【Abstract】 All people live in the same material world, and the physical mechanism of perception is pretty much the same in all people. However, different peoples from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds have the different feelings to the same color term. Because of their different geographical position, history, religion, custom, psychology and ways of thinking, the implied meanings of the color words are different. There are bunches of color terms in the vocabularies of different countries. They all have deep cultural connotations, besides their literal denotations. In some important occasions, as the main expression of customs, red and white imply different cultural backgrounds. Through the analysis of symbolic meanings of red and white, this thesis puts an emphasis on the national traits of color terms. Approached from four aspects-- environment, perception, philosophy and religion, the study explores the cultural and historical roots of the differences. The purpose of this thesis is to avoid errors in cross-cultural communications based on a better awareness of cultural differences.
【Key Words】 red； white； connotation； causes； color terms； English and Chinese
【摘 要】 人們生活在同一個物質世界，其感知的生理機制使人們對顏色詞的理解也不禁相同。但是，不同國家不同文化背景的人對同種顏色的理解也有所不同。這是因為不同的地理環境，歷史背景，宗教信仰，文化風俗，心理以及思維方式使顏色詞所蘊涵的意義產生差異。在各種語言詞匯里有大量的顏色詞，除了表達顏色本意之外，它們有更深刻的文化內涵。在中西方的重大場合里，紅白兩色作為一種重要的風俗表現形式，深刻體現了兩種不同的文化背景，本文通過對紅白兩色基本象征意義的對比分析，強調了英漢顏色詞的民族特性，并從環境、感知、哲學和宗教四個方面探索了造成這種差異的文化歷史根源。本文研究是為了更好地了解民族文化差異，避免在跨文化交際中產生失誤。
To satisfy our daily necessities, people use a host of color terms to represent colors. For example, it is estimated that there are over three thousand color words in English. Our eyes are able to distinguish seven million different colors, most of which we cannot name. As we know, color is the physical appearance. Although people are in different countries, they also have the same reflections of colors. “According to the famous BK Hypothesis——Berlin and Kay consider that all languages include two to eleven basic colors, which are black, white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, gray.” 
However, in addition to what we mentioned above, colors also reflect the features of different culture and society to certain extent. In our daily life, people often realize the colors by optic nerves, and also express their feelings by colors. “Since human beings have the same physical mechanism and optic nervous system, it is no differences in the feelings of colors in theory” : sensory organs such as eyes, ears and nose to sense the environment, and the sensations received by them are routed through our nervous system to our brains, where they are interpreted and recorded. Therefore, the reflections in our minds of the objective world are the same, that is, they refer to things and interpret unit of meanings by means of the same concepts. However, due to the differences of custom, geographical position, history, religion, psychology, some colors have already been the obstructions in the cross-cultural communication. So learning the similarities and differences of color terms in English and Chinese has a great effect on the cross-cultural communication and translation.
For instance, in the traditional Chinese weddings, the bride, who wore red shoes, red dress, and a red veil, sat in red-painted palanquin, greeted by the bridegroom who rode a horse with a big red silk-made flower on the chest. After the ceremony, they would enter into the bridal chamber decorated with red things——red candles, red bed, red quilts, red bedsores, and red pillows. What's more, the gifts sent by the guests were enveloped in red paper packages. These red things not only show the joyful atmosphere, but also suggest that the newly married couple will have a happy life in the future. However, in the western countries, the wedding is called "white wedding", because the bride is dressed in white, wearing white gloves and shoes; the carriage of wedding is driven by white horses, the driver of which wears a white hat; what's more, the invitation cards are written with silver letters. It is so different with Chinese custom. In China, white is used to mean "funeral affairs". So the Chinese are hardly use white in celebrations and happy occasions.
It is natural that English terms of colors may have cultural associations that are not transparent to Chinese learners of English as a foreign language. The following paragraph are meant to focus on the two color terms——red and white, and to help them attain a better understanding.
