Red is the color at the end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength of approximately 625–740 nanometres. It is a primary color in the RGB color model and the CMYK color model, and is the complementary color of cyan. Reds range from the brilliant yellow-tinged scarlet and vermillion to bluish-red crimson, and vary in shade from the pale red pink to the dark red burgundy. The red sky at sunset results from Rayleigh scattering, while the red color of the Grand Canyon and other geological features is caused by hematite or red ochre, both forms of iron oxide. Iron oxide also gives the red color to the planet Mars. The red colour of blood comes from protein hemoglobin, while ripe strawberries, red apples and reddish autumn leaves are colored by anthocyanins.
Red pigment made from ochre was one of the first colors used in prehistoric art. The Ancient Egytians and Mayans colored their faces red in ceremonies; Roman generals had their bodies colored red to celebrate victories. It was also an important color in China, where it was used to colour early pottery and later the gates and walls of palaces. In the Renaissance, the brilliant red costumes for the nobility and wealthy were dyed with kermes and cochineal. The 19th century brought the introduction of the first synthetic red dyes, which replaced the traditional dyes. Red also became the color of revolution; Soviet Russia adopted a red flag following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, later followed by China, Vietnam, and other communist countries.
Since red is the color of blood, it has historically been associated with sacrifice, danger and courage. Modern surveys in Europe and the United States show red is also the color most commonly associated with heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy. In China, India and many other Asian countries it is the color of symbolizing happiness and good fortune.
Courage and sacrifice
Surveys show that red is the color most associated with courage. In western countries red is a symbol of martyrs and sacrifice, particularly because of its association with blood. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the Pope and Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church wore red to symbolize the blood of Christ and the Christian martyrs. The banner of the Christian soldiers in the First Crusade was a red cross on a white field, the St. George’s Cross. According to Christian tradition, Saint George was a Roman soldier who was a member of the guards of the Emperor Diocletian, who refused to renounce his Christian faith and was martyred. The Saint George’s Cross became the Flag of England in the 16th century, and now is part of the Union Flag of the United Kingdom, as well as the Flag of the Republic of Georgia.
In 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, accused of treason against Queen Elizabeth I, wore a red shirt at her execution, to proclaim that she was an innocent martyr.
The Thin Red Line was a famous incident in the Battle of Balaclava (1854) during the Crimean War, when a thin line of Scottish Highlander infantry, assisted by Royal Marines and Turkish infantrymen, repulsed a Russian cavalry charge. It was widely reported in the British press as an example of courage in the face of overwhelming odds and became a British military legend.
In the 19th-century novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, a story about the American Civil War, the red badge was the blood from a wound, by which a soldier could prove his courage.
Courtly love, the red rose, and Saint Valentine’s Day
Red is the color most commonly associated with love, followed at a great distance by pink. It the symbolic color of the heart and the red rose, is closely associated with romantic love or courtly love and Saint Valentine’s Day. Both the Greeks and the Hebrews considered red a symbol of love as well as sacrifice.
The Roman de la Rose, the Romance of the Rose, a thirteenth-century French poem, was one of the most popular works of literature of the Middle Ages. It was the allegorical search by the author for a red rose in an enclosed garden, symbolizing the woman he loved, and was a description of love in all of its aspects. Later, in the 19th century, British and French authors described a specific language of flowers – giving a single red rose meant ‘I love you’.
Saint Valentine, a Roman Catholic Bishop or priest who was martyred in about 296 AD, seems to have had no known connection with romantic love, but the day of his martyrdom on the Roman Catholic calendar, Saint Valentine’s Day (February 14), became, in the 14th century, an occasion for lovers to send messages to each other. In recent years the celebration of Saint Valentine’ s day has spread beyond Christian countries to Japan and China and other parts of the world. The celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day is forbidden or strongly condemned in many Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2011, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, as the day is considered a Christian holiday.
Happiness, celebration and ceremony
Red is the color most commonly associated with joy and well being. It is the color of celebration and ceremony. A red carpet is often used to welcome distinguished guests. Red is also the traditional color of seats in opera houses and theaters. Scarlet academic gowns are worn by new Doctors of Philosophy at degree ceremonies at Oxford University and other schools. In China, it is considered the color of good fortune and prosperity, and it is the color traditionally worn by brides. In Christian countries, it is the color traditionally worn at Christmas by Santa Claus, because in the 4th century the historic Saint Nicholas was the Greek Christian Bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey, and bishops then dressed in red.
