Black and White in Chinese

Black and white contrast nicely in a graphic design.

Black and white contrast nicely in a graphic design.

As a color, (hēi) means black, and (bái) means white. Both of these words have a number of different meanings and connotations.

白菜 (báicài) is a general term for Chinese cabbage, of which there are several varieties. 大白菜 (dàbáicài) is the large and heavy variety with tightly-wrapped pale leaves. It is also known in the West as Napa cabbage or Chinese lettuce. The pale green and slender loose-leaf type is called 小白菜 (xiǎobáicài white rape). If you are after the smaller variety with crunchy dark-green leaves shaped like Chinese soup spoons, then ask for 青康菜 (Qīng Kāng cài) or 瓢儿菜 (piáor cài). What’s known as “bok choy” has very dark green leaves with sturdy white stalks. Actually, “bok” and “choi” are not Mandarin sounds. “choi” is the Romanization of the Cantonese pronunciation of (cài vegetables).

白米 (báimǐ) are rice grains from which the husks have been removed. It is the regular white rice sold in grocery stores. 蛋白 (dànbái) are egg whites, and 蛋白质 (dànbáizhì) are proteins. 白血球 (báixiěqiú) are white blood cells.

White is usually associated with cleanliness and purity, as in 洁白 (jiébái spotless). It is also associated with brightness or clarity, as in 白天 (báitiān daytime) or 明白 (míngbai clear, to understand), respectively.

现在我明白了.
Xiànzài wǒ míngbai le.
Now I understand.

坦白 (tǎnbái) means to be frank and candid.

坦白说, 他不适合这职位.
Tǎnbái shuō, tā bù shìhé zhè zhíwèi.
Frankly, he is not well suited to this position.

(bái) also means blank, gratis or in vain.

白痴 (báichī) is an idiot. On the other hand, 白吃 (báichī) means to freeload.

白白 (báibái) means “for nothing”. Do not confuse this with 拜拜 (báibái), which is the Chinese transliteration for “bye-bye”.

为了这件事, 我白白损失了一百元.
Wèile zhèi jiàn shì, wǒ báibái sǔnshī le yī bǎi yuán.
Because of this, I lost one hundred yuan for nothing.

苍白 (cāngbái) means pale or ashen. You could use it to describe gray hair or a wan face.

In contrast, 黑油油 (hēiyōuyōu) means jet-black, or black and shiny. 漆黑 (qīhēi) or 黑漆漆 (hēiqīqī) means pitch-black.

外面黑漆漆; 我不敢出去.
Wàimian hēiqīqī, wǒ bùgǎn chúqu.
It’s pitch-dark out there; I dare not go outside.

黑暗 (hēiàn) means darkness or dark, both in the sense of lacking illumination and in the sense of being shady or evil.

黑心 (hēixīn) is an evil mind. As an adjective, it means being unconscionable. You may have heard news stories about 黑心食品 (hēixīn shípǐn) produced by dishonest manufacturers who have no regard for the consumers’ health. These foods contain cheap non-food-grade ingredients or are tainted with toxic substitutes. One really needs to be careful about what one chooses to ingest.

黑帮 (hēibāng) is a sinister gang, and 黑手党 (hēishǒudǎng) are the Mafia. 黑名单 (hēimíngdān) is a blacklist, and 黑客 (hēikè) is another way of saying computer hackers. When you exchange news about corruption or other wrong-doings in a conversation, you might shake your head and add this remark:

天下乌鸦一般黑.
Tiānxiàwūyāyībānhēi.
The evil are all the same the world over.
(All ravens in the world are equally black.)

黑白 (hēibái) means black & white, or right and wrong. For example, 黑白照片 (hēibái zhàopiàn) is a black & white photo.

你们不可以黑白不分.
Nǐmen bù kěyǐ hēibáibùfēn.
You should not be without a sense of right and wrong.

清楚 (qīngchǔ) means clear and well-defined, easy to see or understand. Suppose an argument comes up regarding your rented apartment, and you are in the right, show your 房东 (fángdōng landlord or landlady) the rental agreement and say:

白纸黑字, 一清二楚.
Báizhǐhēizì, yīqīngèrchǔ.
Here it is in black and white, and crystal clear.

