Blog / Culture

Taiwan In Colours: Red

In many Western countries, red is associated with Christmas because it dominates Santa’s outfit. In Taiwan, red is also the colour of festiveness. In societies which draw most of their traditions from China, it represents good fortune and happiness. Nowadays, most Taiwanese brides wear lacy white dresses, but in the past the traditional wedding garment was bright red. (White continues to symbolise death, and the wearing of red at funerals is strictly forbidden, lest it be construed as an expression of joy.)

Ahead of the Lunar New Year (which in 2020 falls on January 25), Taiwanese people – like their counterparts in Hong Kong and China – set off strings of firecrackers, hang red lanterns along the streets, and paste red scrolls beside windows or doors. The envelopes working-age adults use at this time of year to distribute cash gifts to their parents and children are always red.

On Wall Street, declining share prices are shown in red. In Taiwan (and also in China, Korea and Japan), the opposite is true. In those countries, rising share prices are indicated in red, the colour that connotes wealth.

In the temples where Taiwanese people practice the mainstream blend of Taoism, Buddhism and folk beliefs, red is inescapable. It is the colour of thousands of shrine doors and beams. The drums that are beaten during temple celebrations are red, as are the circular tables on which sacrificial pigs and other offerings are laid out.

At altars dedicated to the Old Man Under the Moon, a matchmaking deity, you’ll see a bowl of short red threads. These symbolise the traditional belief that each person is tied to and destined to eventually find his or her life partner. Therefore, every lonely heart who seeks the deity’s help takes a thread home after he/she has prayed for an end to his/her loneliness.

Many of the road bridges in Taroko National Park (lower left) are painted red. The locomotives that ply the Alishan Forest Railway are red. Even three quarters of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan’s official name) flag is red!