Hatred, anger, aggression, passion, heat and war
While red is the color most associated with love, it also the color most frequently associated with hatred, anger, aggression and war. People who are angry are said to “see red.” Red is the color most commonly associated with passion and heat. In ancient Rome, red was the color of Mars, the god of war—the planet Mars was named for him because of its red color.
Warning and danger
Red is the traditional color of warning and danger. In the Middle Ages, a red flag announced that the defenders of a town or castle would fight to defend it, and a red flag hoisted by a warship meant they would show no mercy to their enemy. In Britain, in the early days of motoring, motor cars had to follow a man with a red flag who would warn horse-drawn vehicles, before the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896 abolished this law. In automobile races, the red flag is raised if there is danger to the drivers. In international football, a player who has made a serious violation of the rules is shown a red penalty card and ejected from the game.
Several studies have indicated that red carries the strongest reaction of all the colors, with the level of reaction decreasing gradually with the colors orange, yellow, and white, respectively. For this reason, red is generally used as the highest level of warning, such as threat level of terrorist attack in the United States. In fact, teachers at a primary school in the UK have been told not to mark children’s work in red ink because it encourages a “negative approach”.
Red is the international color of stop signs and stop lights on highways and intersections. It was standardized as the international color at the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals of 1968. It was chosen partly because red is the brightest color in daytime (next to orange), though it is less visible at twilight, when green is the most visible color. Red also stands out more clearly against a cool natural backdrop of blue sky, green trees or gray buildings. But it was mostly chosen as the color for stoplights and stop signs because of its universal association with danger and warning.
The color that attracts attention
Red is the color that most attracts attention. Surveys show it is the color most frequently associated with visibility, proximity, and extroverts. It is also the color most associated with dynamism and activity.
Red is used in modern fashion much as it was used in Medieval painting; to attract the eyes of the viewer to the person who is supposed to be the center of attention. People wearing red seem to be closer than those dressed in other colors, even if they are actually the same distance away. Monarchs, wives of Presidential candidates and other celebrities often wear red to be visible from a distance in a crowd. It is also commonly worn by lifeguards and others whose job requires them to be easily found.
Because red attracts attention, it is frequently used in advertising, though studies show that people are less likely to read something printed in red because they know it is advertising, and because it is more difficult visually to read than black and white text.
In different cultures and traditions
In China, red (simplified Chinese: 红; traditional Chinese: 紅; pinyin: hóng) is the symbol of fire and the south (both south in general and Southern China specifically). It carries a largely positive connotation, being associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, passion, and summer. In Chinese cultural traditions, red is associated with weddings (where brides traditionally wear red dresses) and red paper is frequently used to wrap gifts of money or other objects. Special red packets (simplified Chinese: 红包; traditional Chinese: 紅包; pinyin: hóng bāo in Mandarin or lai see in Cantonese) are specifically used during Chinese New Year celebrations for giving monetary gifts. On the more negative side, obituaries are traditionally written in red ink, and to write someone’s name in red signals either cutting them out of one’s life, or that they have died. Red is also associated with either the feminine or the masculine (yin and yang respectively), depending on the source. The Little Red Book, a collection of quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), was published in 1966 and widely distributed thereafter.
In Japan, red is a traditional color for a heroic figure. In the Indian subcontinent, red is the traditional color of bridal dresses, and is frequently represented in the media as a symbolic color for married women. The color is associated with purity, as well as with sexuality in marital relationships through its connection to heat and fertility. It is also the color of wealth, beauty, and the goddess Lakshmi.
In Central Africa, Ndembu warriors rub themselves with red paint during celebrations. Since their culture sees the color as a symbol of life and health, sick people are also painted with it. Like most Central African cultures, the Ndembu see red as ambivalent, better than black but not as good as white. In other parts of Africa, however, red is a color of mourning, representing death. Because red bears are associated with death in many parts of Africa, the Red Cross has changed its colors to green and white in parts of the continent.
