What colors for 青?

Following the reader’s questions with 猜, I come back to 青. This character designates three or more colours, green, blue, and black. The multiplicity is a bit disarming; one must remember that the history of characters has evolved over tens of centuries when classification could not be as complete as computers.

Green

With plants, 青 will keep the meaning of green, grass 青草 qīng cǎo, or with vegetables, 青菜 cài. It is associated with youth, 青年 qīng nián.

Blue

On the other hand it is used for 青天 blue sky qīng tiān.

Black

For black, 青丝 qīng sī means black hair and 青眼 black eyes. There is little sense of black in everyday life nowadays.

Cyan

To complicate the debate, 青色 refers to the colour cyan (between blue and green).

The mineral theory

An explanation is circulating to explain this prism of colours. 丹青 dān qīng means painting. In ancient texts, 丹 means vermilion and 青 a mineral colour. The colour 青 was not defined, it was used for minerals of several colours, blue, green, cyan, and even black. Thus, diversity would have imposed itself. Japanese also uses 青, with the variety of meanings!

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