear;
Energy: contracting; Phase: new Yin; Development: withering; Planet: Venus;
Animal: furred, especially tiger; Celestial creature: (White) Tiger; Fruit: peach; Grain: hemp;
Action: speech; Sense: smell; Sound: lamenting; Smell: putrid; Taste: pungent, spicy, acrid;
Trigram bagua: Qian/ Quian, Dui
YELLOW- nourishing, supporting, stabilizing, ripening, grounded, solid, reliability,
sunbeam, warmth, clarity, royalty, good faith, empathy vs anxiety
Five Elements: Earth; Direction: Centre, zenith; Season: change of season (every 3rd month); Condition: damp, wind;
Energy: stabilising; Phase: Yin- Yang balance; Development: ripening; Planet: Saturn;
Animals: naked (mankind); Celestial creature: (Yellow) Dragon, (Yellow) Qilin, Phoenix; Fruit: dates; Grain: rice;
Action: thought; Sense: touch, taste; Sound: singing; Smell: fragrant; Taste: sweet, aromatic.
Trigram bagua: K’un, Gen
Throughout the years, and even today, colours are very important to the existence of the Chinese people.
1. Yellow is still reserved for royalty. Clothing and objects that are yellow in colour still resemble a higher social status. Although each dynasty designated each official rank with their own colour, yellow is reserved or the emperor himself.
The colour yellow and its shades are also the main colour of Buddhism; thus it represents being free from worldly cares.
2. Red is still used for happiness and joy. In fact, after the Ming Dynasty, only the Emperor's close relatives could have homes with red walls and yellow roof tiles. Peasants could only live in homes made with blue bricks and roof tiles. Today though, most houses are made of black tiles and white walls.
3. Blue-green is still a symbol of spring when everything is filled with vigour and vitality. Therefore, someone that is hoping for longevity and harmony will decorate with blue-green colours.
4. White is a symbol of the unknown and purity. The colour white is used during the time of mourning, death, and during ghost festivals.
Therefore Chinese people will wear white during a funeral or while summoning ghosts.
5. Black is used as the symbol of winter and the westerly skies which beholds the heavens. It is used for times of the unknown and for the winter months.
Five Elements Chart
Symbolism of Animals
Symbolism of Flowers
Symbolism of Food
History of China