Guide to Colors in Chinese and Their Cultural Significance [With Quiz]

When you’re learning Chinese vocabulary, it helps to pick up basic words like colors ( 颜色  — yán sè) so you can give better descriptions.

Having a wide and varied color vocabulary will let you express and understand greater nuance in Mandarin. 

In this guide, we’ll go over all of the main colors—plus quite a few less common ones—and touch on their significance in Chinese culture.

Once you’ve reviewed the post a few times, you can take the quick quiz to test what you’ve learned!


Common Colors in Chinese

When you’re learning Chinese colors, it helps to start off with the most common! Try to think of the colors of your surroundings as you go about your day to solidify these in your memory.

You can also stick labels on things around your home or office with the characters of what color they are. 

红色 (hóng sè)Red
橙色 (chéng sè) Orange
黄色 (huáng sè)Yellow
绿色 (lǜ sè)Green
蓝色 (lán sè)Blue
紫色 (zǐ sè)Purple
白色 (bái sè)White
黑色 (hēi sè)Black
灰色 (hūi sè)Gray
棕色 (zōng sè)Brown
金色 (jīn sè)Gold
银色 (yín sè)Silver

You can pair (shēn) “dark” or (qiǎn) “light” with any color hue to describe varying intensities of that color.

For example:

深橙 (shēn chéng) — dark orange

浅桔黄 (qiǎn jú huáng) — light tangerine yellow

红色 (hóng sè) — Red


Red 红色 is a prominent color in Chinese culture. It represents strength, vitality and energy. It’s also related to festivity. An auspicious (lucky) color, it’s associated with holidays like Chinese New Year and weddings.

Varieties of red:

橙色 (chéng sè) — Orange


Orange 橙色 is a lively and happy color, reminiscent of autumn and plentiful harvests. It can represent good fortune, celebration and wealth.

Varieties of orange:

黄色 (huáng sè) — Yellow


Yellow 黄色 is a bright and glorious color, associated with the sun. A color worn by ancient Chinese emperors, it represents riches and power. It’s also a happy color signifying inspiration and vitality.

Varieties of yellow:

  • 桔黄 (jú huáng) — tangerine
  • 柠檬黄 (níng méng huáng) —  lemon yellow
  • 橄榄黄 (gǎn lǎn huáng) —  olive yellow
  • 杏黄 (xìng huáng) —  apricot
  • 金黄 (jīn huáng) — golden yellow

绿色 (lǜ sè) — Green


Green 绿色 is a color representing nature and new growth. It’s a lively and fresh color. Green-colored jade jewelry has been popular throughout Chinese history among those who could afford it.

Green does have a couple of negative connotations in Chinese culture, though. For example, to be “green-faced” in Chinese is to be sick, and to “wear a green hat” is to be cheated on by your wife.

Varieties of green:

蓝色 (lán sè) — Blue


Blue 蓝色 is an expansive color, the hue of the open skies and the ocean. A peaceful color, blue in Chinese culture is associated with the iconic, blue-painted pottery pieces. Blue can also be a color of sadness.

Varieties of blue:

紫色 (zǐ sè) — Purple


Purple 紫色 is a luxurious, mysterious color, suggesting beauty, passion and emotional depth.

Varieties of purple:

白色 (bái sè) — White


White 白色 can connote a sense of superiority. It can also represent goodness and purity. In Chinese culture, white is often used in combination with other colors. White by itself is a funeral color. 

Therefore, in traditional Chinese culture, people don’t normally wear white accessories in their hair or give white flowers as gifts, because of the association with mourning.

Varieties of white:

黑色 (hēi sè) — Black


Black 黑色 is a basic and ever-trendy color. It can be somber or sophisticated. In Chinese culture, black is often worn by elderly ladies, since bright colors are thought to be suited only for young people.

Varieties of black:

  • 土黑 (tǔ hēi) — soil or earth-colored
  • 煤黑 (méi hēi) — coal black
  • 碳黑 (tàn hēi) — soot black
  • 古铜黑 (gǔ tóng hēi) — black like the color of old copper
  • 铁黑 (tiě hēi) — black like iron

灰色 (hūi sè) — Gray


Gray 灰色 is sometimes dark and gloomy, but it can be modern and trendy at other times.

Varieties of gray:

棕色 (zōng sè) — Brown


Brown 棕色 is an earthy and warm color. It’s a popular choice for both home furnishings and fashion in Chinese culture. 

Varieties of brown:

  • 褐色 (hè sè) — another name for brown
  • 红棕 (hóng zōng) — reddish brown
  • 金棕 (jīn zōng) — golden brown

其它颜色 (qí tā yán sè) — Other Colors

Did we cover all the colors? Perhaps the main ones, but wait, there’s more…!

Here are special and miscellaneous colors, some from popular fashion, that you can add to your vocabulary.

  • 咖啡色 (kā fēi sè) — coffee color (or “brown” for Cantonese speakers)
  • 奶油色 (nǎi yóu sè) — cream or nude
  • 豆沙色 (dòu shā sè) —  literally “red bean colored,” this color looks like a pinky-mauve and is a popular color for lipstick!
  • 牛仔色 (níu zǎi sè) — denim colored
  • 荧光色 (yíng guāng sè) —  neon
  • 彩虹色 (cǎi hóng sè) — rainbow

Whew! Those were a lot of colors!

To explore the world of Chinese colors even further, keep an ear out for colors in use in everyday conversations or Chinese-language videos like the kind you’ll find on FluentU.

Quiz on Chinese Colors

Now that we’ve gone over all of these Chinese color words, it’s time to test what you’ve learned! Take the quiz below (without looking at the answers above!) and just refresh the page if you want to start over or retake it. 


How do you say "yellow" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "silver" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

What color is 黑色 (hēi sè)?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "white" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "brown" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

What color is 紫色 (zǐ sè)?

Correct! Wrong!

What color is 红色 (hóng sè)?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "blue" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "dark orange" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "pink" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

What color is 绿色 (lǜ sè)?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "rainbow" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "violet" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

How do you say "neon" in Chinese?

Correct! Wrong!

What color is 金色 (jīn sè)?

Correct! Wrong!

Colors in Chinese
Keep practicing!
Review the vocabulary in this article a few more times and then refresh the page to retake the quiz and see if you can improve your score. You can do it!
You're getting there!
Review the vocabulary in this article again and then refresh the page to retake the quiz and see if you can improve your score. You got this!
Nice job!
You're well on your way to mastering colors in Chinese! Review the ones you got wrong and then refresh the page to retake the quiz and see if you can get a perfect score.
You've mastered Chinese colors! Now it's time to take what you've learned and use it in your everyday conversations and writing in Chinese.


With all the Chinese colors we’ve gone over in this article, you’re well-prepared to start describing things with more detail and accuracy. 

Welcome to a more colorful world in Chinese! 

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

FluentU's Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.

The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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