2. The different connotations of red
2.1 The similarities between red and 紅
Red is the earliest color used by peoples in the world. In Chinese, it is the color of fire or blood. In English, as the explanation in Oxford American Dictionary, red means the color of blood or a color approaching this. Therefore, people almost use the color of blood instead of "red". What’s more, in the early period of human history, red was the sun and fire that made life better. Therefore, in both English and Chinese, red and "紅" are connected with "dignity"、"love"、"beauty"、"happiness", and so on. In English we find such expressions: “a red letter day” refers to holidays such as Christmas and other special days. Such days are printed in red on calendars, and other days printed in black. “To paint the town red” means to enjoy a lively, boisterous time in public places, often attracting the notice of, or causing some disturbance to, others.
As the representative color of China, Chinese people like "紅" best, which is used to be in a positive sense. It may originate from its association by ancient Chinese people with the sun and fire. According to the ancient Chinese legends and mythologies, people had been inclined to think of themselves as the product of the nature, in which they got direct benefits from the warmth of the sun and fire. Therefore, they connected the color of the sun with anything happy, lucky and prosperous. Nowadays, we always see that the Chinese teams are usually dressed in red in international games. What's more, "紅" is the most frequent color in celebrations and joyful occasions, which we mentioned in the first part. For example, on New Year's Day and Spring Festival, red lanterns are hung up, red character "福" put up on the wall or door, red paper-cuts attached onto the windows, red antithetical couplets stuck on both sides of the door, and New Year money gifts to the younger generation is wrapped in red packages.
Besides, red and "紅" are also connected with solemnity and acceptance, which are embodied in the red color of seals of both government and common people. In English, the phrase "red carpet" has this meaning. “Traditionally, a red carpet is placed on the ground to welcome the visiting leaders of another country. It is a way of honoring the important visitors. So the expression "rolling out the red carpet" describes an especially warm welcome of any kind. You may give someone the royal treatment, even if the person is not a king or queen. A city may "roll out the red carpet" for its baseball team, when the team arrives home after winning a championship. A group of supporters go to the airport to greet the team. The red-carpet welcome includes a lot of cheering by thousands of fans, a parade, music and speeches of praise by local politicians.” In China, this custom can also be dated back to ancient times, when most things in the authorities are painted in red. If the emperors read the memorial to the throne by making red notes, which was called “朱批”, it indicated getting the permission of rulers. Moreover, red is associated with certain emotions in both English and Chinese. In Chinese "臉紅" shows embarrassment or shyness, so does it in English "to become red-faced" or "one's face turn red".
Red also stands for revolution in both the western countries and China. “In English, this meaning originated from the red flag and bonnet rouge (French) used in the French Revolution from 1789 to 1794. In 1917, the famous October Revolution in Russia won, and Lenin organized the Red Army.” In China, so is it. Because where revolution is where blood is. Chinese national flag is red which means being dyed red by the blood of the revolutionaries, and red scarf(紅領巾) is an angle of it. In the Cultural Revolution, "紅" was used politically. Chairman Mao was titled "紅太陽" and his works were called "紅寶書"; the socialistic country governed by the proletariat was called "紅色江山". Moreover, we have "紅袖章"、"紅色政權"、"紅色司令部"、"紅小鬼"、"紅色歌曲" and so on. Furthermore, at that time, people liked to paint the wall and door red, and wrote the political slogans on the wall. The whole country looked like a red sea. In both English and Chinese, red is associated with communism. Due to some political reasons, its meaning is degraded in some capitalistic countries. It has been a slightly insulting word for someone who has communist or very left wing ideas or opinions, so the western politicians are alert to "red".
The red color is not always associated with something joyful. The positive use of "red" in English is very limited. Instead, it is often used in a negative sense, and connected with "sanguineness", "danger" and "violence" in the minds of native speakers of English. Owing to the influence of Christianity, native speakers of English are not worshippers of the sun and other natural phenomena as the Chinese, because God has been the only Lord for them to worship. “According to Bible, when Adam and Eve, the alleged ancestors of human beings, committed the original sin, God said to Eve:" I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children." The great pain that a woman suffers in giving birth to a child is bleeding freely, and that may be the reason why "red" has the meaning of danger and warning for English-speaking people.” In this sense, "red" is the same as "紅".