The early Ottoman Turks led by the first Ottoman Sultan, Osman I, carried red banners symbolizing sovereignty, Ghazis and Sufism, until, according to legend, he saw a new red flag in his dream inlaid with a crescent.
In many Asian countries, red is the traditional color for a wedding dress today, symbolizing joy and good fortune.
In India, brides traditionally wear a red sari, called the sari of blood, offered by their father, signifying that his duties as a father are transferred to the new husband, and as a symbol of his wish for her to have children. Once married, the bride will wear a sari with a red border, changing it to a white sari if her husband dies. In Pakistan and India, some brides traditionally also have their hands and feet painted red with henna by the family of their new spouse, to bring happiness and signify their new status.
In Christianity, red is associated with the blood of Christ and the sacrifice of martyrs. In the Roman Catholic Church it is also associated with pentecost and the Holy Spirit. Since 1295, it is the color worn by Cardinals, the senior clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Red is the liturgical color for the feasts of martyrs, representing the blood of those who suffered death for their faith. It is sometimes used as the liturgical color for Holy Week, including Palm Sunday and Good Friday, although this is a modern (20th-century) development. In Catholic practice, it is also the liturgical color used to commemorate the Holy Spirit (for this reason it is worn at Pentecost and during Confirmation masses). Because of its association with martyrdom and the Spirit, it is also the color used to commemorate the Apostles (except for the Apostle St. John, who was not martyred, where white is used), and as such, it is used to commemorate bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles (for this reason, when funeral masses are held for bishops, cardinals, or popes, red is used instead of the white that would ordinarily be used).
In Buddhism, red is one of the five colors which are said to have emanated from the Buddha when he attained enlightenment, or nirvana. It is particularly associated with the benefits of the practice of Buddhism; achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity. It was also believed to have the power to resist evil. In China red was commonly used for the walls, pillars, and gates of temples.
In the Shinto religion of Japan, the gateways of temples, called torii, are traditionally painted vermilion red and black. The torii symbolizes the passage from the profane world to a sacred place. The bridges in the gardens of Japanese temples are also painted red (and usually only temple bridges are red, not bridges in ordinary gardens), since they are also passages to sacred places. Red was also considered a color which could expel evil and disease.
NATO Military Symbols for Land Based Systems uses red to denote hostile forces, hence the terms “red team” and “Red Cell” to denote challengers during exercises.
The red uniform
The red military uniform was adopted by the English Parliament’s New Model Army in 1645, and was still worn as a dress uniform by the British Army until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Ordinary soldiers wore red coats dyed with madder, while officers wore scarlet coats dyed with the more expensive cochineal. This led to British soldiers being known as red coats.
In the modern British army, scarlet is still worn by the Foot Guards, the Life Guards, and by some regimental bands or drummers for ceremonial purposes. Officers and NCOs of those regiments which previously wore red retain scarlet as the color of their “mess” or formal evening jackets. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment has a scarlet tunic in its winter dress.
Scarlet is worn for some full dress, military band or mess uniforms in the modern armies of a number of the countries that made up the former British Empire. These include the Australian, Jamaican, New Zealand, Fijian, Canadian, Kenyan, Ghanaian, Indian, Singaporean, Sri Lankan and Pakistani armies.
The musicians of the United States Marine Corps Band wear red, following an 18th-century military tradition that the uniforms of band members are the reverse of the uniforms of the other soldiers in their unit. Since the US Marine uniform is blue with red facings, the band wears the reverse.
Red Serge is the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, created in 1873 as the North-West Mounted Police, and given its present name in 1920. The uniform was adapted from the tunic of the British Army. Cadets at the Royal Military College of Canada also wear red dress uniforms.
The Brazilian Marine Corps wears a red dress uniform.
The first known team sport to feature red uniforms was chariot racing during the late Roman Empire. The earliest races were between two chariots, one driver wearing red, the other white. Later, the number of teams was increased to four, including drivers in light green and sky blue. Twenty-five races were run in a day, with a total of one hundred chariots participating.
