British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 11 (2021)

Colour me Revolutionary: How the Use of Colour Grammar Aids in Understanding Internal Messages in Chinese Visual Iconography

Avital Zuk Avina
University of Manchester
Published June 20, 2021
How to Cite
Avina, A. (2021). Colour me Revolutionary. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 11, 91-113.


Colour in China has a long history of artistic, symbolic, religious, and mythological use. This paper takes the idea of colour as a meaningful element within Chinese society and introduces the use of visual colour grammar as a new way to identify and breakdown the use of colour within political art and propaganda posters. The use of colour has been adapted by visual linguists into its own unique visual grammar component, relaying much more information than just a symbolic transfer from sign to signifier. Meaning within political posters can be derived from regularities in use, presentation, and conventional meanings. Colour as a visual grammar component is expressed through the three metafunctions: ideational, interpersonal, and textual.

This paper explores how the Chinese views on colour interconnects with the metafunctions of colour to look at the political posters of the PRC. I will discuss both the approach to art as a text that can be ‘read’ through visual grammar and present colour in the Chinese context as more than a symbol making device but as a meaning component in and of itself. 

  • Chinese art,
  • propaganda posters,
  • visual analysis,
  • Cultural Revolution,
  • metafunctions of colour,
  • colour grammar
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