There are some other expressions with this meaning. For instance:
(1) "Red-light district" refers to a district within a town or city where there are brothels and prostitutes.
(2) "Red Nose Day" is a day on which an appeal is made for research into sudden infant death syndrome, marked by the distribution of plastic red noses to donors.
(3) "Running a business in the red" means running it at a loss.
(4) "Red tape" means the rigid application and observation of rules and regulations in all their minute details with regard for the end they were designed to achieve.
(5) "Red Cross" is an international organization that helps people who are suffering in the war, flood or disease. Where there is a war, there is the Red Cross. No matter where you are, when you see the hospital or the ambulance, you could see the symbol of Red Cross.
(6) In China, we say "血雨腥風"、"血債血還" and so on, which are all connected with violence. So is it in English. In English, there are "blood for blood" and "red-handed". Although we do not see the word "kill" in them, we can imagine the bleeding scenes. There is such an explanation of "red-handed". “To be caught "red-handed" is to be found in an act of killing. The evidence is clear. You are guilty. Word experts say that the expression resulted from an old English law known as the law of the bloody hand. The law said that any man found with a bloody hand was to be considered guilty of killing the king's deer.”
"Red light" and "紅燈" in traffic rules are the sign of stopping. We also could see the red alarm on the top of police cars. In the football match, "red card" or "紅牌" refers to a player who breaks the rules and will not be allowed to play for the rest of the game. "Red figure"、"red ink"、"be in the red" or "赤字" mean the deficit.
2.2 The differences between red and 紅
Because of some historical and other reasons, there are some different expressions between red and “紅”. Here is an example: "see red" in English and "見紅" in Chinese are different. The former one means to be angry, in which "red" refers to anger. Another example with the approaching meaning is "waving a red flag", which means "doing something that could cause quick anger in other people". The latter means when a woman gives birth to a child, she will bleed, in which "紅" refers to blood.”
Besides, there are many expressions with "紅" indicating fortune, success and wealth, such as "走紅", "紅人", and so on. "紅人" is often used to refer to a person who is in his superior's good graces. If someone is lucky enough to get great success in his career or other aspects of life, it is often called "紅運". Moreover, such as "紅利"、"分紅"、"紅包"、"開門紅"、"滿堂紅", and so on. This meaning is connected with ancient China. In ancient China, "紅" is a graceful color, standing for wealth and high position. It is well-known that there is a famous verse saying "朱門酒肉臭, 路有凍死骨", in which "朱門" means the red-painted gates, implying the houses where high officials and nobles lived. In archaic Chinese buildings, columns, rafters, temples and nobles' houses are all painted in red. Thus "朱門" becomes the symbol of wealth and high status. “In addition, nobles, high officials and rich people are dressed in red. In Tang Dynasty, the officials who were superior to the fifth rank were required to wear red court dress. Furthermore, their carts were called "朱軒"、"朱輪".” Therefore, the red dress becomes the synonym of success and power.
According to the legend, the Old Man of the Moon, who is the god of marriage,
has on record in a book the marriage fates of those on earth and attaches betrothed couples with a red cord which will bind them for life. Therefore, later who brings about the union of the lovers is called “紅娘”, instead of “the Old Man of the Moon”, such as the maid in the play the Western Chamber written by Guan Hanqing in Yuan Dynasty. "紅娘", Cui Yingying's maid, was the go-between of Cui Yingying and Zhang Sheng. Later, "紅娘" becomes the synonym of matchmaker. Until now, the word “紅娘” also influences the color “紅” , which refers to happiness and love between couples. What’s more, in Chinese, there are many words with "紅" referring to beautiful girls, because ancient Chinese girls liked using rouge to dress up. For example, "紅顏"、"紅裝"、"紅袖"、"紅粉佳人", and so on. In addition, "紅" can express psychological states, such as "面色紅潤". In Beijing opera, red facial makeup implies the virtues of loyalty, honesty, bravery and strong-mindedness, such as the character Guan Yu, and Zhao Kuangyin.
