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Symbolism  of  Colors,  Asscociations  of  The  Five  

Elements  in  Chinese  Beliefs  and  Feng  Shui    

Before  the  Five  Elements  Theory  was  used  and  according  to  Taoists’  believe,  
there  were  only  two  colors:  opposing,  yet  complementary  principles,  black  and  
white,  yin-­  yang.    
With  the  establishment  of  the  Five  Elements  Theory,  the  spectrum  of  colors  
was  enlarged,  leading  to  the  use  of  not  only  black  and  white,  but  red,  green  
and  yellow,  a  total  of  five  ‘main’  colors.  
It  should  be  noted  that  the  color  black  is  often  considered  ‘black-­  blue’  or  ‘blue-­  
black’,  hence  the  specifics  of  the  two  colors  can  be  found  combined.  The  same  
applies   for   the   color   green,   as   it   is   often   considered   ‘green-­   blue’   or   ‘blue-­  
In  Chinese  believes,  the  cosmos  mirrors  the  Five  Elements,  therefore  each  
color  represents  or  is  associated  with  a  symbolic  meaning.  The  Five  Element  
Chartshows   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  color  yellow  during  the  reign  of  the  
legendary  Chinese  sage  king,  a  chief  deity  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   color   yellow   belongs   to   the  
element  earth,  represented  through  the  direction  center  or  zenith,  a  stabilizing  
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  color  yellow  characterizes  the  center  of  a  bagua  chart.  
Regarding  colors  with  the  understanding  of  the  Five  Element  theory  allows  to  
understand  the  five  ‘main’  colors  as  a  process,  showing  the  Chinese  Taoistic  
thought  of  the  Five  Elements  as  a  further  and  more  refined  step  to  understand  
and  categorize  or  analyze  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   colors   are   ‘in   motion’   as   well.   A   color   can   consist   of   a   “main,  
dominating”  color  and  a  shade  of  another  color.  Such  a  mixture  of  a  colors  can  
lead  to  a  combined  interpretation.  
BLACK  -­   color   for   young   boys   (who   will   continue   the   family/ancestor  
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,  
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:  
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  
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   color,   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,  organization,  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,  
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:  stabilizing;;  Phase:  Yin-­  Yang  balance;;  Development:  ripening;;  Planet:  
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,   colors   are   very   important   to   the  
existence  of  the  Chinese  people.    
1.  Yellow  is  still  reserved  for  royalty.  Clothing  and  objects  that  are  yellow  in  
color  still  resemble  a  higher  social  status.  Although  each  dynasty  designated  
each   official   rank   with   their   own   color,   yellow   is   reserved   or   the   emperor  
The  color  yellow  and  its  shades  are  also  the  main  color  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  vigor  and  
vitality.   Therefore,   someone   that   is   hoping   for   longevity   and   harmony   will  
decorate  with  blue-­green  colors.  
4.  White  is  a  symbol  of  the  unknown  and  purity.  The  color  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  
5.  Black  is  used  as  the  symbol  of  winter  and  the  westerly  skies  which  behold  
the  heavens.  It  is  used  for  times  of  the  unknown  and  for  the  winter  months.