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What is the difference between 绿 and 青? Do they refer to different shades of green? I know 青 can be used in many more contexts; it can be used to mean 'young' or 'immature'. I find it boggling how 青 can mean blue too. Do the Chinese differentiate between blue and green? Or does 青 mean blue+green?

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The colors in the rainbow is listed as 赤橙黄绿青蓝紫 . You can see that 青 is between 绿 and 蓝 in the rainbow. –  fefe May 7 at 3:56
    
This is quite often compounded by the Japanese use of 青い.. which refers to both green and blue in the English sense. See if anyone can come up with a good answer for this. –  deutschZuid May 7 at 3:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I am a Chinese and I don't think 青色 is the same as 绿色 or 蓝色. For me, 青色 is more a kind of blue. Personally, blue and 蓝色 also cover different shades of blue color.

There is a very common proverb:

青,出于蓝,而胜于蓝

literally it means 青色 comes from blue but better than blue. Or more straightforward, 青色 is extracted from the blue plant(indigo) but is bluer than the plant. The next part is "冰,水为之,而寒于水"(ice comes from water but is colder than water). This proverb often used to describe how students can achieve more than their teachers, or the younger ones can do better eventually. I think that is why 青 occurs in words other than color, like 青春,青涩,青年, to describe a young, inexperienced stage just like the green used in "green hand".

There is a common color name in Chinese, 靛青,which is a kind of dark blue.

check the wikipedia link about the color. 青色 is the colors like Lapis lazuli, Salvia blue, Wedgwood blue or Slate blue. The screenshot below from wiki describes the difference between 青色 and 蓝色.

enter image description here

For other use of "青" besides color and the implicit meaning of young, I don't know.

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First, the color of rainbow should be 红橙黄绿蓝靛紫, NOT 红橙黄绿青蓝紫. The later one is simple wrong however it was wildly spread thanks to one of Mao's poems.

In order to explain 青, we also need to understand 绿 and 蓝.

The definition of 绿 is quite clear: the color of green leaves/grass. It's the 4th of seven colors in rainbow.

蓝 is somehow vague. The original definition of 蓝 is: a kind of plant that has greenish/blueish color and can be used to extract dye (you can tell that by the top component of 蓝, 艹, which means herb). wiki: Persicaria tinctoria. There was a famous poem, quote:

春来江水绿如蓝

which means: in the spring, the river water is as green as 蓝(the plant). If you interpreted 蓝 as a color then this line would be incompresensible. However it's hard to tell whether the poet was comparing riverwater to the color of the herb itself or the dye that came from the herb. I would guess it's the herb. Reasoning will be given after next quote.

Later 蓝 become a color (from the dye). 蓝 mostly refer to skyblue/lightblue/waterblue, which can be equal to the 5th color in a rainbow.

The 6th color is 靛, which is blue/indigo. Note the left part of this character is 青. 青 is somehow like indigo/midnight blue/prussian blue. (It can refer to other greenish colors but I'll cover that later.) There are a lot of evidence, for example: 1) if you google 青花瓷 you'll see the color of the pattern on those vases are blue/indigo. 2) 青布衣 was common clothing of peasants in Ming and Qing dynasty and it was dyed with indigo blue.

another quote:

青出于蓝而胜于蓝

translation: 青(indigo dye) was extracted from 蓝(the herb) but the color is better.

So you can see 青 is indeed blue/indigo.

However there are other usage to suggest 青 is used as "green". The most notable would be:

青山绿水

Hills are green for the trees growing on them. So why can 青, an indigo color, also refer to green?

I'll blame 五行 theory for this. In 五行, the five major colors are 赤(red), 白(white), 青, 黄(yellow), 黑(black). As you can see there's no 绿 or 蓝 or whatever other coloes of green/blue/indigo hue. However, 五行 was designed to be a theory of everything, a system to describe all phenomenon in the world. Therefore 青 has to take over the responsibility to cover all greenish/blueish items. Especially, in 五行, 青 is related to 木(woods/trees/herbs, one of the five 五行), so later on people started to use 青 for green color.

