Tuesday, 29 May 2018

红 | hóng

In Mandarin Chinese, (Pinyin: hóng 🔊) is an adjective for (colour) “red”. Another meaning is “popular” or “in vogue”.

is a simplified form of the traditional character , which is a phono-semantic compound of semantic “silk” and phonetic (gōng 🔊), “labour”, “work”. Something to do with (textile) workers’ movement and, by extension, revolution, communism? Not exactly (although grew to represent all that too). Lawrence J. Howell explains in his Etymological Dictionary of Han/Chinese Characters:

thread + here an abbreviated form of (gǒng) mercury → fabric/textiles dyed a deep red (compare ) → crimson; rougelipstick.
I presume that “mercury” here refers to cinnabar (mercury sulphide), a historic source for the red pigment vermilion. According to Wikipedia, in China cinnabar has been used for its colour since as early as the Yangshao culture (around 5000 BC to 3000 BC).

Interesting compounds of include

Wait a minute, I hear you saying, didn’t you just tell us that “black” is ? Yes, I did, and yes, you read that right: what in Europe we call “black tea” (because of the colour of the tea leaves), Chinese call 红茶, i.e. “red tea” (referring to the colour of the liquid). Conversely, what Chinese call 黑茶 (hēichá), literally “black tea”, means fermented tea such as Pu-erh, which in Europe is known as “red tea”, té rojo etc. I hope everything is red black clear now.

Incidentally, the symbols above were created using Pu-erh tea because I’ve already used the leaves of 红茶 to create the hanzi and . So there.

More photos related to safflower, tea and colour red @ Shutterstock.

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