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Published on Jun 18, 2013 in Asia, China, News

Why Chinese Men Won’t Wear Green Hats

Most people like the color green. If you’re Irish, it’s almost considered a part of your heritage. Even in China, most Chinese also have a favorable view of the color green as, culturally, it means that something is clean and environmentally friendly. When associated with food in China, describing something as green means that it lacks toxicity and the use of pesticides in its growth cycle. Subsequently, Chinese don’t have a problem with the color green unless you’re talking about a man’s hat. Men never wear green hats in China unless they’re asked to put it on by Eva Longoria or Angelina Jolie. Let me explain.

Eight or nine years ago my partner Dave Dodge and I were in China attending a meeting with a Chinese businessman who we knew was a golf fanatic. He had a driving range built behind his factory and would spend an hour or two there each day hitting golf balls. If you walked into his office you’d see golf items throughout and a large putting green in the corner. Subsequently, we were excited to bring him some Masters Golf Tournament merchandise that we acquired while we were at the tournament.

If you’ve been to the Masters, you know that a great deal of their merchandise is green. Hats, shirts, rain gear, sweaters, and more all are in their distinctive green color. Not that they don’t have other colors available, they do. But green is widely associated with the tournament. Therefore, when we presented the CEO with a green tournament golf hat, we expected him to be elated. Instead, he looked at the hat as if it came from Chernobyl and was radioactive. My assistant Maria, who didn’t know what was in the gift bag prior to me presenting it, had eyes as big as saucers when she saw me take the hat out of the bag and try and give it to the CEO. In fact, she was actually trying to take it from me as Dave and I were encouraging the CEO to try it on. The CEO, on his part, smiled, shook our hands, but wouldn’t touch the hat. Instead, his assistant promptly grabbed it from me and placed it back in the bag and, very politely, held onto it. When we left the meeting Maria explained to us the legend of the green hat.

5671458932_d1778bb26a_oThe legend, it seems, has become a part of Chinese history and has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s about a merchant who traveled quite a bit and left his wife alone at home for extended periods of time. It seems, however, that when he traveled his wife would cheat on him with the village tailor. As time went on, and in order to make it easier to signal to the tailor when her husband was leaving the village and not just going somewhere locally, the wife asked the tailor to make a green hat for her husband. The wife would then put the green hat on the husband’s head, saying it made him look nice, when he left to go on his business trip. The green hat thereby signaled to the tailor that her husband was leaving the village. Over time, the villagers figured out what was going on and would say something to the effect: his wife is putting the green hat on him.

Subsequently, in Chinese lore, wearing a green hat signifies that your wife is having an affair. Since face is everything in China, and not wanting to publicly acknowledge that your wife is unfaithful, Chinese men stay away from wearing green hats. The term has also found its way into the Chinese lexicon. In fact, in Mandarin the term for cuckold (a man whose wife is unfaithful) is dai lu mao, which literally translates into wearing a green hat.

Centuries ago in China, during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), a prostitute’s family were required to wear green hats as a family stigma. Also, green material during this time was considered a symbol of the lower classes. Prostitutes, who were also often artisans, were known for making green-colored material and, consequently, this association seemed to give even more substance to the legend of the green hat. This legend, and its associated stigma, still exists to this day. So, when you’re in China, don’t wear a green hat and don’t try to give one to any Chinese male. If you do, then you’ll definitely be sending him the wrong message.


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