The Rainbow Language: A Guide to Chinese Colors

Ellison Clapton11 min
Created: Jun 6, 2024Last updated: Jun 7, 2024
Colors in Chinese

China has a deep-rooted custom of color use. They play a big role in everyday life, special events, and personal preferences. People often link specific Chinese colors to distinct feelings, holidays, or social ranks. Knowing them will connect you better with Chinese customs and practices. With our guide, you’ll learn the names of colors in Mandarin and find out more about their rich symbolism in the culture.

Primary Colors in Mandarin and Their Cultural Significance

Several key colors sit at the heart of Chinese culture and history. If you know what each one means, you will better understand the country’s traditions. They are often seen in parties, dresses, and artwork. Below is what the main colors mean:

  • 红色 (Hóngsè) – Red. It symbolizes happiness, success, and good fortune. People often use red during festivals and weddings to bring luck. Red envelopes with money are given during Chinese New Year. This color is also linked to joy and celebration.

小明收到一个红色的玩具车,他非常开心。 (Xiǎo Míng shōudào yīgè hóngsè de wánjù chē, tā fēicháng kāixīn.) – Xiao Ming received a red toy car, and he was very happy.

  • 黄色 (Huángsè) – Yellow. Historically in China, yellow showed power and royal status. Emperors put on yellow clothes to show their rule over others. People also connected it with smartness and the spirit world. Now, people still look at this color as significant but not as exclusive as before.

在学校里,老师用黄色的星星奖励好学生。 (Zài xuéxiào lǐ, lǎoshī yòng huángsè de xīngxīng jiǎnglì hǎo xuéshēng.) – At school, the teacher uses yellow stars to reward good students.

  • 蓝色 (Lánsè) – Blue. It represents healing, faith, and calm. The blue color in Chinese is connected to the sky and water. People see it as a calm and reliable color. It is often used in art and fashion to show stability and peace.

天空是蓝色的,小孩子们喜欢在下面玩耍。 (Tiānkōng shì lánsè de, xiǎo háizimen xǐhuān zài xiàmiàn wánshuǎ.) – The sky is blue, and children like to play under it.

  • 绿色 (Lǜsè) – Green. The Chinese green color represents growth, health, and harmony. It is linked to nature and renewal. People use green in many traditional practices to bring balance and freshness. Green jade is a valued stone in Chinese culture.

公园里有很多绿色的树和草。 (Gōngyuán lǐ yǒu hěnduō lǜsè de shù hé cǎo.) – There are many green trees and grass in the park.

  • 白色 (Báisè) – White. It is often associated with mourning and funerals. People wear white to show respect during sorrowful events.

妈妈给我买了一只白色的兔子。 (Māmā gěi wǒ mǎile yī zhǐ báisè de tùzi.) – Mom bought me a white rabbit.

  • 灰色 (Huīsè) – Gray. This color in Chinese represents neutrality and balance. It can signify wisdom and calmness. In Chinese culture, gray is sometimes used to show humility and modesty.

天空灰蒙蒙的,看来要下雨了。 (Tiānkōng huī méng méng de, kàn lái yào xià yǔ le.) – The sky is gray, and it looks like it is going to rain.

  • 金色 (Jīnsè) – Gold. The color links to being rich and having a high rank. It’s very much liked in Chinese culture and is used a lot at parties and big events.

婚礼上,新娘戴着金色的首饰。 (Hūnlǐ shàng, xīnniáng dàizhe jīnsè de shǒushì.) – At the wedding, the bride wore gold jewelry.

  • 黑色 (Hēisè) – Black. The black color in Chinese holds multiple meanings. It can symbolize darkness and evil but also power and dignity. Many consider it a serious and formal color. Black ink is essential in Chinese calligraphy and painting.

小张穿了一件黑色的夹克,看起来很酷。 (Xiǎo Zhāng chuānle yī jiàn hēisè de jiákè, kàn qǐlái hěn kù.) – Xiao Zhang wore a black jacket and looked very cool.

  • 粉色 (Fěnsè) – Pink. Pink stands for love and soft feelings. It’s a favored color for dress-up and decor, mainly among young girls and ladies. Pink is often used to create a soft and caring atmosphere.

小红的房间里有很多粉色的装饰品。 (Xiǎo Hóng de fángjiān lǐ yǒu hěnduō fěnsè de zhuāngshì pǐn.) – Xiao Hong’s room has many pink decorations.

