Balance, Harmony, and Life
To the Chinese, harmony and balance are desirable in our environment. They pervade the process linking man and the universe: Tao. Out of the balancing and harmonizing of yin and yang arises ch'i — the main feature of our life. Human ch’i, which determines our movements as well as our physical and personal traits, is greatly affected by color.
Color in China
From the second millennium B.C., the Chinese used color to indicate cardinal directions, seasons and the cyclical passage of time. They analyzed their surroundings and prospects of survival by examining the varying hues of nature: earth, sky, sun, moon rings, leaves, and rocks. Color is regarded as a manifestation of cosmic energy—ch'i—that can also shape an individual's personal energy and, therefore, their destiny. Adding a new color to an environment can stimulate a positive or negative response. So Chinese color theory and practice can open a spectrum of new possibilities in our lives and counterbalance existing problems.
Throughout the world, colors describe emotional properties. We feel blue, are green with envy, or describe someone as "a yellow-bellied coward". To the Chinese, the properties of color are both emotional and physical. The term for funeral is "white event," while the literal translation of "honorable official" is "blue sky." Yellow has always been so closely associated with the imperial household that the entrance to the palace is known as the "yellow door".
One should not underestimate the power of color associations for todays Chinese, as one Irish beer producer discovered when it sought to increase consumption of its ale in Hong Kong. Sales were said to drop off significantly after the airing of a television advertisement that featured the tossing of a green hat. It was finally pulled after the company was informed that "wearing a green hat" was a Chinese euphemism for being cuckolded.
Fortunately for Mao, red, the color associated with communism, is also the most auspicious Chinese color, resulting, perhaps, in the popularity of the little red book and the all-pervasive power of the Red Guards.
Today in the United States, red, green, and gold arc highly visible colors in Chinatowns. Sometimes, however, East and West do not harmoniously meet. One Chinese-born ophthalmologist living in California asked Lin Yun what color to paint the exterior of her office. He replied purple, because of the Chinese saying that something is so red it is purple, meaning it is so hot it will stand out, bringing luck and fame. Indeed, the building stood out and hot it got under the collars of Western neighbors. They objected so strongly to the fuchsia facade that the incident was covered by the local news.
The ophthalmologist became known not for aiding eyesight but for creating an eyesore. Nonetheless, she gained fame, or at least notoriety, and business was good. Humor aside, Lin Yun's approach to color offers a different way of approaching everything we see, a sensitivity to how profoundly we are affected by color in every aspect of the world around us.
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