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Black is the darkest color in the world. It is the result of the absorption of visible light in its entirety, or the absence of light. Black is also an achromatic color, which is a term to define colors that have no hue or gradation of color, such as gray or white. The color has been used extensively in many cultures and regions, and is often used figuratively and symbolically as antagonistic to white.

The Chinese character for "blackness" in regular script

White and black have been popularly used to describe opposites, and particularly good and evil. Other examples include night and day, and the Dark ages and the age of enlightenment. Black ink is also the most abundant color in printed books, documents, websites, and newspapers. It provides the greatest contrast when superimposed on white paper, and therefore provides the best reading experience. Historically, the color black appeared predominantly in cave paintings dated to the Neolithic era of the stone age[1].

Symbolically, the color has been widely used throughout history, and in different ways among cultures. In ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations, black became the representative color of the underworld. The Roman empire, which borrowed heavily from Greek mythology adopted the color as a symbol of mourning. Resultantly, over the years, black was associated with death, gloominess, and evil, witches and magic. The color was adopted for usage by 14th Century royalty, magistrates, and government officials. In the west, black was also the color of the industrial revolution due to the naturally-occurring color of coal and later oil[1]. Due to its extensive use in the 19th century dressing of poets, statesmen and businessmen, the colour became a high-fashion colour in the 20th and 21st centuries[2].

In Chinese popular culture, black corresponds to the element of water. Contrary to wester cultures that associate the color with mourning, secrets, violence, the end, and evil, the Chinese revere black as a symbolic king of the colors. It is associated with the cardinal direction North, because the northern skies looked black to the Chinese. For instance, a northward-facing black tortoise was considered good luck and longevity during the art of feng shui. The color also symbolizes stability, power, knowledge and immortality. Black bears a level of sophistication and is the chosen color of the Chinese police force, which embodies ultimate authority[3].

The genesis of the word Black and it's evolution throughout written Chinese history.

The genesis of the word Black

The Chinese word for 'color' is yánsè (顏色). While originally, the term sè (色) literally translated to 'color in the face' or scandalous and desirous sexual emotion, the word yánsè would later develop to mean all colors. The Chinese further believed in five distinct elements, including fire, earth, water, metal and wood. Black corresponded to water and was considered a neutral color. Its association with the north is stemming from the observation that the northern sky was darker for longer. The Chinese also believed that Tian Di, the Heavenly Emperor, resided in the North Star. This star was represented in Chinese astrology with the black tortoise[4].

Black has been used by the Chinese perhaps longer than any other civilization. For instance, the very first black inks were known to be from the Chinese and dated back to 23rd Century BC[5]. These inks were achieved by grinding graphite with water, and natural plant dyes, which were then applied with an ink brush. Ancient Chinese inks similar to the modern ink stick were produced using soot from pine wood and mixed with animal glue. In usage, the stick was ground against an inkstone with small quantities of water to produce the dark liquid which could be applied with an ink brush[5]. These inks were responsible for the intricate and delicate shading of Chinese brush paintings.

Before the theory of the five elements, Taoists believed that there were only two opposing, yet complementary colors comprising yin and yang, black and white[4]. With the onset of the five elements theory, the color black in Chinese culture could be considered blue-black, and hence the specifics of the two could be muddled. It was popularized as the color for young boys and men who would continue their familial and ancestral lineage[2].

The Taiji symbol also uses black and white to represent the unity and balance of yin and yang. Ancient Chinese considered black as the king of colors[4], and honored the color more consistently than all others. The Daoist school believes black to the color of the Dao. In contemporary China, black is extensively used in day-to-day clothing. The color is associated with mourning and death and was work at funerals depending on the age of passing[4]. It was not considered an auspicious color, and along with white, should not have been worn to happy occasions.

Glossary of Black and its explicit dictionary meanings[6]

  1. The darkest color due to the absence or complete absorption of light. The opposite of the color white.
  2. A black pigment or color.
  3. A constituent of dark-skinned people, such as African-Americans and Australian aboriginal groups.
  4. To make something black. To blacken.

