Detective Note

Vol.016- Why Chinese people love colors


Interviewer: Simen Huang

Theme:Why Chinese people love colors

Simeng Today I`d like to discuss the reasons why Chinese people prefer bold or vibrant colors. In recent years, LPA has landed many projects in China. I`m sure the clients ask for bold color choices.

Mende  Yes, it seems to be that way.

Simeng  I, myself, along with most Chinese people feel a sense of enthusiasm toward bold or vibrant colors. I don’t think it is just because we like glitz and pazazz or don`t understand the quality of single color luminaries. In my opinion I think this phenomenon is rooted in our cultural background.


過激なカラーライティングを使った中国の夜景China night scene using extreme color lighting

Forbidden City-Chinese Culture That Loves Color

Mende You mean to say that Chinese clients prefer colorful lighting, not because it is trendy, but a completely different deeper reason?

Simeng That is correct. I think I had this realization around the time when the length of my stay in Japan became the same as my time living in China. I remember feeling that Japanese seem to conform to those around them and have the habit of blending in with the crowd, while Chinese like to assert their individuality. We don’t like to be the same as those around us and have a strong conscious feeling that “I am different from you.”

Mende Yes, we even have a saying in Japanese “The nail that sticks out get hammered down.” We are a culture that lives by conforming to those around us.

Simeng  So, Chinese clients are also obsessive about having their buildings look different from those around them. By using color lighting to illuminate, they can emphasis the individually of their building. This explanation might be Chinese ethnicity, but the same phenomenon of vibrant color lighting can be found in other countroies, but the explanation for why is very different. A gentle and calming nightscape, as seen in Japan, is a collective effort, but in China this would be considered boring or lacking in individuality.

Mende I see. That is why most Chinese clients request their building be more flashy or showy than the surrounding buildings. There is no mistaking that colorful, blinking lights stand out, but, no matter how you look at it, most plans are very crude. At LPA, if a client has a leginament request to use colored lighting, we, as lighting designers progress with the plan, but not every inch of the building is going to be blinking or flashing. In this respect, Chinese clients always seem to want more from our proposals.

Simeng  While at graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on ancient Chinese architecture. During the Tang Dynasty and Ming Dynasty many colors were used in architecture. Generally speaking , the style of old architecture is similar in China, Korea, and Japan. However in Korea and Japan, timber is used as is, while in China most structures are painted vibrantly. There were many strict rules about the use of colors. For example, only the emperor was allowed to use yellow or red. Also, members of the royal family could use only certain colors and the common people were left with gray or black to paint their homes. Social classes were divided by color. Therefor, color has played an important role in the long history of China. This is why the Chinese people are very sensitive to color from long ago.

Mende The Chinese are fond of colors. That is an interesting historical background.

Simeng I feel like this is a Chinese cultural tradition. Even if over time Chinese clients started to accept the beauty of single color design, I don’t think their stance on color will change. Right now it might simply be that clients want vibrancy, but I think that eventually clients will become educated and aware of the beauty of colors. The Chinese sensitivity to the beauty of color is unique and very individualistic with strong historical influences. This aesthetic sense is great, but I think it should be polished.

Mende Today we talked about color, but the color of light and the color of solid matter is not the same. I am very interested in the Chinese sense of color, but when I see the cheap color lighting of LEDs made in China I am very disappointed. In the world of paints it might be ok, but the newest technology might be destroying Chinese culture.

Simeng  I think it will be ok. I think it is just a phase and it is trendy to try the news in technological development. Things will settle down and the Chinese culture of color lighting is going to be built just like the culture of color for ancient architecture.