Introduction & Timeline
Red is a color greatly associated with China and holds distinct symbolic meaning, traditionally and commonly representing power, love, fortune, and happiness. People would choose to dress up in red during important events and festivals. In A Chinese Girl in New York, when the clique of girls departed Shanghai to begin their education abroad, they all chose to wear red Chinese gowns, which were also known as qipao. They might never return to their hometown after studying abroad, thus their clothing choices seemed to be reflecting their beliefs and culture. While there was no doubt that qipao was a common apparel for women at that time period, it was interesting to see the four all chose red as the color of their clothing in such a significant moment. At the same time, Li Tung got the nickname China because she was wearing the purest red qipao. This leads to our discussion: why is red so uniquely associated with Chinese culture and what is the meaning behind red?
We will introduce different symbolic meanings of red in literature pieces chronologically. In addition to the representation of joy, blessing, and the traditional Chinese culture in A Chinese Girl in New York, red has always been the emblematic color of the Chinese Communist Party. In the 1960s, however, the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution took the color red to an extreme worshipping of the Communist icon, even to an extent that dehumanized one another in the Chinese society. In the 1980s, Mo Yan captured the intense emotions associated with the color red, and used it as a universal theme in Red Sorghum, in both real and surreal senses. Subsequently, during the June Fourth Movement, student protesters connected red with self-sacrifices and rebellions against the Communist government. More recently, red was mentioned in the Migrant Worker Poetry as a metaphor for blood and labor exploitation.
A scene from the movie《最后的贵族》based on A Chinese Girl in New York.