Its Taboo to Use Red Ink to Write Names in China

When we were small and caught using red ink to write, particularly people’s names, our elders would definitely prohibit us from doing so. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
When we were small and caught using red ink to write, particularly people’s names, our elders would definitely prohibit us from doing so. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

When we were small and caught using red ink to write, particularly people’s names, our elders would definitely prohibit us from doing so. As we came to understand the reason, it really astonished us.

In ancient times, chicken blood was used to write decrees for those who received the death penalty. It was later replaced by the Chinese court, known as Yamen, which used red ink to record names of criminals.

In ancient time, chicken blood was used to write decree for those on death penalty. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

In ancient times, chicken blood was used to write decrees for those who received the death penalty. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

It was a belief by Chinese in previous times that the King of Hades used vermilion to draw out his list of names in the book of life and death. If a person was to be sentenced to death, the name would be ticked off in red. Therefore, names written in red are generally for people who have died or are sentenced to death. Names of dead people inscribed on tombstones are all in red.

Up to today, other than teachers and accounting personnel who use red ink for correction purposes, Chinese rarely use red ink to write, in particular people’s names, as this is considered a taboo.

Till today, other than teachers and accounting personnel who use red ink for correction purpose, we rarely use red ink to write in particular people’s names as this is considered a taboo. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Up to today, other than teachers and accounting personnel who use red ink for correction purposes, Chinese rarely use red ink to write, in particular people’s names, as this is considered a taboo. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

There is another saying that in the past, emperors used vermilion to pass and approve decrees. In those days, other than emperors, civilians were strictly prohibited from issuing instructions in red.

There are others who said that one cannot use red ink to write letters, as red means to severe a relationship. In addition, using red ink to write another person’s name is equivalent to cursing that person to die. All these are said to be inauspicious.

Translated by Chua BC.

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