Last but not least: what is the color 青 in 青天? is it sky blue? Answer: no. If you google "kuomintang" you'll see the flag of kuomintang government 青天白日 is a white sun in indigo background. 青天 is used to describe government officials that are honest and hands clean, literally "as clear as the sky". So I think 青 in 青天 is a loan character(假借) from 清天.

--TLDR--

Conclusion: 青 should be indigo blue especially when referring to daily artifacts that were dyed by indigo. However it can also be used to mean green, especially plants.

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Here is a link with some photos of indigo tie-dyeing by Bai people in Yunnan. [link] (behance.net/gallery/…) So this would be 青 rather than 藍? –  neubau May 8 at 8:34
    
@user2619 I would describe this as 青. check this page: chinahexie.org.cn/a/zhonghuaguibao/fushiwenhua/fushigongyi/2012/… the abstract of this article says, "青底白花". I do agree that this color itself, when perspected by commoners, is the same as what we call 蓝 today. So for those people who do not know the traditional name of such type of clothes, it's only natual for them to call it 蓝印花布. But really it should be 蜡染青布. I'm not saying 蓝印花布 is not acceptable as it has already entered common usage, for people can understand what this name refers to when they hear it. –  Rephinx May 8 at 10:51

According to http://haiyuhanmo.home.news.cn/blog/article.do?bid=858765&aid=200842292,

《说文解字》:“青,东方色也。”《考工记》也说“东方谓之青”。何为东方色?桂馥《义证》引杨慎说:“木色青,故青者,东方也。”

And according to http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E4%BA%94%E8%A1%8C%E5%AD%A6%E8%AF%B4,

东方木,南方火,中央土,西方金,北方水。

So 青's original meaning is the color of the East, and the East indicate the wood/tree, so 青 originally is the color of the plants after primary growth, it's green. And the East can indicate the Spring according to 五行, so 青 is the color of Spring, so there's a word "青春", and then has a relevant meaning of "young", such as "青年".

And according to the dictionary, 青 could be used for the color of:

  • green, such as 青草.

  • blue, such as 青天.

  • black, such as "青衣", "青眼有加"(It's based on the fact that the Chinese's eyes are black).

And in general, 青 means dark green, or light blue.

Here's a parlance about rainbow does make sense: "红橙黄绿青蓝紫".

As you see, 青 is between "绿" and "蓝".

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What actually makes the East mean dark green? If you don't mind explaining. –  deutschZuid May 7 at 4:54
    
@deutschZuid I've done some research, and updated my answer. –  songyuanyao May 7 at 5:54

From Wikipedia:

青色(Cyan)又称为水绿色,在是指在介于绿色和蓝色之间的颜色,波长大约为500-485纳米。青色的含义没有统一规定,因人而异,可以泛指介于蓝色和绿色之间的各种颜色。在加色法中,青色被定义为等量的绿色光和蓝色光混合而成的颜色,如右边的色标所示。

enter image description here

加色法中,绿色(G)和蓝色(B)混合得到青色。

In short,

青色(cyan) = 绿色(green) + 蓝色(blue)

However though in practice, most Chinese tend to interpret 青色 as 绿色 or less commonly as 蓝色.

What many of the answers above provide are the etymology of 青色. The table below give the technical names of all the different shades of green and blue. I have highlighted the more important ones. For the full list, see here.

enter image description here

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I don't think cyan (especially in the field of computer graphics) equals to 青 in Chinese. The color cyan in the image above is actually close to "水蓝色" and the color blue above is close to "靛青色", IMO. –  Rephinx May 7 at 8:26
    
@Rephinx, if you refer to Baidu article, it says 青色 and 水绿色 are synonymous. Different people may perceive it differently, and that's alright. –  杨以轩 May 7 at 8:55
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Baidu Baike is not a trustworthy source. It was edited by nonprofessionals. –  Rephinx May 7 at 9:34
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@Rephinx As a native speaker, '青', when not put in any context, means 'cyan' to me. IMO the Baidu article is incomplete but not incorrect. –  NS.X. May 7 at 18:36
    
@Rephinx, both Wikipedia and Baidu says exactly the same thing. To imply that both are wrong is like 一竹竿打翻整船人. –  杨以轩 May 8 at 1:59

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