Zhuangzi glossary





Zhuangzi here uses the term  qīng to describe the sky, which suggests that it means "blue." Moments later he will use it to describe the meadows, which we would describe as "green." The five classical colors in China were: 赤 chì, red;  huáng, yellow;  qīng, blue-green; 白 bái, white; and  hēi, black. Dropping out white and black, that leaves three color terms to cover the spectrum. 赤 chì and  huáng refer to what we think of as red, orange, and yellow. That leaves  qīng to cover green, blue, indigo, and violet. And in fact, 瘀青 yūqīng, "contusion green," is the term used to describe the color of a bruise, what we would call purple (indigo/violet). So Zhuangzi's seemingly odd use of the same color term to describe what appear to us  to be differently colored things—sky and meadow—is due to the fact that different languages cut up the color spectrum differently.

Zhuangzi can hardly have intended this since he did not know that he would have English speaking readers or that English would employ color terms in different ways. But the fact that different ways of looking at the world not only have different words for the same things but divide the world into things in different ways is a good illustration of his point about the ambiguity of language.