Secondary Shades: Expanding Your Chinese Color Names Vocabulary

Once you know the main colors, it is good to learn extra ones. They add more detail and variety to your vocabulary. It helps you describe things and makes speech more vivid. You’ll find these secondary shades used in everyday items and nature. Below are all colors in Chinese you should know:

  • 银色 (Yínsè) – Silver

她的耳环是银色的,很精致。 (Tā de ěrhuán shì yínsè de, hěn jīngzhì.) – Her earrings are silver and very delicate.

  • 青色 (Qīngsè) – Cyan

古代的瓷器常常是青色的,很有价值。 (Gǔdài de cíqì chángcháng shì qīngsè de, hěn yǒu jiàzhí.) – Ancient ceramics are often cyan and very valuable.

  • 玫瑰红 (Méiguīhóng) – Rose Red

情人节那天,他送给女朋友一束玫瑰红的玫瑰花。 (Qíngrén jié nà tiān, tā sòng gěi nǚ péngyǒu yī shù méiguī hóng de méiguī huā.) – On Valentine’s Day, he gave his girlfriend a bouquet of rose-red roses.

  • 褐色 (Hèsè) – Brown

他的鞋子是褐色的,很适合冬天穿。 (Tā de xiézi shì hésè de, hěn shìhé dōngtiān chuān.) – His shoes are brown, which are very suitable for winter.

  • 淡紫色 (Dànzǐsè) – Lavender

她的房间墙壁是淡紫色的,看起来很温馨。 (Tā de fángjiān qiángbì shì dànzǐsè de, kàn qǐlái hěn wēnxīn.) – The walls of her room are lavender, giving it a warm feeling.

  • 浅蓝色 (Qiǎnlánsè) – Light Blue

天空是浅蓝色的,天气非常好。 (Tiānkōng shì qiǎnlánsè de, tiānqì fēicháng hǎo.) – The sky is light blue, and the weather is very good.

  • 深绿色 (Shēnlǜsè) – Dark Green

这棵树的叶子在夏天变成了深绿色。 (Zhè kē shù de yèzi zài xiàtiān biàn chéngle shēnlǜsè.) – The leaves of this tree turned dark green in the summer.

  • 浅黄色 (Qiǎnhuángsè) – Light Yellow

她穿了一件浅黄色的外套,看起来很可爱。 (Tā chuānle yī jiàn qiǎnhuángsè de wàitào, kàn qǐlái hěn kě’ài.) – She wore a light yellow coat and looked very cute.

  • 深红色 (Shēnhóngsè) – Dark Red

爸爸喜欢喝深红色的葡萄酒。 (Bàba xǐhuān hē shēnhóngsè de pútáojiǔ.) – Dad likes to drink dark red wine.

  • 灰蓝色 (Huīlánsè) – Gray Blue

他的新车是灰蓝色的,非常时尚。 (Tā de xīn chē shì huīlánsè de, fēicháng shíshàng.) – His new car is gray-blue and very stylish.

  • 紫红色 (Zǐhóngsè) – Magenta

那幅画里有很多紫红色的花,看起来很漂亮。 (Nà fú huà lǐ yǒu hěnduō zǐhóngsè de huā, kàn qǐlái hěn piàoliang.) – The painting has many magenta flowers and looks very beautiful.

  • 橄榄绿 (Gǎnlǎnlǜ) – Olive Green

他的军装是橄榄绿色的。 (Tā de jūnzhuāng shì gǎnlǎnlǜsè de.) – His uniform is olive green.

  • 金黄色 (Jīnhuángsè) – Golden Yellow

秋天来了,田里的稻子变成了金黄色。 (Qiūtiān láile, tián lǐ de dàozi biàn chéngle jīnhuángsè.) – Autumn has come, and the rice in the fields has turned golden yellow.

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Idiomatic Expressions: Colors in Chinese Sayings

Color words in Chinese aren’t only for describing things. They show up in lots of fun sayings, too. When you get to know these phrases, you’ll better understand and speak the language. Let’s take a look at some common ways to weave color into phrases:

  • 红脸 (Hóngliǎn) – Red Face. Indicates anger or embarrassment.

他被大家取笑时,立刻红脸了。 (Tā bèi dàjiā qǔxiào shí, lìkè hóngliǎn le.) – He blushed immediately when everyone made fun of him.

