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Colors Have Meaning in Chinese Culture: Learn the Meaning of “黄 (Huáng)!”

Mar. 23, 2018

Chinese General yikouqi

As you may know, colors hold an important role in the use of language in Chinese culture. The color “红 (hóng) red” is associated with fortune and good luck. The color “白 (bái) white” represents death and decay. “黑 (hēi) black” can represent integrity, but also indicate a fearful and pessimistic outlook on life. While colors have literal meanings to describe the appearance of things, they also have figurative and symbolic meanings to represent the future outlook and situation.

I enjoy teaching my Mandarin Chinese students about colors, since it is both a language lesson and a cultural lesson as well. My classes enjoy discussing an event in their life and a color that corresponds to it. A color whose literal meaning also has a figurative, symbolic meaning is “黄 (huáng)”.

The literal meaning:

黄 (huáng) = yellow (adj.)

Tā yǒu yì tiáo huáng qúnzi.
她  有  一  条     黄      裙 子。
She has a yellow dress.

Jack de màozi shì huángsè de.
Jack 的   帽  子 是    黄    色 的。
Jack’s cap is yellow.

The implied meaning:

黄 (huáng) = the failure to do something, unsuccessful

黄了 (huáng le) = plans or deals have failed

Xià yǔle, wǒmen zài wàimiàn yěchuī de jìhuà huáng le.
下   雨了,我 们   在   外  面    野  炊  的 计划    黄     了。
It’s raining, our plan for a picnic outside has failed.

Nà bǐ mǎimài huáng le.
那  笔  买  卖     黄     了。
The deal is off.

Let’s say that you have lined up an important job interview. You got off to a late start on the way out of your apartment. You also forgot that it is Monday and the subway will be extra busy. You arrive twenty minutes late for the interview. Uh oh! Your hopes for the new job have turned “黄了 (huáng le)”. As you can imagine, this means that your hopes and plans just didn’t turn out this time.

1. Read the dialogue below and answer the question that follows:

       Neil hé Judy shì bú shì yào jiéhūn le?
Lily: Neil 和 Judy 是  不  是  要  结  婚  了?

         Tāmen de qīnshì huáng le, yīnwèi Neil de bàmā bù xǐhuān Judy.
Tom: 他  们   的  亲 事    黄    了,因为  Neil 的  爸 妈  不 喜 欢   Judy。

Which of the following statements is true?

A. Neil and Judy will dress in yellow on their wedding day.
B. Neil and Judy will not get married.
C. Neil’s parents like Judy very much.
See Answer Analysis

―Written by Becky Zhang―—
Becky Zhang is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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