Words associated with 黑 (blackness)

“黑”(blackness)would be generally divided into two different meanings: one is its literal or explicit meaning, black. Its original definition is the colour of fumigation, then refers to the colour like coal or ink[7]. Another meaning was derived from the original colour description, usually referring to illegal, dark, or vicious[6]. It is worth noticing that the majority use of  “黑” in contemporary China and language are mostly identified as the latter implicit meaning. Its wide applications onto different social and cultural phenomena in China can be seen mostly through current affairs news and social media.

Terms and definitions

In nowadays society, the latter usage of 黑 was widely used and appeared more frequently than the first literal meanings, primarily focusing on the social and cultural basis. By adding “黑” with any sorts of noun, the bad or evil version appeared.

A comedy film associated with the culture of 黑粉 was produced between China and South Korea in 2016. The storyline contains a superstar marrying his anti-fan which was very unimaginable under Eastern Asian society.

黑社会 | hēi shè huì;ㄏㄟ ㄕㄜˋ ㄏㄨㄟˋ——noun.

黑社会 refers to the to the social class in society, including thieves, crooks, hooligans, prostitutes, etc. It also indicate the secret organization engaged in illegal activities.This word is the recent product produced in the late 20th to early 21st centuries. 黑社会 was once rampant throughout Chinese societies, contributing to around sixty percent of the criminal offence in 1990s[8].

黑作坊 | hēi zuō fang; ㄗㄨㄛˋㄈㄤ——noun.

黑作坊 invoke workshops run by individuals who are not registered with the Chinese national industrial and commercial departments. They are generally engaged in the production of counterfeit and inferior 三无 products, mainly food and medicine. The phenomenon of 黑作坊 was once a huge topic in China as the food safety issues was the primary worry issues for the ordinaries. In recent years, 黑作坊 are severly cracked down by the Chinese Market Supervision Agency, allied with the public safety agency[9].

黑粉 | hēi fěn; ㄏㄟ ㄈㄣˇ——noun.

黑粉 are anti-fans which means people who are against certain celebrities. Most of them maliciously creating drama of the relationship between different celebrities. 黑粉 became a huge occurance in current Chinese social media, impacting and influencing the public view of the fandom. In order to cause clout for the celebrities or want to create false accusion to others, there are now professional anti-fans(职业黑粉) in China, eventually producing massive inflow for the social media companies.[10]

黑(blackness) in non-Chinese background culture and languages

In the English language environment, the colour represented meaning is also broadly used in different content. Black was also associated with the bad elements. The “black”in “blackmail” and “black market” also has the definition of illegal;  “blackmood” and “blacklist” shows the negative information about the connotations. “Dark ages” would be a great example for this, expressing the ignorance society suppressed by religious authorities.

In Korea, 黑(blackness) means 검다 or 까맣다. To describe the vicious and illegal sentiments, Korean also use thse words to indicate this attitude. 그 놈은 속이 너무나 검다 literally means "That guy's inside is too dark/black"displaying the linkage between bad feelings and the word black.

Changes in definition

The definition of "黑" (blackness) changes its fundamental delivering information, shifting from its original adjective meaning to a more intense verb and noun form in the 21st century. With the invention of the internet and extensive usage, the internet influenced word use and development. "黑"(blackness), in this case, becomes the pioneer experimenter of the internet fandom and immerse as one of the most significant part of fandom culture, from mild to fierce. Initially, it was used to describe anti-fans based on the word fundamental meaning of "evil" and "vicious." Further, it describes anti-fan's action; Later, it innovated from nouns and adjectives into a verb notion. This type of change seems to be distinctive happening only in Mandarin language content, where "黑"(blackness) become a verb form. This represented the normalization of fandom and internet slang, and its “invasion” or “integration” towards the daily use of language, even twisting the original content of the word itself.

