The Chinese recognise five primary colours. Red, yellow, blue (which includes green), black and white.

Red: A symbol of virtue and good luck used for festive occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and New Year celebrations.

Yellow: Up to the fall of the Qing Dynasty, yellow was allowed to be worn only by the emperor, empress and the heir apparent. All others could wear only an almond colour.

Blue: There were no rules governing the use of blue. A combination of blue and red (purple) was worn by the grandsons of the emperor, but never by the emperor himself. Young women wore purple and bright green. Blue grey was favoured by the middle aged.

Black: Considered by some to be the colour of evil, and was reserved primarily for the elderly. It was improper for the aged to wear red except on birthdays and holidays.

White: The colour of mourning following strict rules. The rules of mourning consisted of three stages. In the first, shoes are made of colourless sackcloth without a hem or border. In the second, a border could be added. The third stage, entered after a month, allowed white shoes with embroidery. These were worn for a period of time, and could be substituted only by dull blue, black or grey. If the deceased was a parent, the child was expected to remain in the third stage for twenty-seven months.