3. The different connotations of white
3.1 The similarities between white and 白
In the first part, we mentioned that the different meanings of white between English and Chinese simply. In this part, we will analyze it deeply. In western countries, white has the meanings of "brightness", "purity" and "innocence". So in the western wedding, people like using white to decorate everything and the wedding is called "white wedding". There are some expressions connoting the meaning of purity. For example, "a white man" is usually used to indicate a reliable person. "A white sheep" refers to a good person among a gang of evil ones. "A white magic" is used for good purposes.
As in "a white hat", "a white soul", white means purity. In addition, "make one's name white again" means making somebody innocent and regaining the good fame. If someone is said to be "white-handed", it means he or she is honest or innocent. “In China, white is the color of ice, snow, jade and silver, so it stands for the unsullied moral conduct, and it is the color of gentleman. In addition, white is one of the pure colors, so it has a high status. The carved balustrade in the palace, the memorial column and the memorial archway in nobles are all white.” Therefore, white is also connected with the connotation of purity in Chinese, such as "潔白無暇". For example, nurses are called "白衣天使" or "白衣戰士", because they wear white uniform, and take good care of the sick people, which looks like angels bringing life and brightness to patients. In addition, white also has the meaning of innocence in Chinese, such as "白" in "清白無辜", and "不白之冤" which contains the same meaning.
Besides the basic meaning of brightness, purity and innocence, white has other some positive meanings as fortune, kindness, prosperity, power and justice, etc.. For example,
(1) In contrast to a "black lie", a "white lie" is a lie that does not harm and is merely more convenient or polite than telling the truth. For instance, an old sister may say to a younger sister and her boy friend: "I am too tired to go to the cinema tonight. You two go ahead to it." She makes up the excuse that she is too tired. Because she knows the couple want to be alone in fact and that she is invited just for politeness. Thus this kind of lie without any harm is called "white lie".
(2) “"A white hope" refers to a person who is thought likely to be the winner or bring success.” A lucky and happy day is called "a white day" or "a day with a white stone". "A white alarm" refers to removing the alarm. A "peaceful" war without bleeding as the Glory Revolution is called a "white war". "The white moment of life" indicates a successful period.
"White" can also be used to indicates "power"——White House, which is the official residence of the United States, and White Hall, the seat of British Government. These two stand for the American and British Government representatively. What's more, in Chinese, the expression of some white-feathered animals, such as "白鹿", "白鶴", "白狼", "白雁", "白天鵝" etc. are symbols of fortune and luck, especially in ancient China. The meanings mentioned above are almost positive.
While white and "白" also have a derogatory sense. For example, "white lady" is a female imp with a key in her waist in Teutonic tale. She absorbs ghosts of kids and young girls, and is always dressed in white. Thus she signifies the death. Furthermore, Christians believe that evil spirits, ghosts of the dead are dressed in white.
Therefore, in western countries, white is also associated with "death". It is familiar for us that in Chinese "白" also has some connotations with death, which is dated to the traditional idea of "Five Elements". “After the Warring States, the Five Lords, the five elements, the five colors and the four seasons are connected. Thus west is the color of white, and refers to autumn. The ancient people considered that harvest in autumn and store in winter, all things wither and fall, and the life is closed to die. These all show sorrow and sadness. Furthermore, the decapitation in the ancient was set in autumn.” In Chinese funeral, people wear white hats, or white flowers made by white cloth, white mourning apparel and white shoes, and a white rope tied in the waist. The ornaments in the funeral are almost white, even the white mourning money. And "白事" is the expression used to mean "funeral affairs". So white is the color of mourning dress in China, and "白" is connected with the things of ill omen such as misfortune or death. In the ancient mythology, "黑白無常" are two ghosts in the nether world, who always take the souls of dead bodies to the nether world. What’s more, in ancient time, the children were not allowed to dress in white if their parents were still alive.
In addition, white and "白" also indicate "failure". It often happens in a war or some games. The yielding part will hang a "white flag" or "白旗" as a sign of accepting the failure. "White" and "白" can both refer to people with white skin, such as "白人". If someone looks pale because of illness or strong emotion, such as "臉色蒼白" which means somebody's face appeals pale, white and "白" can be used.
