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In the classic Xiangsheng 《賣布頭》, they mention various ways the street peddlers sing (吆喝) about their wares, among them the textiles merchants sell a kind of black fabric called "德国青". Here is the exchange:

  甲:他們吆喝的德國青,黑色(shai)的。
  乙:黑的。
  甲:那真叫黑,吆喝這味兒。
  乙:您學一學。
  甲:」(拍了一下)哎,這塊吆喝,吆喝賤了就是不打價啊。」
  乙:是嘍。
  甲:「說這塊德國青,這塊怎麼那麼黑,您說怎麼那麼黑?」
  乙:還是…我知道怎麼那麼黑啊?
  甲:「氣死張飛,還不讓李逵,氣死了唐朝的黑敬德(dei)呀」
  乙:不錯。
  甲:「怎麼那麼黑,在東山送過碳,西山挖過煤呀,又當過兩天的煤鋪的二掌柜的吧。還真正是德國青啊,真正的德國染兒,真正是德國人製造這塊布兒的」。
  乙:是嘍。

From this, I gather it's some kind of high quality German black fabric or made using black dye. What exactly is it? I didn't find anything useful by searching for "German black fabric" or "德国青".

  • I found an explanation here, says 指的是民国时期德国所出产的黑色布匹以及毛料因中国黑青通用,所以俗称叫德国青, even though could not confirm it. – user4072 Jun 12 '15 at 11:09
  • On a side note, how the hell does drink also come to mean shout? Try shouting whilst drinking, you get splutter – Pedroski Jun 13 '15 at 3:02
  • Prussian blue maybe? – neubau Jun 14 '15 at 5:25
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The best I can find is that jet (lignite), an extremely black stone, may have been powdered and used as a dye. Natural jet is found in Germany and if you are a native English speaker you may have heard the term "jet black" in reference to the deep black color of the stone. It may also just be the ancient Chinese version of "jet black", being used as an adjective in this case to describe the color of the fabric.

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As a side note, "青" is not simply cyan in old Chinese text. It is a collective term, which may be 綠 (green),藍 (blue),碧 (light-er blue),蒼 (deep-er blue),or even 黑 (black).

For example, "青出於藍" means that the dye "青" (indigo) is produced using plant called "靛藍". On the other hand, "青衣" is clothes of dark color in general.

That explains why they say "中國黑青通用"

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