Today many sports teams throughout the world feature red on their uniforms. Along with blue, red is the most commonly used non-white color in sports. Numerous national sports teams wear red, often through association with their national flags. A few of these teams feature the color as part of their nickname such as Spain (with their association football (soccer) national team nicknamed La Furia Roja or “The Red Fury”) and Belgium (whose football team bears the nickname Rode Duivels or “Red Devils”).
In Major League Baseball the color is featured in the league’s logo. Major League Baseball is especially well known for red teams. The Cincinnati Red Stockings are the oldest professional baseball team, dating back to 1869. The franchise soon relocated to Boston and is now the Atlanta Braves, but its name survives as the origin for both the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox. During the 1950s when red was strongly associated with communism, the modern Cincinnati team was known as the “Redlegs” and the term was used on baseball cards. After the red scare faded, the team was known as the “Reds” again. 11 teams either regularly features red caps or utilize the color in their uniforms.
In the NHL, red jerseys are worn by the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes, and the New Jersey Devils.
In club association football (soccer), red is a commonly used color throughout the world. A number of teams’ nicknames feature the color. A red penalty card is issued to a player who commits a serious infraction: the player is immediately disqualified from further play and his team must continue with one less player for the game’s duration.
In rugby union, Ireland’s Munster rugby, New Zealand’s Canterbury provincial team and the Crusaders Super 14 rugby side wear red as a major color in their playing strips.
In the NFL, many teams feature a shade of the color as either the primary color of team’s dark “home” jersey (or an alternate thereof) or its “throwback” jersey. This includes the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Washington Redskins. In order to challenge to a call made on the field, coaches have to throw a red flag onto the football field.
In the NBA the color is featured in the league’s logo. Eleven teams prominently feature the color (or shades of the color) with the Cleveland Cavaliers using a deeper shade of the color, wine.
In boxing, red is often the color used on a fighter’s gloves. George Foreman wore the same red trunks he used during his loss to Muhammad Ali when he defeated Michael Moorer 20 years later to regain the title he lost. Boxers named or nicknamed “red” include Red Burman, Ernie “Red” Lopez, and his brother Danny “Little Red” Lopez.
Rosso Corsa is the red international motor racing color of cars entered by teams from Italy. Since the 1920s Italian race cars of Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lancia, and later Ferrari and Abarth have been painted with a color known as rosso corsa (“racing red”). National colors were mostly replaced in Formula One by commercial sponsor liveries in 1968, but unlike most other teams, Ferrari always kept the traditional red, although the shade of the color varies.
Red flag and revolution
In the Middle Ages, ships in combat hoisted a long red streamer, called the Baucans, to signify a fight to the death. In the 17th century, a red flag signalled defiance. A besieged castle or city would raise a red flag to tell the attackers that they would not surrender.
The red flag appeared as a political symbol during the French Revolution, after the fall of Bastille. A law adopted by the new government on October 20, 1789 authorized the Garde Nationale to raise the red flag in the event of a riot, to signal that the Garde would imminently intervene. During a demonstration on the Champs de Mars on July 17, 1791, the Garde Nationale fired on the crowd, killed up to fifty people. The government was denounced by the more radical revolutionaries. In the words of his famous hymn, the Marseillaise, Rouget de Lisle wrote: “Against us they have raised the bloody flag of tyranny!” (Contre nous de la tyrannie, l’entendard sanglant est leve). Beginning in 1790, the most radical revolutionaries adopted the red flag themselves, to symbolize the blood of those killed in the demonstrations, and to call for the repression of those they considered counter-revolutionary.
During the French Revolution, many in the Paris crowds also wore a red phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty, modeled after the caps worn in ancient Rome by freed slaves; but the colors of the Revolution finally became blue, white and red. The red in the French flag was taken from the emblem of the city of Paris, where it represented the city’s patron saint, Saint Denis.
Karl Marx published the Communist Manifesto in February 1848, with little attention. However, a few days later the French Revolution of 1848 broke out, which replaced the monarchy of Louis Philippe with the Second French Republic. In June 1848, Paris workers, disenchanted with the new government, built barricades and raised red flags. The new government called in the French Army to put down the uprising, the first of many such confrontations between the army and the new worker’s movements in Europe.
Red was also the color of the movement to unify Italy, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. His followers were known as the camicie rosse, or (redshirts) during the fight for Italian Risorgimento in 1860.
