Color in Chinese culture refers to the certain values that Chinese culture attaches to colors, like which colors are considered auspicious (吉利) or inauspicious (不利). The Chinese word for “color” is yánsè (顏色). In Classical Chinese, the character sè (色) more accurately meant “color in the face”, or “emotion”. It was generally used alone and often implied sexual desire or desirability. During the Tang Dynasty, the word yánsè came to mean all color. A Chinese idiom which is used to describe many colors, Wǔyánliùsè (五顏六色), can also mean colors in general.
In traditional Chinese art and culture, black, red, qing (青) (a conflation of the idea of green and blue), white and yellow are viewed as standard colors. These colors correspond to the five elements (五行) of water, fire, wood, metal and earth, taught in traditional Chinese physics. Throughout the Shang, Tang, Zhou and Qin dynasties, China’s emperors used the Theory of the Five Elements to select colors. Other colours were considered by Confucius as ‘inferior’.