In many cultures, white is a symbol of purity, brightness, frankness and elegance. At western-style wedding the bride wears a white wedding dress. In Japan, the bride wears a traditional Japanese costume, and male guests wear white ties. Due to western influences, many modern Chinese young people now wear white wedding dresses and black suits to their wedding, but then change into mandarin gowns for the banquet that follows. The bride wears a red gown and the groom a black one. This is an interesting fusion of western and Chinese customs. However, traditional in China white is a solemn color that symbolizes grief and mourning and was used in funerals. The hall in which guests mourned was decorated with white flowers. A white color and white candles were also placed on a credence table. The walls were decorated with white elegiac scrolls, and the relatives of the deceased all dressed in white. During the funeral procession, white paper flags were flown and white paper money was thrown. It was note in The Book of Rites that “White attire is for funerals.” Resilient and open-minded people who tried to look for the positives in death regarded funerals as “white happiness”.
White also became associated with politics in China a few decades ago, with terms such as white area, white terror, and white regime being used. This was seen in contrast to red. White also symbolizes bad faith, cattiness and viciousness in Peking Opera. The characters Cao Cao, Zhao Gao, and Yan Song, are regarded as treacherous court officials in history. Their faces are all painted white. The expression “White face Cao Cao” refers to a person of bad faith.
Black is considered to be a steady, sober, serious and masculine color. In the Xia Dynasty(about 2070 BC-1600 BC) and Qin Dynasty commoners wrapped their heads with black turbans and hence earned the nickname “black heads”. In Peking Opera, black masks represent honesty, uprightness, bravery, impartiality and unsophistication. The role of Bao Zheng, or Black Bao, an esteemed Song Dynasty official, wears a painted black mask. Other characters, such as Li Kui, Weichi Gong, Zhang Fei, and Huyan Qing also wear painted black masks. They are heroes and fighters, and are esteemed for their frankness, selflessness and purity.
In the west, black is used for funerals. People wear black suits, ties, and scarves or veils as a sign of mourning. This custom has also found traction in China, especially in cities, where people now sometimes also wear black at funerals.
Black is also reminiscent of darkness, and perhaps because of this it also suggests crime and unlawful activity. In ancient China, there was a black ink punishment which meant that a criminal would have certain characters tattooed on their face in black ink. This punishment has long been discarded, but many characters to do with punishment still include the radical for black. The character for black is also often used in many words or saying with derogatory implications. Black heart, for example, is ascribed to a person who is considered to be malicious. Shady business people are criticized as being too black. Evil deeds and things associated with them are also referred to as being black, such as black society, black hand, black goods, black market, blacklist, black gang, and black background.