  • 绿灯 (Lǜdēng) – Green Light. This phrase with a green color in Chinese means to give permission.

老板给了我们继续项目的绿灯。 (Lǎobǎn gěile wǒmen jìxù xiàngmù de lǜdēng.) – The boss gave us the green light to continue the project.

  • 黄昏 (Huánghūn) – Yellow Dusk. It refers to twilight or the late stage of something.

我们在黄昏时分散步,看着夕阳。 (Wǒmen zài huánghūn shífēn sànbù, kànzhe xīyáng.) – We took a walk at dusk, watching the sunset.

  • 青出于蓝 (Qīng chū yú lán) – Blue out of Indigo. It means the student surpasses the teacher.

小明在数学竞赛中赢了老师,真是青出于蓝。 (Xiǎo Míng zài shùxué jìngsài zhōng yíngle lǎoshī, zhēn shì qīng chū yú lán.) – Xiao Ming won the math competition against the teacher, truly demonstrating that the student has surpassed the master.

  • 白头偕老 (Báitóu xiélǎo) – White Hair Till Old Age. It refers to growing old together.

他们的爱情故事让人相信白头偕老的誓言。 (Tāmen de àiqíng gùshì ràng rén xiāngxìn báitóu xiélǎo de shìyán.) – Their love story makes people believe in the vow of growing old together.

  • 黑马 (Hēimǎ) – Black Horse. Refers to a dark horse, an unexpected winner.

他在比赛中成为黑马,赢得了冠军。 (Tā zài bǐsài zhōng chéngwéi hēimǎ, yíngdé le guànjūn.) – He became the dark horse in the competition and won the championship.

  • 红红火火 (Hónghóng huǒhuǒ) – Red and Prosperous. Means to be prosperous and thriving.

新店开业后生意红红火火。 (Xīn diàn kāiyè hòu shēngyì hónghóng huǒhuǒ.) – The new store’s business was prosperous after opening.

  • 灰心丧气 (Huīxīn sàngqì) – Gray-hearted and Discouraged. Refers to feeling discouraged or disheartened.

他考试没考好,所以感到灰心丧气。 (Tā kǎoshì méi kǎo hǎo, suǒyǐ gǎndào huīxīn sàngqì.) – He felt discouraged because he didn’t do well on the exam.

  • 紫气东来 (Zǐqì dōng lái) – Purple Air from the East. This phrase with purple color in Chinese symbolizes auspiciousness or good fortune coming.

公司一开始就有很多客户,真是紫气东来。 (Gōngsī yī kāishǐ jiù yǒu hěnduō kèhù, zhēn shì zǐqì dōng lái.) – The company had many clients from the start, truly a sign of good fortune.

  • 金玉良言 (Jīnyù liángyán) – Golden Words of Wisdom. Refers to valuable advice.

老师的教导是金玉良言,我们应该铭记在心。 (Lǎoshī de jiàodǎo shì jīnyù liángyán, wǒmen yīnggāi míngjì zài xīn.) – The teacher’s guidance is golden advice, and we should remember it.

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Conclusion

Colors play an important part in Chinese language and culture. Red for joy, yellow for royalty – each has its place in history and modern life. Knowing what these Asian colors mean helps you understand traditions, share thoughts, and talk better with others. Keep practicing and adding to your color vocabulary. This knowledge will deepen your connection to China’s customs and people.

FAQ

How do I pronounce color names in Mandarin correctly?

You should learn the four tones of Mandarin: high, rising, fall-rise, and falling. Use audio tools and apps to improve your pronunciation. Practice often to develop a better intonation.

What is the history behind the use of red envelopes in China?

Red envelopes, called hóngbāo, mean good luck and keep evil spirits away. This custom comes from old stories where elders kept kids safe from a demon named Sui by giving them coins in red paper.

How does color symbolism differ in China from the West?

In China, red means joy and luck, and white stands for mourning. In Western cultures, red might shows danger or love, and white often shows purity. Knowing these differences helps prevent cultural misunderstandings.

Are there online resources to help me learn Chinese vocabulary?

Pleco and MDBG are useful online dictionaries. They have pronunciation guides, example sentences, and character breakdowns. Newcomers can also check Promova’s article about the Chinese alphabet, characters, and pinyin.

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