Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Color Views of Cultures-Chinese Tradition

Chinese Tradition

As far as tradition in China is concerned, there is no such thing as a color system as a Western dictionary would define it. In the Western world, Aristotle, for example, had attempted to find a harmony of colors. The Chinese strove toward similar interpretations, and between the 4th and 2nd century oriented themselves on the same pentatonic scale that dominated their music. Accordingly, they accepted that in its entirety color harmony comprised five basic colors: the four cardinal points are defined by red in the south, standing for summer and fowls and poultry; green lies to the east and represents spring, wood and the dragon; black is to the north and stands for winter, water and the tortoise; white is placed in the west and represents autumn and the tiger. Yellow, on the other hand, is allocated a special place and is therefore discussed in more detail. (Detailed text)

Chinese tradition regards mankind, society and the world equally, as the objects of a global knowledge — a knowledge which incorporates the macrocosm and the separate microcosms it contains.
In the illustration, the five basic colors of the Chinese tradition are arranged according to their equivalents:
Red: fire, reaching upwards, corresponds to the south as dictated by the traditional Chinese cardinal points, and coincides with the warm season of summer.
Black: water, delving into the depths, is in the north. Its season, winter, is marked by the absence of water, which at this time gathers in the northern shallows of the world».
Green: wood, is in the east and relates to spring. Green, the color of spring, is also the color of the world of plants.
White: metal, is in the west, with its season autumn with white as its color — a white with a blue tint. Incidentally, contrary to Western color-systems, black and white are part of the same circle in Chinese color-systems.
Yellow: earth. In the code of the five elements, the earth has a carrying, supporting function, and thus also assumes the function of primary source and nutrition: the plants sprout from the earth, from where fire, too, breaks out; metals are extracted from its mines, and water flows from its wells. The earth is the center — the color yellow; its taste is sweet, and its aroma is that of perfume. Mankind as the yellow race, the inhabitants of this world, stems from this equivalent.
The armored animals like the tortoise, which correspond to the north, water and the colour black, procreate the scaled animals like the dragon, which are always green, since these belong to wood and are located in the east. The scaled animals in turn create the fowls and poultry, to which the south and the colour red are ascribed. The feathered birds in turn create the fur-covered animals, such as the tiger or the horse, which are associated with the west, the metals and the colour white.
Water brings forth wood, and wood nourishes the fire. Fire (ash) fertilizes the earth, and the earth brings forth metals. Metal creates water.

Date: Uncertain
Bibliography: J. Needham, «Science and Civilisation in China», Cambridge University Press; Collin A. Ronan, «The shorter Science and Civilisation in China», Cambridge University Press, from 1978; Institut für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften der Chinesischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, «Wissenschaft und Technik im alten China», Birkhäuser, Basel 1989.

1 comment:

  1. Barbara, your blog kind of bled all over my page this morning, but I was able to read parts of your post. Very interesting about the color yellow.