Yellow was chosen as the imperial color by Chinese emperors for several important reasons, rooted in historical, cultural, and religious significance in China. Here are some key factors that influenced the choice of yellow as the imperial color:
In traditional Chinese culture, yellow represents power, wealth, and the center. It is seen as the most prestigious and noble color. Yellow was associated with the earth element, which was believed to be the center of the universe. By adopting yellow as their royal color, Chinese emperors aimed to emphasize their supreme authority and establish a divine connection with the heavens.
Ancient Chinese texts, such as the “I Ching” (Book of Changes), attributed yellow to the legendary Yellow Emperor, who was considered a key ancestor of the Han Chinese people. The Yellow Emperor was regarded as a symbol of unity and the founding figure of Chinese civilization. By adopting yellow, subsequent emperors sought to align themselves with this prestigious lineage and reinforce their legitimacy as rulers.
Astrology played a significant role in Chinese culture, including the imperial system. The color yellow was associated with the element Earth and the direction center, as per the Five Elements theory. The emperor was considered the vital link between heaven and earth. Yellow symbolized his divine connection and celestial mandate to rule.
Yellow gained further importance during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han rulers adopted the color yellow for their imperial regalia and named their dynasty after it. (the literal translation of “Han” means “river,” but it was also associated with the color yellow). This historical association established the tradition of yellow as the imperial color, which continued throughout Chinese history.
The imperial yellow color was exclusively reserved for the emperor and his immediate family. No other officials or members of the court were allowed to use or wear yellow, reinforcing its symbolic significance and highlighting the emperor’s distinction and authority.
It’s important to note that the use of yellow as the imperial color in China is specific to its historical context and cultural traditions. Different cultures and civilizations may assign different meanings and significance to colors and their use in royal contexts.