Social, cultural, and political problems of “Black Society”

Black society as crime organization[11]

One term that associate with "黑" (blackness) under the Chinese social context, is the word "黑社会" (Heishehui) or black society, which its literally translation as "black society" refers to the consist of gang members in organized crimes groups. While this underworld expansively rising through China's socioeconomic transformation to post-socialism, the embodiment of larger Chinese social context contiguous to cause series social and political problems——the massive emergency of Heishehui also synchronized with the increased fear of insecurity among ordinary Chinese on public order, and others problems such as the negative interaction with government corruption scandals. [8]More importantly, what behind the scene is Heishehui's potential threat to the state's political-institutional control, which in the consequence, the Heishehui structure is doomed to be suppressed under the regimes' political reform. [8]

Black Society and Political Corruption

Public report to crimes cases that done by Black Societies, in order to protect reporters's privacy and prevent retaliation from reported crime organizations, the police have offer them comic headgears.

However, the expansion of Heishehui is also an evidence reflecting the emergence of many social issues in China's transformation to post-socialism, as scholars indicated problems as the widening income disparity between rich and poor, the social dislocation between cities and rural areas. While we need to notice how such transformation spawned Heishehui crime, Chen [8] argues is the changed moral perception of money. Compared to an allocated system of an equilibrium supply to people in socialism China, where money plays minor rules, the economic redirection to a relatively free market stimulates consumerism and makes money become more significant. Besides, the change of money value simultaneously emerged with corruption as many officials who hold in power would exchange their power with gang members for material interests, in this case, the consequences enlarged the gang's involvement in society, as they achieved power over several trade markets in "dealing" with corrupt officials without concerning legal punishment.[8]

Black Society and Unemployment

On the other hand, unemployment and class polarization also count for the rise of crime in the fluctuated social conditions, that unemployment often consists with "urban idler" who is jobless and rural migrants who are "forced" to make a living in city gig economy due to the overcharging farming productions but rather failed to get employed. [8] In terms of the deteriorating class polarization, the Heishehui practice also expresses the poor's anger on losing games in the post-socialism reformation, many also critique that the lack of justice and fairness pushed the gangs to anti-government practices although their hostility may not be necessarily politically motivated. [8]

The Suppression of Black Society

Alternatively, such Heishehui practices are no longer pure crime issues but appear more political in nature. As the state's "zero tolerance" to any unruly organizations and to reinforce the state’s authority, the government has implied several political campaigns to suppress Heishehui. The general public still highly supports, although the suppression is to re-impose state’s tight political regime. However, this evokes the public's positive response as to see the state's confidence to maintain public order.

Studies related to the word Black

Blackening’s(黑) Different Meanings In Different Eras And Occupations

Hearn[5]draws comparisons, and investigates the connotations surrounding the similar word usage regarding color in both Chinese and English languages. This is justified in the concern for intercultural communication in contemporary Chinese society. Black depicts authority and strength, and it was considered to be a very prestigious, formal and elegant color. Black was often the Emperor’s unique choice of attire and common folk were barred from wearing black clothes. Further, in conventional Beijing opera, the protagonists all wore black faces to convey their deep resolution for justice. Poets liked using black to denote healthy and strong young children who could pass on the ancestral lineage .

Contrastingly, black depicts evil omens in other texts [5]. Black is used to imply disgrace, fiery anger, gloom, misfortune, and so forth. In The Records of the Historian book, black was associated heavily with people of the lowest social and economic status and the unintelligent[5]. In contemporary China, black is heavily interlinked with adversity and natural calamity. As such, the color black often has an involuntary yet negative connotation in most places in mainland China.

Black is the color of mystery [5]. It is used widely as the symbol of darkness, which in turn provides superb shelter when engaged in secret illicit activities. Many illegal things are often conducted in the dark. In a comparison of the western and Chinese use of metaphors surrounding the color black, it is not difficult to conceptualize the concept of disgrace in terms of black. In some utilizations, 黑 (hei) which often translates to black may also translate to rebelliousness and depict illegal or illicit connotations.

