Colour words in Mandarin Chinese

Words for colours in Mandarin Chinese (普通话 / 國語 / 華語) with notes and colour-related expressions.

Colour is 颜色 (yán sè) or 色彩 (sè cǎ). The word 色 (sè) - colour - is often attached to colour words to indicate that you are talking about a colour, rather than anything else.

black 黑色 (hēisè) = black, dark, secret, wicked

Black is considered a neutral colour, and is associated with the north, Mercury, Winter, cold, and also death and mourning. It was formerly worn at funerals, but white is currently more common on such occasions.

Black-related words and expressions

  • 漆黑的 (qīhēi de) = pitch black
  • 黑色喜剧 [黑色喜劇] (hēisè xǐjù) = black comedy
  • 黑带 [黑帶] (hēidài) = black belt (in martial arts)
  • 黑市商 (hēishìshāng) = black market
  • 黑洞 (hēidòng) = black hole

white 白色 (báisè) = white, clear, bright, plain, to state, in vain, free of charge

White is associated with metal, the west, Venus, Autumn, and symbolises brightness, purity and fulfilment. It is a colour of death and mourning and commonly worn at funerals. In ancient China, white was only worn when mourning the dead.

White-related words and expressions

  • 白葡萄酒 (báipútáojiŭ) = white wine
  • 白天鹅 [白天鵝] (bái tiān'é) = swan (“white sky goose”)
  • 蛋白 (dànbái) = egg white
  • 眼白 (yǎnbái) = the white of the eye
  • 雪白 (xuěbái) = snow-white
  • 白米 (báimǐ) / 白米饭 [白米飯] (báimǐfàn) = white rice

red 红色 [紅色] (hóngsè) = red, popular, successful, bonus

Red is associated with fire, summer, the south, Mars, good fortune and joy. Gifts of money are given in red envelopes at Chinese New Year, weddings and on other occasions. Traditionally Chinese brides wear red dresses.

Red-related words and expressions

  • 深红色 (shēnhóngsè) = crimson, incarnadine, ruby, carmine (“deep red colour”)
  • 鲜红 (xiānhóng) = scarlet, vermillion, bright red
  • 朱红色 (zhūhóngsè) = vermillion
  • 红色的头发 [紅色的頭髮] (hóngsè de tóufǎ) = red hair
  • 红军 [紅軍] (hóngjūn) = Red Army
  • 红酒 [紅酒] (hóng jiǔ) = red wine
  • 红楼梦 [紅樓夢] (hónglóumèng) = Dream of the Red Chamber - one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels, first printed in 1791
  • 丹 (dān) = red, pellet
  • 赤 (chì) = red, revolutionary, sincere, bare
  • 赤卫队 [赤衛隊] (chìwèduì = Red Guards
  • 绛 (jiàng) = crimson
  • 朱 (zhū) = bright red

yellow 黄色 (huángsè) = yellow, pornographic, yolk, gold

Yellow is associated with heroism, emperors, neutrality, good luck, Saturn, the changing of seasons and the earth. It is considered a beautiful and prestigious colour. It was used on royal palaces, altars, temples, and was worn by emperors. To Buddhists yellow represents freedom from wordly cares and mourning.

Yellow-related words and expressions

  • 黄热病 [黃熱病] (huángrèbìng) = yellow fever
  • 黄炸药 [黃炸藥] (huáng zhàyào) = dynamite (“yellow exploding medicine”)
  • 黄河 (huánghé) = Yellow River
  • 黄牌 (huángpái) = yellow card

blue 蓝色 [藍] (lánsè) = blue, clear (day)

Blue has the same associations as green (see below).

Blue-related words and expressions

  • 蓝调 [藍調] (lándiào) = the blues
  • 蓝图 [藍圖] (lántú) = blueprint
  • 蓝奶酪 [藍奶酪] (lánnǎilào) = blue cheese
  • 蓝山雀 [藍山雀] (lánshānquè) = bluetit
  • 碧 (bì) = bluish green, green jade

green 绿色 [綠色] (lǜsè) = green

Green is associated with the east, Jupiter, Spring, wind, health, prosperity and harmony. A green hat is traditionally associated with infidelity.

Green-related words and expressions

  • 青 (qīng) = green (grass), blue (sky), black (vein, eye, bruise), young, grass, unripe crops

brown 褐色 (hésè) = brown (colour) 棕色 (zōngsè) = brown (eyes)

Brown-related words and expressions

  • 红棕色 [紅棕色] (hóngzōngsè) = bay
  • 栗色 (lìsè) = chestnut (colour), maroon
  • 淡褐色 (dànhésè) = hazel (colour), light brown
  • 暗褐色 (ànhèsè) = dun (colour), dark brown
  • 赤褐色 (chìhèsè) = auburn, reddish-brown, russet

pink 粉红色 [粉紅色] (fěnhóngsè) = pink

orange 橙色 (chéngsè) / 橘色 (júsè) = orange (colour)

grey 灰色 (huīsè) = grey, melancholy

purple 紫色 (zǐsè) - purple

silver 银白色 [銀白色] (yín báisè) - silver

Silver-related words and expressions

  • 银器 [銀器] (yínqì) = silverware, silver, silver plate
  • 银币 [銀幣] (yínbì) = silver coin, silver
  • 银灰色 [銀灰色] (yínhuīsè) = silver-grey

gold 金色 (jīnsè) - gold (colour), blond, fair (hair)

Some details provided by Zhang Zhichen

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