Chinese Red Ink Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese-Taiwanese American
Age: 22
Occupation: Production Assistant
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 10th, 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese (Mandarin)


E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.


Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “Another superstition that my parents had was red typically meant death or pain, so we would never write someone’s name in red, because it was almost like… wishing that upon someone.”

J: “Are there any other implications to the red ink?”

E: “Yeah! So, because the red ink represents that negative energy, it’s seen as rude or threatening to write letters in red. Even email or texts being red is seen as almost… taboo? Like I wrote an email to an older Chinese relative, and accidentally left some of the text red from something I had copied into the email, and she called my mom to tell her about it!”

J: “Do you think that this is more of an elderly superstition, or would you say younger people believe or participate in this as well?”

E: “Well, it definitely is an older people thing. But, because respect is such a large thing in both the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, the young people try to observe these things. Like there are many superstitions like this that don’t necessarily make sense to the younger generations, but they still observe them in order to not upset or unintentionally insult the older generations.”


The superstition is interesting on its own, but I think the conversation around whether young people believe it was the most interesting part of this conversation. I think that it is nice to be respectful of older generations’ traditions or superstitions, despite not believing in them. However, I got the vibe that E did not think that there was credibility to superstitions. I think every generation has their own traditions or superstitions, but it is still important to recognize and document the previous generations’ folklore.