In 1870, following the stunning defeat of the French Army by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, French workers and socialist revolutionaries seized Paris and created the Paris Commune. The Commune lasted for two months before it was crushed by the French Army, with much bloodshed. The original red banners of the Commune became icons of the socialist revolution; in 1921 members of the French Communist Party came to Moscow and presented the new Soviet government with one of the original Commune banners; it was placed (and is still in place) in the tomb of Vladimir Lenin, next to his open coffin.
With the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the red flag, with a hammer to symbolize the workers and sickle to symbolize peasants, became the official flag of Russia, and, in 1923, of the Soviet Union. It remained so until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
After the Communist Party of China took power in 1949, the flag of China became a red flag with a large star symbolizing the Communist Party, and smaller stars symbolizing workers, peasants, the urban middle class and rural middle class. The flag of the Communist Party of China became a red banner with a hammer and sickle, similar to that on the Soviet flag. In the 1950s and 1960s, other Communist regimes such as Vietnam and Laos also adopted red flags. Some Communist countries, such as Cuba, chose to keep their old flags; and other countries used red flags which had nothing to do with Communism or socialism; the red flag of Nepal, for instance, represents the national flower.
Use by political movements
In 18th-century Europe, red was usually associated with the monarchy and with those in power. The Pope wore red, as did the Swiss Guards of the Kings of France, the soldiers of the British Army and the Danish Army.
The French Revolution saw red used by the Jacobins as a symbol of the martyrs of the Revolution. In the nineteenth century, with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of worker’s movements, it became the color of socialism (especially the Marxist variant), and, with the Paris Commune of 1870, of revolution.
In the 20th century, red was the color first of the Russian Bolsheviks and then, after the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, of Communist Parties around the world.
Red also became the color of many social democratic parties in Europe, including the Labour Party in Britain (founded 1900); the Social Democratic Party of Germany (whose roots went back to 1863) and the French Socialist Party, which dated back under different names, to 1879. The Socialist Party of America (1901–72) and the Communist Party USA (1919) both also chose red as their color.
Members of the Christian-Social People’s Party in Liechtenstein (founded 1918) advocated an expansion of democracy and progressive social policies, and were often referred to disparagingly as “Reds” for their social liberal leanings and party colors.
The Communist Party of China, founded in 1920, adopted the red flag and hammer and sickle emblem of the Soviet Union, which became the national symbols when the Party took power in China in 1949. Under Party leader Mao Zedong, the Party anthem became “The East Is Red”, and Mao Zedong himself was sometimes referred to as a “red sun”. During the Cultural Revolution in China, Party ideology was enforced by the Red Guards, and the sayings of Mao Zedong were published as a small red book in hundreds of millions of copies. Today the Communist Party of China claims to be the largest political party in the world, with eighty million members.
Beginning in the 1960s and the 1970s, paramilitary extremist groups such as the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Japanese Red Army and the Shining Path Maoist movement in Peru used red as their color. But in the 1980s, some European socialist and social democratic parties, such as the Labour Party in Britain and the Socialist Party in France, moved away from the symbolism of the far left, keeping the red color but changing their symbol to a less-threatening red rose.
Red is used around the world by political parties of the left or center-left. In the United States, it is the color of the Communist Party USA, of the Social Democrats, USA, and in Puerto Rico, of the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico.
In the United States, political commentators often refer to the “red states”, which traditionally vote for Republican candidates in presidential elections, and “blue states”, which vote for the Democratic candidate. This convention is relatively recent: before the 2000 presidential election, media outlets assigned red and blue to both parties, sometimes alternating the allocation for each election. Fixed usage was established during the 39-day recount following the 2000 election, when the media began to discuss the contest in terms of “red states” versus “blue states”.
Social and special interest groups
Such names as Red Club (a bar), Red Carpet (a discothèque) or Red Cottbus and Club Red (event locations) suggest liveliness and excitement. The Red Hat Society is a social group founded in 1998 for women 50 and over. Use of the color red to call attention to an emergency situation is evident in the names of such organizations as the Red Cross (humanitarian aid), Red Hot Organization (AIDS support), and the Red List of Threatened Species (of IUCN). In reference to humans, term “red” is often used in the West to describe the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
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