The Five Elements Theory About Blackening (黑)

The colors, seasons and directions of the five elements

Zhang[3] outlines the importance of colors, including black in the development of ancient Chinese architecture. Using the five elements theory, the orientation of the five corresponding colors was black (water) to the north, green (wood) to the east, red (fire) to the sound, and white (metal) to the west with yellow (soil) at the middle [3]. Black, corresponding with water, was also represented by the tortoise, and the season of Winter. The color also has connotations of misfortune as well as wisdom. The color has significant influence on Chinese architecture.

The Relationship Between Black and Tai Chi Yin and Yang

The Chinese utilization of colors in their culture was extensive and convoluted. For instance, the colors black and white stand for duality and antithesis[1]. An equilibrium embodied in the Taiji depiction of yin and yang. In traditional Chinese symbolism, yellow emerged from black as the earth emerged from the primeval waters. The traditional written form of the character 黑 illustrates a chimney with fiery flames raging beneath it. This depicts the thick, choking, black smoke that results from a burning fire[1].

The Application Of Colour In Chinese Culture

Historically, the great Chinese emperor Shi Huang-Di conquered and overthrew the Zhou dynasty which had the color red. He then chose the color black as his symbolic color, in a gesture of water extinguishing fire[1]. Black, therefore, represented victory and dignity. The practice of Bao-Gong, or blackening of the face in Chinese theater is essential in outlining the person on stage who is both honorable and righteous[1].

Black Represent In Chinese History

Therefore, it becomes exceedingly clear that the historical meanings of black and white, as well as their cultural application is not absolute or general, and depends on other extenuating factors. Additionally, the depictions of either color have changed extensively from time to time, and one region to the next. It is, therefore, difficult to say whether black was considered universally good or bad among historical Chinese cultures. However, the assertion that the color black is associated with water as one of the five central elements that compose all things is consistent. Black was also associated with winter, the cold, and the northern direction which is symbolized by a dark tortoise (He, 2011). The northern wall and gate of the palace were often painted black because the north was characterized by water and hence black. The roofs also represented social hierarchy in the society, with yellow being used exclusively for palaces, green for the mansions of government officials, and grey or black for the houses of the commonplace people. Black is ultimately associated with disorder, including positive disorder that propels change and a new life[5].


To conclude, "黑" (Hei) is a multi-meaning word that it can be interpreted from its literature translation of "Blackness" to its latent implication on philosophical, social and political meanings in the specific Chinese context: as a bunch of studies shows, the Hei is philosophically represented as misfortune and wisdom in old Chinese architecture [1], its an equilibrium embodiment in the Taiji depiction of Yin[1]; on the other hand, Hei is an internet slang that is socially described as vicious in "anti-fan's action" of the Chinese fandom culture[7] ; last but not least, Hei also widely understands as Heishehui in the Chinese society, which the word Heishehui has political overtones representing the state's oppression to crime organizations[8].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Yu, Hui-Chih (April 2014). "A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Symbolic Meanings of Color" (PDF). Chang Gung Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 7:1: 49–74.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kim, Young-In (August 2006). "Color and symbolic meaning of elements in nature". ResearchGate.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Zhang, Donia (2019). "Cultura Symbols in Chinese Architecture". Pisco Med Publishing.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Yang, Yunzhe (January 2018). "A Study on Color Words between Chinese and English from the Perspective of Cross Culture" (PDF). International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science. 6: 26–34.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Hearn, Maxwell K. (2013). Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Chinese Classic Dictionary". 汉典.
  7. 7.0 7.1 许, 慎 (2001). 中国古典名著百部:说文解字(上)(下). 北京: 九州出版社. ISBN 7-80114-588-7.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Chen, Ann (Feb 2005). "Secret Societies and Organized Crime in Contemporary China". Modern Asian Studies. Vol. 39: 77–107 – via JSTOR.
  9. 陈, 琳 (July 03, 2019). "北京今年已捣毁食品"黑作坊"170余处". 新京报. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. 半月谈 (2020-01-10). "撕与黑:起底"饭圈"职业黑粉产业".
  11. 京港台 (2019,April 11). "习近平"扫黑除恶" 薄煕来缘何阴魂不散?". Check date values in: |date= (help)

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