According to https://www.easyatm.com.tw/wiki/%E4%B8%89%E5%88%86%E9%A1%8F%E8%89%B2%E4%B8%8A%E5%A4%A7%E7%B4%85 it is stated as:




apparent meaning: give you 30% of color and you think can dye the cloth 100% red

used later as: people praise another person a little but and he/she thinks he/she is so awesome, but in fact the person is not that capable of doing things

but are these all the meanings? I thought I have seen it more often nowadays as,

treating a woman a little bit nicely and she thinks now she is the queen or the master of the house (or the second master of the house)

I have also seen similar versions, used in Taiwan nowadays:

得了三分顏色, 就要開染坊

getting some color, and want to open up a dye factory

but in fact it goes all the way back 400 years ago:



the guys slept for a little bit; having got some color, he is opening up a dye factory

they are also people who got some color and want to open up a dye factory. Thinking the other army is afraid of them, they are becoming prouder every day

  • It's an obsolete phrase to me. It's not used that often nowadays. I live in mainland, so I'm not sure about other regions.
    – dan
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 10:30
  • it actually might be more southern... used quite a bit in Taiwan nowadays, for example. In Hong Kong, most everybody knows what it means. If it is somebody asking what it means, it may be a 10 year old hearing it, not understand what it means, and about to ask his parents. Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 10:42
  • Never heard of 三分顏色上大紅. It is correct, in Taiwan, it is always "給你三分顏色就想開染坊了". It basic means 一個捧不起的人.
    – r13
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 13:35
  • in Hong Kong, it is always 三分顏色上大紅。No wonder famous people like 沈玉琳 always says 給你三分顏色就想開染坊了 — he was not using a "new way of saying it", because it has always been like that in Taiwan Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 5:33
  • @StefanieGauss I believe it is not just in Taiwan, but entire China before it turned "red".
    – r13
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 14:34

2 Answers 2



It includes the meanings "give him an inch and he'll want a mile" plus "overestimate oneself"

You can't open a dyeing shop with just with three colours, will say, you don't know your limits.

The rough meaning is "don't be too proud", or "given an inch, you will want a mile."

(You) don't know your own strengths and weaknesses!

In other words, the meaning is, you think very highly of yourself!

If we allow you, you, unable to differentiate good from bad, will start acting recklessly.

Proper behaviour demands one be content with ones situation,
excessive behaviour will provoke dislike.



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