What colour is ‘green’ 青?
Read on for a light-hearted discussion of what colour – or colours – the character really represents through the lens of traditional Chinese artefacts with the colour 青 qing in their names. Believe it or not, even amongst Chinese speaking people there is no clear answer…
The most prominent categories of 青 qing artefacts are 青銅 qing tong – ‘green’ bronze – and 青瓷 qing ci – ‘green’ porcelain.
In China, the most beautiful bronze artefacts were produced during the Bronze Era 青銅時代, dating back beyond 3000 BCE to around the beginning of the first millennium.
The Bronze Era marked the first three dynasties of China – 夏商周 Xia, Shang, Zhou. They produced the most decorated types of bronze cups, urns, plates and ornaments for all kinds of ceremonies. Some of these bronze artefacts were engraved with characters of early Chinese written language.
These two videos give a good impression of just how beautiful and intricate these bronze artefacts are. Bear in mind that most of them were made more than 3,000 years ago.
The first video shows the treasures of the National Palace Museum: Bronze ware:
This second video shows the Ancient Bronzes of China:
青瓷 qing ci – ‘green’ porcelain – is equivalent to celadon in the west. Celadon is a term used in pottery for wares glazed in the jade green colour. However, in China, the term 青瓷 qing ci specifically referred to the exquisite wares that were produced during the dynasties of 宋 Song, 金 Jin and 元 Yuan, ranging from around 900–1400.
Here you can see one of the most beautiful pieces of 青瓷 ‘green’ porcelain that was produced during that period. This bowl is part of a very large collection held in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. The Museum has the most extensive and exquisite collection of Chinese artefacts in the world.
Li Bo 李白 was referring to the impermanence of life, by describing an accelerated process of aging as when gazing into the mirror one sees black hair turn to grey in a day.
In fact, the use of 青絲 qing si to describe black hair is very common in everyday language. When a shampoo advertisement uses the word 青絲 qing si, no one would misunderstand that the shampoo is turning the hair green or blue!
When 青 qing is used to describe the eyes 眼 yan, it refers to the iris of eye, which is very dark or black in Chinese people. So when someone is looking at you with their ‘black of the eyes’ 青眼 qing yan, it means they really appreciate and favour you. You definitely don’t want to get the white eyes 白眼 bai yan, which show their distaste by rolling their eyes and you see only the sclera.
Energetics of the spring season
Overall, 青 qing as a character generally describes growth, youth and positivity, which complies with the energetics in the season of spring and the element of wood.
The ‘green’ 青 qing for the wood element is likely to be a darker, bluish green rather than a fresher yellower green. Considering the water element – colour black – is mother element to the wood, it is natural that the colour of the wood element 青 qing inherits some aspects of its mother element.
Just one other thought. If we can agree that the ‘green’ for the wood element is more bluish, then the five element corresponding colours would consist of black/water and white/metal, along with three primary colours of blue/wood, red/fire and yellow/earth.
Enjoy what’s left of the springtime!