3.2 The differences between white and 白
“Under the western cultural background, white is considered the color of festival, connected with good luck. Ancient Greek and Roman offered the white oblation to
gods. According to the Bible, in Israel, the sacrifices to gods are also white. The reason is that white is the holiest color in Christianism, which is manifested in the belief that Jesus and his angels wear white dress.” While in ancient Chinese wedding people like decorating everything with red. What’s more, in English, "white" also has some special meanings.
(1) "The white feather", deriving from cock-fighting, where a game cock displaying the white rim of feather under his hackle acknowledges defeat, waiting to give up, is an implication of fear, cowardice or timidity.
(2) Another example is "white elephant", in which "white" means "uselessness". “It derived from Thailand. At that time, white elephant was rarely seen, which was only in royal families. The royal made a rule that no one could use the white elephant to carry people or goods. Therefore, if the king did not like one of the courtiers, he would send a big elephant to him as a punishment. Because its owner didn’t dare to use it, and the white elephant had such a good appetite and ate so much that its owner could not afford it.”
(3) "Bleed white" and "to leech somebody white" mean that people are oppressed to work heavily until they can not work any more, which are the metaphors of the capitalist sucking the last drop of blood from the poor.
In addition, owing to some historical and political reasons, "白" has some specific meanings which "white" does not have. For instance,
(1) In Chinese "臉色白里透紅" means someone is in good health. So here "白" can not be translated directing to "white", but "healthy" or "good".
(2) “There is a famous verse saying "談笑有鴻儒，往來無白丁". Here the color term "白" refers to "illiteracy or commoner" as in "白衣".” Because in ancient China, no matter how low an official ranked, his dress was colored. White had never been the color of officials, because the customary practice took white as the color of mourning dress. So "白丁" indicates the common people.
"白" can also be used to mean "poverty" as in the imperial examinations at the provincial level in Ming and Qing dynasties. As we know, in the traditional art of theatrical makeup in Beijing opera, red implies loyalty and honesty, and "白" implies crafty and treachery, such as Zhao Gao in Qing Dynasty, Cao Cao in Three Kingdom Period, and so on. What's more, in Chinese "白" also indicates "decadence" or "reaction", which are connected with Kuomintang. The reactionary government is called "白色政權"; "白區" is the area governed by Kuomintang; "白軍"(white army) is the reactionary army; the cruelty of Kuomintang was called "白色恐怖"; the betrayers are named "白匪" or "白狗子". In other cases, "白" is not the same as "white", which has nothing to do with color at all. Such as "白菜"(Chinese cabbage), "白費"(in vain), "白卷"(blank examination), "白癡"(idiot) and so on. "白" also means plain and unadulterated, such as "白開水", "白肉".
4. The causes for their differences
In the second part, we contrasted the cultural connotations of red and white between English and Chinese. A cultural phenomenon derives from the cultural foundations. Therefore, in this chapter, causes for the differences are to be discussed.
Perhaps someone will consider that environment is the same as geographical position, but it is not. Because culture is defined and generated on the three-fold reality of culture, society and people. The evolution of a culture is the result of the interaction between subject and object, which we can call "environment". So geographical position is only a part of it. For instance, because of the geographical position in European countries, European can always see snow——the color of white, which makes them have a strong feeling of white. So they think white is the color of purity, brightness. In ancient China, white is the color of common people, but not official robes. What's more, owing to Kuomintang (in Chapter Two we mentioned) "白" implies "decadence" and "reaction", which is one of the color terms carrying the obvious political tendency. Another example is "紅", which is the symbol of revolution in the revolutionary time, as in "紅軍", "紅色根據地", "紅色接班人", and so on.
