Green stands for somewhat contradictory meanings. On the hand, it is a symbol of youthfulness hope, peace and vigor. Along with many other countries, the postal service in China uses green. Surgeons wear soothing green gowns during surgery. Green traffic light means it is acceptable to go. In recent years, food uncontaminated by chemicals has been known as green food. Green represents health.
On the other hand, green has some more negative meanings. Historically, green was the color of the lower classes. Officials who were ranked outside the top seven grades wore green clothes, butchers and bartenders wore green cloth caps, and male staff in Tang Dynasty brothels and performance venues wore green scarves to show their identity.
In the Ming Dynasty a renowned book collector and scholar named Lang Ying noted that people from the State of Wu called a man with a loose wife a green scarf. Later, this became “wearing a green hat”. Saying to a man that he is wearing a green hat is regarded as highly insulting and should be avoided.
In Chinese paintings, colors are used to express feelings and artistic concepts. In the Ming Dynasty, an emperor ordered all the painters in the land to come to the capital for a contest, which was “Some red in green, a simple but touching spring scene.” Within a few days, thousands of paintings had been submitted.
A shortlist of three was selected by a panel of experts. Third place went to a painting of a dark green pine forest, with a red-crowned crane among the trees. Second place went to a picture of a tall lush green mountain range, with a red sun setting in the distance.
The winner, however, was a painting of a young lady washing silk yarn by a creek. She was in a green willow wood, and had a touch of red rouge on her lips. All three paintings were very skillful in depicting “some red in green”, but the winner had a more intelligent portrayal of “simple but touching spring scene”.
The psychological interpretations of colors come from people’s living experience. Colors always have some symbolic meaning for people, depending on their culture, time and location. The taboos of color also vary. Colors thus have a role to play in interpersonal and intercultural exchanges.