Filial Piety and Chinese Culture


Zhang Zi Yi in The Grandmaster

When I was younger I used to buy little accessories all the time to serve as friends’ presents for birthdays or Christmas. One time I bought another Asian friend a white flower hair accessory that I thought would match her, but upon discovering it, my mother told me immediately it was a bad idea.

White in Chinese culture is used in funerals and can signify negative things, yet at the same time some Chinese superstitions seem to say that white can be worn at weddings along with the traditional lucky colours of red and yellow. White can symbolise ‘moderation, purity, honesty and love and balances red and black’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mixed signals.

A white flower in the hair

Wearing a white flower in your hair in particular however, means that your parent(s) have died. For those in such a situation, they will wear a flower in their hair for 5 years in an act of filial piety and of course mourning. For those not in such a situation, it would seem more like a death wish to your parents, like giving them a clock as a present.

While my parents exclaimed about a character’s dedication to her parents in one of the latest Ip Man movies (The Grandmaster) as she mourned her father’s death, I can think of a few people who I would say far surpass what she showed in leaps and bounds. For me personally though, I don’t know that I could even match up to the girl in the movie.

Although many Chinese traditions have now become diluted as a result of Westernisation and Chinese people moving all around the globe and also intermarrying with other races, this stigma against white flowers in particular remains strong. Although white dresses and other white or off-white coloured clothing is now permissible, it is interesting that Asian families still have objections against white flowers placed anywhere, not just on the head.

Which is somewhat of a shame, since I think white really looks nice against dark hair.