Although the physical mechanism of perception to all people is the same, the information we get from the object world is interpreted and evaluated by our brains, which may be influenced by the past experiences. Culture provides us with a perceptual lens that greatly influences how we interpret and evaluate what we receive from the outside world. Under different cultural backgrounds, different color words are needed to modify words even with the same reference in both English and Chinese, and this is because people speaking the two languages are possibly different in their color orientation. For example,
(1) "The white dress" in English and "白衣" in Chinese are different. The former is usually worn in the western wedding that indicates something jubilant and pure. While the latter refers to people who wear it in the funerals implying death, or refers to the common or illiterate people who is no official ranked.
(2) “Another example is "紅茶", which is expressed "black tea" in English. The reason is the speakers of Chinese and English perceive the physical world differently. The Chinese people pay more attention to the red color of the water, whereas the Englishmen put their eyes on the black color of the tea when it is dry.”
(3) "紅旗" and "red flag" have opposite connotation owing to the different perception. "紅旗", the flag of the Communist Party of China, is the symbol of China. And it also refers to the sample with good spirit. However, "a red flag" in English implies something dangerous which people should avoid, something like "red light".
These examples all show the differences in perception. Meanwhile, we should realize that although some color terms look similar in their conceptual meanings, their connotations are different due to the different cultural contexts.
As we know, the world does not only consist of physical world, but also psychological world. However, the latter one really influences the cross-cultural communication. In the long river of history, the Chinese has its own philosophical ideas, such as the idea of Supreme Ultimate. Another important one is what we mentioned in Chapter Two——"Five Elements", which says the universe is consisted of five elements——metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The Five Lords, five elements, five colors (white, green, black, red and yellow), four seasons are related. Colors are used as the representatives of the directions. Five colors are used as the symbols of east, west, center, south and north respectively. Five colors also stand for the five elements: white for metal, green for wood, black for water, red for fire, and yellow for earth. In addition, colors are also used to represent the four seasons: green for spring, red for summer, white for autumn, and black for winter. These are also the reasons why white has the meaning of death, and red stands for happiness.
Religion and culture are inextricably entwined. Religion is also the most important factor affecting the culture and cross-cultural communication. Most experts agree that religion has endeavored to explain those motions about life that otherwise could not be understood or resolved. Religion deals with the life and death in nature, the creation of the universe, the origin of groups in the society, the relationship with each other, and the relation of human beings to nature. The usages of colors in religion exert great influence on the meaning of the color terms. Such as red and "紅". Red is related to blood rather than fire and sun to western people, especially Christians. The westerners are interested in universe, and have a strong sense of religion. So they are less superstitious than Chinese. According to Bible, the story about Adam and Eve mentioned in Chapter Two shows the reason why red implies blood and dangers in the western countries. In addition, there was a verse saying "紅豆生南國，春來發幾枝". Here "紅豆" is a love token in China, but in English, a red bean is a symbol for stupidity. This meaning derives from the Bible, in which Essau sold his right as the first born son to his younger brother Jacob just for red bean stew.
4.5 Other Causes
Besides those factors mentioned above, there are other factors influencing the usage of color terms. For examples, some expressions come from myths or novels. “In Bible, in Revelation there is a jezebel riding on a scarlet animal, who dresses in scarlet. Therefore, in the western literature, scarlet refers to being lascivious.” In Chinese, Wang Shipu in his "The Romance of West Chamber" created a character—— a girl called "紅娘". Because she helped the two lovers ——Yingying and Zhangsheng unite and marry. Later, "紅娘" refers to the match makers in marriage. However, in English "red lady" does not have the same meaning, which refers to a prostitute. Moreover, "white" in "white elephant" derives from a historical story mentioned in Chapter Two.
This thesis studies the cultural connotations carried by the two color terms, and analyzes the causes for their differences. The purpose of this thesis is not only to find out the similarities and differences of “red” and “white”, the more important point is to understand the similarities and differences between cultures and the implications they bring to us.
“Language is influenced by culture, and reflects culture. It does not only contain the history and cultural background of the country, but also indicates the life style and the mode of thinking of the country. So it must combine the knowledge of language and knowledge of culture together, which can make people communicate with each other fluently. And the color terms also play an important part in the cross-cultural communication.” Therefore, the study of the color terms——red and white has a great effect on it.
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