You are walking down the street in the middle of the day and you see someone wearing a green hat. What are the thoughts going through your head? Are you going to have any thoughts at all? Or will you go about your day like nothing big happened?

Some people will think it’s fashionable while others won’t care at all. However to a Chinese person, this is big. It is taboo to wear a green hat, especially for men. Here are four colors and their significance in Chinese culture.

  1. 1 Green

    Angelababy wearing a green hat.In Western culture, green represents nature and is a calming color. However in modern Chinese culture, green has a negative connotation. For example when you say “他的脸绿了” (Tā de liǎn lǜ le) or “His face looks ‘green,’” it means he doesn’t look well. 

    When you say someone is wearing a green hat — “他带绿帽子” (Tā dài lǜ mào zi) — it means the person’s partner is cheating on them. Hence men especially should not wear green hats. 

  2. 2 Yellow

    The Qianlong Emperor in yellow robes. Yellow is a color that represents power and authority. Why? In ancient China only the emperor, empress and empress dowager got to wear this color. Almost every emperor wore a yellow robe. 

    Because of this, yellow is also a color that represents China itself. The second-longest river in China, the Yellow River, got its name from the yellowish soil that surrounds it. Therefore in ancient China, yellow was considered a natural color.

    In modern China, yellow has a negative connotation when used in a sentence. It means something failed or didn’t go as planned. 

    For example, when you ask someone how their relationship is going, they might say “黄了” (huáng le), which means they’ve broken up. 

  3. 3 Red

    A traditional Chinese wedding

    Red is considered one of the luckiest and most noble colors in Chinese culture. In ancient China, only the rich nobles and the royal family could wear bright red. 

    In modern China, red is considered very auspicious. Therefore red is the color of choice for weddings, birthdays, Lunar New Year and more. 

    Many things at weddings and birthday parties are red: traditional red wedding dresses, red pocket money and red double happiness signs are just some examples. 

    When used in a sentence, red describes someone who is very popular, like a celebrity. You will say “他很红” (tā hěn hóng, literally “he is red”).

  4. 4 White

    Traditional funeral attireIn ancient China, white was considered a commoner’s color. Back then, only the wealthy could afford to dye their clothes. Commoners could not afford such expenses. Therefore, the majority of their clothing was white.

    In modern China, people link white with bad things. It is also associated with scary things like death. 

    For example, when Chinese people think of white, they will most likely think about funerals. White is the color of choice for funerals in China.  

    At times there are people who are so superstitious, they will not wear white shoes. 

    Now that you know what colors you should and should not wear, you are clear to roam the streets of China.

     What are your thoughts about these colors? What is your favorite color? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Amie Lin

Amie Lin is currently attending Hunter College double majoring in Mandarin and Media Studies. She is such a foodie and loves Chinese dramas.
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