Tag Archives: red

Chinese Red Name

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Informant: So, I grew up in Thailand but my family’s actually from Shanghai, China. There are lots of Chinese people living in Thailand, but even with Thai people there are plenty of cultures that we share. For example, we both don’t write our names with a red ink. Or anyone’s names, people tend to not write any names in color red. I though this was a strictly a Chinese tradition, but it was pretty common in Thailand too.

Interviewer: My Korean family also believes in that myth.

Informant: I guess it’s pretty common amongst all Asian cultures. I just thought it was Chinese exclusive because the color red is so heavily used in China. Chinese people love the color red. We think it can bring good luck and good energy, but it’s also heavily associated with death at the same time. So when you write someone’s name in red, it’s as if you’re welcoming death.

Interviewer: What would you do if you had to write your name and you only had a red pen?

Informant: (laughs) I guess I’ll have to write my name and hope I don’t die suddenly.

Background:

My informant heard about this piece when she was very little from her Auntie. While she doesn’t recall the exact whereabouts of how that was brought up, but she describes it as a common tradition that one acquires simply by being around other Chinese people.

Context:

My informant and I were discussing traditions that we share in common, as we come from two different cultures – Chinese and Korean, respectively. One thing we found was that both our cultures avoid writing a person’s name in color red. This conversation took place at her house, she currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thoughts:

This was an interesting piece of folklore to learn about as it’s common in multiple cultures. I think the reason why it’s so heavily spread in Asia is because how deeply Asian cultures are unified, especially East Asian regions where Buddhist ideologies of linking death and good luck as coinciding factors are common.

Why You Can’t Write Your Name in Red

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school.This conversation took place in a hotel one evening. The informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains why Chinese people never write their names in red. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription).

 

Text: 

“Chinese people never use the color red to write people’s names because historically, in China, when people’s names are written in red, it means that they are criminals that have been sentenced to death/ are dead. This doesn’t go to say that the color red is unlucky; in fact, the color red usually brings in good luck and is meant to express excitement and happiness. For example, during Chinese New Year, everything is decorated with red things. During a wedding, people wear red to celebrate and bring good luck to the newly wedded couple.

In this case, red is bad luck because it’s being written.  Usually, only people with authority can write in red. This isn’t just the people that decide which criminal to put on death row; we even see this school systems. Generally, a teacher is expected to use red pen to correct their students exams and papers; when a students sees a red marking, this means that they know they made a mistake and that they need to correct something. When the color is used in written form, it serves as a warning. So when someone’s name is written in red, and the name that they’ve written down is of someone that is still alive, Chinese people will panic or freak out because that means that they’ve ultimately just been sentenced to death by someone of higher authority (AKA, the person holding the red pen).

So traditionally, we never write people’s name in red ink because that means you want them to die.”

 

Thoughts:

I’ve known of this taboo my entire life—I remember when I was about 5 years old and I wrote my name in a bright pink pen, and my mom yelled at me and whited out my name. When I asked her why, she told me that pink was too close to the color red, and that I should never write my name in red or red-like colored ink. After that, until I was 14, my mom didn’t let me use pens that were a color other than black, blue, or green. A few years back, I again encountered something similar: I was working at a tutoring center, and my boss had written a girl’s name in red ink at the top of her worksheets that she had to take home. The mother of the girl, who was Chinese, screamed in front of the entire classroom, yelled at my boss, and then actually ended up having her daughter quit the tutoring center.

Clearly, this taboo is taken very seriously in Chinese culture; I ended up looking up why people couldn’t right their names in red after this conversation with my informant, simply because I had never heard of writing the names of criminals in blood as a practice. Sure enough, she was correct. In an article by a Vision Times: “All Eyes on China,” an online newspaper about China’s history, influence, and China in today’s context, Yi Ming writes: “In ancient times, a death row criminal’s name was written in chicken blood, and later this evolved to being written in red ink. Thus, in all official records, the names of death sentence criminals were written in red ink.” However, Ming gives even more reason for why the color red (in the context of writing names) is unlucky. She states that “Yán Wáng Yé, the King of Hell, also marked people about to come down to hell in red ink,” and that deceased death row criminals had their names written in red ink on their tombstones.

This folklore suggests that this taboo is an example of sympathetic magic, where “like produces like.” If you write your name in red, then you’re essentially writing a death sentence to yourself because it resembles the death sentence of a criminal or the red ink on a criminal’s gravestone. These taboos exist to protect ourselves socially; we would never want our own names written in red because we don’t want to die, and we would never want our relatives or friends names to be written in red because we don’t want them to disappear from our lives nor have anything tragic happen to them. We are surrounded by this fear of the reality that we can’t control the bad things that happened to our loved ones, so we attach this fear to rituals; these rituals give us autonomy over processes like this, perhaps psychology providing us comfort and making us feel like we are doing everything in our power to protect one another.  