Fall Harvest

秋 (qiū) Autumn

The sun is shining bright as I pick the last of my cute little 小番茄 (xiǎo fānqié cherry tomatoes) off the vines, but it’s not scorching hot. The air is a bit on the cool side, but not so cold as to bite. The flies have all but disappeared, but the birds are still around chirping. What’s not to like about this time of the year?

秋天 (qiūtiān, autumn) is the time for harvesting and enjoying the fruit of your labor. Besides the 苹果 (píngguǒ apples), (lí pears), 葡萄 (pútáo grapes), 李子 (lǐzi plums) and various kinds of 坚果 (jiānguǒ nuts), you will want to also bring in the 青豆 (qīngdòu green beans), 高丽菜 (gāolì cài cabbage) and 南瓜 (nánguā pumpkins) before frost sets in.

Literally, 结果 (jiéguǒ) is the action of a plant forming fruits. This word, like “to bear fruit”, also means to get results. You can also use it as a noun that refers to the result or the outcome.

你们讨论的结果怎么样?
Nǐmen tǎolùn de jiéguǒ zěnmeyàng?
What’s the outcome of your discussion?

(shōu) is to receive, to accept, to gather or to put away. (huò) is the formal word for 得到 (dédào to have gotten, to have obtained, to have received). 收获 (shōuhuò) means to harvest or to bring in the crop. It also refers to the crop itself or the gain from the work one puts in. As the saying goes:

一分耕耘, 一分收获.
Yī fēn gēngyún, yī fēn shōuhuò.
No pain, no gain. (You will harvest as much as you have cultivated.)

The Traditional Chinese word for harvest is 收穫 (shōuhuò), which clearly involves (hé), or standing rice plants.

On the other hand, the character (huò) contains the “dog” radical, (quǎn), that we talked about before. It implies capturing something by force. In the Simplified Chinese character system, this character is used in words pertaining to gaining or getting something regardless of the means by which the object is obtained.

Besides 收获 (shōuhuò), terms containing (huò) are mostly used in formal Chinese and not colloquially. However, it’s still important to learn these words as you are bound to come across them in verbal news reports, newspapers and other written material.

获得 (huòdé) means to receive, to obtain, to acquire or to achieve.

打猎 (dǎliè) is to go hunting. Therefore, 猎获 (lièhuò)
means to have gotten something by hunting. In everyday speech, you would simply say 打到 (dǎ dào).

他们打到三只雁. (dǎ dào).
Tāmen dǎ dào sān zhī yàn.
They got three wild geese.

知道 (zhīdào) means to know or to be aware of. 获知 (huòzhī) means to have obtained information about something.

我们已经获知台风将转向.
Wǒmén yǐjīng huòzhī táifēng jiāng zhuànxiàng.
We have already received news that the typhoon is changing course.

利益 (lìyì) are profits or benefits. 获益 (huòyì) means to have received benefit or profit.

胜利 (shènglì) means victory. 获胜 (huòshèng) is to triumph or to win a victory. So, when you hear or read “我方获胜. (Wǒ fāng huòshèng.)”, you’ll know that our side has won.

准许 (zhǔnxǔ) means to give approval, and 获准 (huòzhǔn) means to have obtained approval or permission.

Following are three popular idioms involving (huò):

如获至宝 (rúhuòzhìbǎo) describes a person being so happy and excited as if he or she had unexpectedly been given the most precious treasure.

我收到他的信, 如获至宝.
Wǒ shōudào tā de xìn, rúhuòzhìbǎo.
When I got his letter, it felt like receiving the most valuable treasure in the world.

一无所获 (yīwúsuǒhuò) means to have gotten nothing for one’s efforts.

他们找了一整天, 但是一无所获.
Tāmen zhǎo le yīzhěngtiān, dànshì yīwúsuǒhuò.
They searched for an entire day, but came back empty-handed.

不劳而获 (bùláoérhuò) means to have a windfall, to get something for nothing, or to profit without toiling. This phrase usually carries a negative connotation.

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