The Significance of Numbers and Colors
is the first thing that comes to mind when you read the following?
- Black and
- Black and
White, and Blue
Did you answer
a. Halloween? b. Christmas? c. a bumble bee? d. an American flag?
What other color symbols can you think of?
In Asian cultures,
colors have hidden meanings too. Using the wrong colored ink when
printing someone's name or decorating your showroom in colors associated
with death may be "deadly" to your marketing or sales efforts.
list of colors and their descriptions can enlighten you on
some of these cultural pitfalls.
for joy and happiness to the Chinese and Japanese. To the
former, it also represents fire and the direction south. Some
Koreans associate this color with communism and do not like
the use of it. Avoid using pens with red ink in your bank
or office where Asian customers have to sign their names.
To some, the appearance of one's name in red ink is associated
with being deceased! On the other hand, just as "red-letter"
days are cause for celebration in the United States on calendars
everywhere, Chinese clients and customers may choose a "red
number day" to celebrate a birthday, the movie into a new
home, open a business, or conduct a birthday party.
is associated with heaven and the emperor in China. Do not
wear purple (or white) to a Japanese wedding as this is considered
bringing bad luck to the newlyweds. As purple is known to
be the quickest color to fade, your wearing it would mean
that the love/marriage may suffer the same fate.
a favorite of the Japanese who use it in glazed tiles for
roofs on their houses. (An example of this can be seen on
many residences in Japan, or even closer to us, throughout
the Japanese Village Plaza in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.)
To the Chinese, on the contrary, it is unlucky to wear blue
flowers or ribbons in one's hair and a sign of mourning for
women is to wear a blue yarn flower bobby-pinned on their
tresses. The blue which printers call reflex blue, also known
as ultramarine blue, is the funeral color worn by many Chinese.
Chinese, this is the wonderful color of health, growth, family
life, wood, youth, prosperity, and harmony. Notice in your
local Chinatown how popular this color is as a roofing material.
represents the earth for the Chinese and another imperial
color. Taoists monks wear the color gold while Buddhist monks
wear orange. Yellow chrysanthemums are a funeral flower to
Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.
the universal funeral color throughout the world. Just as
in the West, this color stands for purity and innocence and
the direction west. Indian men as well as women wear white
to funerals. Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese use white and
yellow chrysanthemums in funeral floral sprays and wreaths
so do not send this combination for happy occasions.
often associated with guilt, evil, death, mourning, and the
direction north. Many Japanese and Chinese like the combination
of black with red, but not black with white as this is a funeral
combination. Indians consider black as unlucky or a bad omen.
There are a few miscellaneous details regarding colors that
I need to mention here. Women should avoid wearing red, white, blue,
or black to a Chinese wedding. The first is reserved for the bride;
the remaining are the colors of mourning.
When presenting gifts to your Japanese friends, neighbors
or business associates, use pastel colors (or red for a wedding)
but not white. You can also skip the bows and ribbons. For most
Asians, black is an inappropriate color for gift wrapping so resist
the urge to use the "Over the hill" wraps so popular for 40 and
50-year birthday celebrations. Allusions to death and dying are
considered very inauspicious or in extremely bad taste. Never give
a clock to a Chinese for it has funeral connotations. Syrians consider
brown their funeral color as it symbolizes falling leaves.
Gift giving is conducted privately so as not to appear as
a bribe (except at a banquet to a public official). In Arab communities,
giftgiving is handled so as not to appear underhanded. Opening a
gift in the presence of the giver is not considered polite and the
recipient should not be urged to do so.
What constitutes an appropriate gift for your Asian clients
at the closure of a home or a major purchase? For the Japanese and
upper class Asian clients, signature gift items are always appreciated,
although they should not be too personal. Desk sets, leather goods,
handmade wood accessories, fine European crystal (Lalique) or American
china and silver (Lennox, Waterford, etc.), beautiful coffee table
books make good corporate gifts for men.
For women, I have found that elegant, American-made
costume jewelry such as Trifari and Monet, scarves and small leather
items are liked very much by wives of executives. You don't have
to spend a bundle, but rather be original or creative. Sometimes
finding something beautifully handcrafted, original, or unusual,
(mainstream but not bizarre or weird) such as hand painted silk,
can be appropriate.
A generous basket with sparkling wines or cider, fine chocolates,
beautiful fruit (kiwis, apples, oranges, etc.), and imported coffees
make a gift that everyone in a family can enjoy. A big, wide red
bow should be tied on the handle. As cheeses are not universally
liked, you may wish to leave them out of the basket. Just for the
record, many Asian are lactose-intolerant.
Another gift well received is a house plant with its container
hidden in a wicker or brass pot (with its big red bow). Ficus trees,
schefflera, Chinese evergreens, and other hardy, low-maintenance
house plants can be good candidates. If someone you know is opening
a business, a dwarf kumquat, orange, or tangerine tree is in order,
for the green leaves represent growth, the gold-colored fruit, prosperity.
Some Japanese do not like receiving a potted plant if they
are hospital patients, for the roots signify a long stay. For them,
cut flowers which will quickly wilt and die means that they will
recover and home just as quickly. The opposite is true for many
Chinese who view cut flowers as funeral (especially those yellow
or white chrysanthemums) and would prefer potted plants instead.
The top alcoholic gifts are the best brandies and cognacs
such as XO, Hennessey, Courvasier, Martell, and scotches such as
Chivas Regal, Crown Royal, Johnny Walker Black. These can be served
to guests at family, business, and social occasions. Remember: don't
be stingy when choosing a gift. After all, if your client or customer
has just made a million-dollar purchase, the least you can do to
is to splurge on a respectable, generous token of appreciation
for his business. These are the details that will be noted, remembered,
and recounted to the others in his network.
Whether you are presenting a status or thoughtful gift, be
certain that it is not manufactured or produced in any Asian
country. On the other hand, if you are taking executive wives shopping,
you may be amazed to find them interested in the apparel made in
their countries that appear in our retail stores. The highest quality
knits and other clothing are made for export and the natives
never see their counterparts in their own countries.
There are other influences that may impact the conduct of
business. Elders, parents, and other siblings, may be consulted.
Many Chinese wont' make a move without consulting the almanac called
the tung shu that is sold around the lunar new year. Others
swear by the ancient Book of Changes, the I Ching, astrologers,
and fortune tellers. In India, astrologers are consulted for major
decisions regarding business and marriage.
The Significance of Numbers
The Significance of Colors
Course on Asian Corporate Etiquettes
article is from Target:
The U.S. Asian Market
Copyright Angi Ma Wong, 1993