 

To read more on this, this is the citation for Yi Ming’s article on Vision Times:

Ming, Yi. “A Chinese Taboo: Never Write Other People’s Names Using Red Ink.” Vision Times, 2

June 2016,

www.visiontimes.com/2016/06/02/a-chinese-taboo-never-write-other-peoples-names-using-red-ink.html.

 

Red in Indian Weddings

Collection:  Indian wedding – significance of red

A: “What is the significance of red in Indian weddings?”

B: “ Well red symbolizes a married woman, so the groom spreads red tika called Sindoor on the bride’s hairline…Oh! And the bride wear red.”

A: “A red dress?”

B: “It can be a saree, salwar suit, or whatever she wants.”

Context/Interpretation: While different colors take on different meanings and degrees of significance around the world, red is almost universally used in the development of womanhood. Marriage is a defining moment of adulthood, specifically womanhood, in many cultures. Therefore, the red in Indian weddings stays consistent with the red symbolism.

Annotated Bibliography:

SmarterTravel. “So THAT’S Why You Shouldn’t Wear A Green Hat In China.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Jan. 2017.

According to the article, “Red is the most powerful of all colors in Indian culture and holds many important meanings.” In fact, red can convey fear, power, fertility, love, beauty, and more. More significantly, red is known to symbolize an Indian woman’s marriage through red henna, red sindoor, and her outfit.

 

Ambulance Superstition

A conversation with a female friend went as follows:

Me: “I am not a very superstitious person at all. I don’t feel like those things ever do anything.”

Response: “I don’t have a a lot, but there are a couple that I do religiously. I don’t even think about it anymore”

Me: “Really? I would NEVER think that about you.”

Response: “Yeah… they are so subconscious at this point I don’t even think anyone else would even notice. I don’t even notice haha. But like…let me think of one…. Oh, every time I see an an ambulance I have to touch something red”

*(as she responds, she reaches her right hand to her left hip)*

 

 

Background: She is a twenty-year old born and raised in Boston, MA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA attending USC as a sophomore. Her parents are divorced and she has two younger sisters.

Context: This conversation took place as we were walking from class back to my apartment building.

Analysis: As my friend was telling me about a superstition of hers, she subconsciously reached her right hand across her body towards her left hip. At first I laughed, wondering why she did that, and when I told her why she was laughing she realized what she was doing. She explained that she typically would see an ambulance with its lights on while she was driving or in the car, and therefore, the closest thing to her to touch would be the red base on seatbelts. This superstition and “touching something red” has become so second nature to her that she literally acts like she is touching a seatbelt even when simply talking about the superstition itself. The fact that she didn’t realize what she was doing demonstrates how embedded folkloric beliefs can become in our worldview and within our daily actions. I was very intrigued by this interaction and loved gaining more insight into the depth of her superstitious beliefs as our conversation continued and developed.

Wear Red on Happy Occasions

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: So for like the Chinese culture there is so many, like it’s so crazy, but I guess, like the most popular ones, like would wearing red for like a birthday count as folklore?

Me: Yeah. But why wold you wear red for a birthday?

S: So like, so it’s the belief of the Chinese that red is like the ultimate like color for luckiness, and just like power and everything, so for your birthday you want everyone to be wearing red. And if anyone comes in wearing black, like that’s a big no no, ’cause black would mean like death or just like negative things, and like wearing black to a birthday or like any happy celebration would be like, it’s a sign of like disrespect and like wish that person like that bad luck. so never do that.

Me: Is it something that you do even now that you’re here? Like now that you live in the U.S.?

S: Um, no, not here, but if I’m with like family, or if I know that it’s a Chinese family, it’s like a more common known thing. So like even all around the world, you know. Yeah, so, but like you can wear other colors actually, as long as it’s not black though.

S talks about the Chinese culture in which it is customary to wear red on birthdays because the color red symbolizes luckiness, power, and in general just has good connotations. She says that it is okay to wear other colors as well, though it isn’t the same thing as wearing red, as long as you don’t wear black. Black symbolizes death and has other bad connotations so black is not to be worn on happy occasions, and it is considered disrespectful if people do wear black on happy occasions. Though she does not follow the practice so much now that she lives in Los Angeles, she still does when she is with family or other Chinese people.