Chinese red lipstick looks good on most people and sensational on a few. It is eye catching and promising; bold and sensual. There is nothing restrained about this lip colour. There is nothing restrained about red in most of its forms. The colour red is ripe with connotations, some of them earned, some of them attributed, some historical. Let’s look at the colour red first; then at Chinese red and finish with red in Thailand.
ire engine red, cardinal red, carmine, ruby, brick red and of course, Chinese red. Most of us have an intuitive knowledge of what shade of red we like, whether mixed with orange and moving towards fire – tomato red and said to be favoured by men; or mixed with blue and moving towards maroon – berry red that is said to be favoured by women. Chinese red is synonymous with vermilion and is in the orange tinted family of reds.
Red belongs to two triumvirates and many duos. It is one of the three primary colours (red blue and yellow) and one of the three most recognised colours (black, white and red) in all languages and cultures of the world. It has both positive and negative connotations. Red is the colour of cardinals, of the Catholic Church: it is also Satan’s colour. Red represents fire, virility and strength and also blood and death. The fallen woman, or woman of the night often wears red. Red light districts sell sex and pornography in every European culture. The Madonna and child are sometimes painted in red garments too, and red is the colour of the blood of the Lamb in Christian beliefs.
77% of the world’s national flags use the colour red. On flags it tends to represent the blood of the citizens of the country, or courage. When red represents blood it also represents life – and death when blood is spilled.
Because red represents such opposites, it is the colour that represents the widest spectrum of human feeling.
In China, red represents fire, joy and good fortune. It is a popular colour for auspicious occasions such as weddings and New Year and signifies good luck for a new venture. At New Year, young people are given red envelopes containing money, a custom that some Thai families also observe. The children value the money of course and the red envelopes signify good luck. The phoenix that burns and rises from the ashes is a vermilion goddess.
How Red is Made
True red is a difficult colour to find naturally and its rarity has made it much valued. Red ochre is as close to true red as the ancients were able to come. It was much valued, sometimes being buried with people of rank. In some cultures, it was so difficult to obtain that red could be worn only by royalty.
The name vermillion originates from tiny insects called Kermes Vermillion that were dried and crushed by the Romans, hence vermillion red. The colour has become associated with Chinese lacquerware, however and the colours are synonymous.
Red was also made from powdered cinnabar, a precious metal. It created a colour that darkened with age. The robes of saints and sinners in Renaissance paintings have darkened from red to rusty brown in some instances, because of the nature of the paint. Synthetic red is synthetic mercuric sulphide, labeled on paint tubes as PR-106 (Red Pigment 106). A 19th Century invention, it is of higher quality than red made from ground cinnabar, which has many impurities. Both pigments are toxic, and should be used with great care.
After the new world was discovered a new red, used for dying clothes, was introduced. This red was also produced from a bug. The cochineal is a scaled insect that lives on cacti in Mexico. Carminic acid, typically 17–24% of dried insects’ weight, can be extracted from the body and eggs, then mixed with aluminium or calcium salts to make carmine dye, also known as cochineal. Carmine is today primarily used as a food colouring and for cosmetics, especially as a lipstick colouring.
Other synthetic dyes such as alizarin were invented in the late 19th century so natural-dye production gradually diminished. Health fears over artificial food additives have renewed the popularity of cochineal dyes. The increased demand has made cultivation of the insect profitable again. Not all people enjoy the idea that they may be eating bugs, however as Starbucks found out when it was revealed that cochineal was used in some of their products. It’s a toss up. Synthetic colouring or bugs; which is better for you?
Toxicodendron Vernicifluum is the botanical name for the Chinese lacquer tree. It is from native to China, Japan and Korea, and a relative to the sumac tree. The tree’s resin, when painted on any object, hardens into a natural brown plastic surface. During the third century artists began to coat their wares with powdered cinnabar or with red ochre (ferric oxide) to create the red we know today as Chinese red.
In the 8th century, Chinese chemists began making synthetic vermilion from mercury and sulphur, which reduced the price of the pigment and allowed the production of Chinese lacquerware on a larger scale. When Chinese lacquerware and the ground cinnabar used to colour it were exported to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, European collectors considered it to be finer than the European vermilion. The cinnabar products must have been made for export and the cheaper synthetic products used at home.
Meaning in China
Toxicodendron Vernicifluum: a tree raisin used as painting color.
Red was a popular colour long before Communism waved the red flag. In ancient times vermillion was used to paint temples, carriages of the Emperor and as printing paste for personal signature chops. It was also used for unique red calligraphic ink reserved for Emperors. Chinese Taoists associated vermilion with eternity.
Chinese emperors used a colour chart similar to the one reproduced below to guide them in decision making.
INSERT TABLE FROM MAGAZINE
Only Emperors were allowed to write in red ink, not only to dip their signature chops to sign documents. Today, in some parts of the world, it is considered bad luck to sign a document in red ink.
Another ancient use of red was red cord knots that were woven to commemorate events. The complexity of the knot indicated what the event was, and the size of the knot indicated the importance of the event. Knots were tokens that could pass messages between people and were kept as souvenirs. Because fabric does not weather well, few antique knots remain, but evidence in the form of tools for making them and references to them in literature indicates that red rope knots, very similar to ones made today, were used in early Chinese times. Today these knots are mainly used as decorations, given as gifts on special occasions or used as buttons or adornments on clothes.
Today, red is still a favourite colour in China. It is the national colour in fact. It is used both by the government and by citizens. Red lanterns, red firecrackers, pasted symbols above doorways, clothes, posters and flags. Red is everywhere.
The traditional bridal dress illustrated here is interesting because the bride is wearing knotted earrings to compliment her dress. The modern wedding dress is still scarlet (though modern brides may wear two gowns on the day including a white one from western tradition).
Red in Thailand
Red in Thailand
Red is also an auspicious colour in Thailand which makes sense given that Chinese and Indian influences shaped much of early Thai culture. Surprisingly, red is NOT the traditional wedding colour.
In Thailand each day of the week is assigned a colour based on associations with Indian gods and planets. King Rama 6 codified the colours that people could wear each day and though most people in Thailand don’t know the seven colours for each day, they all know that yellow is for Monday as the King was born on that day.
Red is the colour of Sunday. The sun is of course the dominant celestial body associated with Sunday, and people born on the day are expected to have hot tempers. Wearing the colour of the day you were born is considered to be lucky. What with the red and yellow protesters however, it might do well to be careful with wearing either colour for a while.
If you don’t wear a red dress, there is always red lipstick. If you are not faint hearted, make it Chinese red this Valentine’s Day.
The post So Red! Chinese and other Reds appeared first on Expat Life.
So Red! Chinese and other Reds
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