#28ChineseMemories Day 26: The Color White in Chinese Culture

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap of
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap of

Before the age of ten, I always wondered why my mom and my grandmother did not like me wearing white scrunchies or white barrettes in my hair. I didn’t know about the significance of the color until my great-grandmother passed away in China: my grandparents went back to China for her funeral, and in the few photos I saw from China, I saw how they put white towels on their heads during the mourning period. Then, I understood why it was bad for me to have white hairpieces.

When my grandmother passed away in August of 1999, our family did a hybrid of mourning colors for the mourning period: we wore white tops, white threads wrapped around bobby pins, and black pants. As we all know, traditionally the color black is for mourning in the U.S., but we wanted to honor our family’s two heritages by doing white and black.

We mourned up until the cemetery, where we each wiped our eyes with a leaf (I forget which plant it was from), and turned away when my grandmother’s coffin was being lowered to the ground. Then, we women took the white barrettes out of our hair and put in red barrettes. We had a post-funeral gathering celebrating my grandmother’s life and were not allowed to cry about her passing at the party, despite many of us still feeling sad about her passing.

Now you may wonder, What about attending weddings here in the U.S.? Brides always wear white…? I’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s post.