Ever wonder why Comrade wears a green hat? Read on to
understand which colors mean what to the Chinese.
If all the huangtu (yellow earth) in the air over the
last week is giving you the lanseyouyu (blues) then
remember that those annoying airborne particles that
clog up the air-con, ruin your Beijing Jeep and make
even the shortest trip outside a thoroughly unpleasant
affair are actually a symbol of the Chinese people.
If you find it hard to understand this, then before
you shout wolule (lit. I've gone green, or I can't stand
it), let Comrade shed a little light on the matter and
talk you through the color code of Chinese culture.
Traditionally, three colors in particular have heavy
symbolic value. Red hong is the most important hue,
and carries with it a plethora of associated meanings.
Basically, it's a positive color, representing good
fortune, happiness, prosperity and fame. It is also
the color of the element fire, which it is linked to
heat, summer and the South.
The all-important matchmaker for shy Chinese couples
is known as a hongniang (lit. red woman). Back in his
courting days, even Comrade needed one of these romantic
old busybodies to get his stuttering relationships off
the ground. It was in this way that he first met his
huanglianpo (lit. yellow-faced woman, or wife).
If all goes well and the couple get married, hongbao
(red envelopes) of money are presented at the wedding,
as well as at other auspicious occasions). Even blushing
brides wear red, as there is no suggested promiscuity
to the color as there is in the West, and no one will
doubt she is a huanghuaguinu (lit. a yellow flower girl,
or a virgin). Blush she may, without causing alarm,
but should she show symptoms of hongyanbing (lit. red-eye
disease), guests may become worried, as this is the
Chinese equivalent of the jealousy green-eyed monster.
If the marriage later deteriorates, and hongxingchuqiang
(lit. the red apricot leaves the walls, or a wife commits
adultery), then her husband can be said to dailumaozi
(lit. wear a green hat, or be a cuckold).
Conversely, black hei is associated with evil, sadness,
suffering, famine and death. As the color for the water
element, it can also represent cold and the North. Due
to a similar meaning in English, recent years have seen
an invasion of black related words with negative connotations:
members of the heishoudang (lit. black hand gang, or
mafia) sell contraband on the heishi (black market),
communicating secretly in heihua (lit. black speech,
or thieves jargon). So comrades, next time you're buying
huangsedianying (lit. yellow movies, but blue for an
English speaker) outside the Silk Market, beware.
During the Cultural Revolution, both red and black continued
to play important roles, although their exact definitions
changed somewhat. Art had to be guided by Mao Zedong
Thought, and red came to symbolize everything socialist
and revolutionary, everything good and moral. Black,
on the other hand, signified exactly the opposite. Mao
was considered to be China's hong taiyang (red sun),
and any use of black indicated that the artist harbored
counter-revolutionary intentions. The predecessor of
the PLA was the hongjun (Red Army), and hongweibing
(Red Guards) idolized their leader and waved his xiaohongshu
(little red book). Comrade recalls that in those days
it was glorious to have yikehongxinxiangzhedang (a red
heart facing towards the party), and to strive against
the heiwulei (five black categories, namely landlords,
rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, rightists and
Although white bai can sometimes stand for purity, it
too is often linked to sadness and death. It is unlucky
to give notices of congratulation on white paper. Albino
animals are often considered vehicles of the supernatural.
White is also the most common color of mourning in China
and is a component of several words indicating futility,
emptiness and deception.
These words of Comrade's are certainly not baihua (lit.
white speech, or trickster), so listen to this free
advice and don't be a baiyanlang (lit. white eyed wolf,
or ungrateful person), or this will all have been baishuo
Yellow is a color particularly close to the Chinese
people's hearts. They refer to themselves as - yanhuangzisun
(descendants of the Yellow Emperor), and as mentioned
above, are proud inheritors of China's yellow loess
soil, the foundation of its agricultural tradition.
It is therefore the color of the earth element, and
represents the center, as well as China itself. As the
word for emperor is a homophone for yellow, yellow was
also the imperial color. The last emperor of China,
Pu Yi, wrote that as a boy he believed everything was
yellow, since he saw so much of it.
Sometimes it may seem that we Chinese and you hongmaofan
(red barbarians, an old word for Westerners) see things
through different eyes - or at least different colored
ones. For us, having 'black eyes' doesn't mean we've
had a drop too much baijiu and got into a fight, that's
just our way of saying they're brown. If we were bruised
black and blue however, we would say say that the colour
was qing. In fact, purple mountains, blue sky, green
trees and black oxen can all be said to be q•ng, which
basically means they are the appropriate natural color
for whatever is being described - a very handy word