Green Hat a No-No

Here’s a little tip for men in China hoping to avoid public castigation: don’t wear a green hat. Unfortunately, this advice came a little late for me, but first a little background as to why it’s a cultural faux pas over here:

In China “wearing a green hat” (戴绿帽子 or dài lǜ mào zǐ) is an expression that Chinese use when a woman cheats on her husband or boyfriend because the phrase sounds similar to the word for cuckold. This apparently dates back to the Yuan dynasty when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats.

If you’re given a green hat by your significant other then the news is probably not good. To wear one is to be a bit of a dim idiot! In addition, giving someone shoes or a watch is also a no-no as it signifies that your relationship is coming to an end.

These are just a few examples of how language and symbolism are closely intertwined in China. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to watch my pronunciation because a certain word sounds like the meaning of something else undesirable. I’d be interested to see if anyone has a list of the most common ones. Would certainly come in handy for hapless travellers and ex-pats alike 🙂

David avatar

22 responses

  1. Kitty avatar

    Terrified at this picture. Fortunately, you didn’t show your face. hehe ~

    Also learned the background of Green Hat from your blog as a chinese.

    Hope u can speak chinese with me while we see each other next time.

    1. Yes with face would have been to loose face so probably not a good idea to reveal 😉 I’m rather surprised I was able to teach you something about Chinese culture but I wouldn’t get your hopes up about the speaking Chinese bit yet!

  2. florance avatar

    eating doufu it means you want to take advantage of woman.
    so dont ask woman to eat doufu.hehe.

    1. Noted 😀 I never heard that one before!

      1. John avatar

        Well, that explains a lot!

  3. florance avatar

    i just thought this one but this one is interesting. i will share it when i think out that

  4. […] In China “wearing a green hat”  is an expression that Chinese use when a woman cheats on her husband or boyfriend. This apparently dates back to the Ming dynasty when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats. […]

  5. Kitty avatar

    I looked up the local dictionary, it’s said that: in Yuan dynasty not Ming dynasty, according to the law, the husband of a brothel madam must always wear a green hat. Notice that a madam is usually promoted from a prostitute.

    1. Thanks for the correction Kitty – I’ve updated the post 🙂

  6. Colors – How Important Are They For Global Websites? « Dig-IT! Consulting

    […] answers to all those questions is: Yes, but it depends in the context.  In China, for instance, “wearing a green hat” (戴绿帽子 or dài lǜ mào zǐ) is an expression that Chinese use when a woman cheats on her […]

  7. […] he is rarely seen without his green Celtics cap. in china, however, wearing a green hat has other implications. basically, you are announcing to the world that your wife/girlfriend/whatever is cheating on […]

  8. […] happily, wearing the hat, while she and all the neighbours knew what was really going on.” Another blog’s opinion differs a little bit, and it says that the story is from the Yuan dynasty instead. This goes to […]

  9. […] Quirks [Chinese Language Blog] Green Hat a No No [Random […]

  10. tara avatar

    Interesting. Is it mostly an expression or would a husband actually wear a green hat to announce adultery on his wife’s part? (Because, who would want to do the latter?)

    1. Hi Tara – I think it’s just a metaphorical thing these days. Men still don’t like wearing green though as it still has the same association.

  11. […] to Mao by the Uyghur delegate—seen wearing an etles dress—happens to be, ahem, green (read this if you’re not familiar with the Chinese idiom). Given the precision of symbolic […]

  12. JDillet avatar

    I bought one of those green caps with the red star at the Forbidden City and wore it….. a lot. I would always get complimented on it or a thumbs up walking around Beijing. ….no I wonder if I wasn’t the butt of a joke 🙂

    1. the green caps with a red star is not relevant to this Chinese culture. Instead, it stands for the brave Chinese soldiers during the second world war. So it is not a bad one.

  13. […] dates back to the Yuan dynasty when the relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats." Although if you wear a green hat with a red star, you're okay. Well, lots of nuances with these things. Giving watches, unlike clocks, is okay for […]

  14. yes, do not buy a green hat or a clock for your future inlaws

  15. […] Metaphors require the writer or speaker to understand their audience. Even though they’re art, and not science, they “can still feel right or wrong“. Metaphors cannot usually be translated literally and can often lead to hilarious moments when naively or inaccurately used. That green John Deere hat you like to wear would make you a laughing stock in China. […]

  16. Observation 2021 avatar
    Observation 2021

    Actually the watch and shoes thing translates pretty easily if you are into non-verbal clues

    Watch = “look at that – your time is up”

    Shoes = “take a very long walk and here are extra shoes to help after the current ones wear out”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *