Green hats and adultery

I was on a shopping trip in central China with two female friends, one American, and one Chinese. We were looking at hats (it’s quite chilly at the moment, after all), and we discussed the fact that my mother always told me not to wear white headwear. White is a funeral colour in China, so it’s considered bad luck to wear it on your head. What I didn’t know was that this is a very old-fashioned belief. Thanks, mum.

My American friend mentioned that she wanted a green hat, but noted that we hadn’t seen many around. Our Chinese companion then told us, very emphatically, that if you wear a green hat in China, it means your wife is cheating on you. I couldn’t work out why you would walk around with a green hat on in that case, but, needless to say, we stopped looking for them.

After a little more research into the topic, I found out that the term for ‘cuckold’ (a man whose wife is unfaithful) in Chinese is dài lǜ mào (戴綠帽), which literally translates to ‘wearing a green hat’.

A little more research dates this term back to the Ming dynasty. As the story goes, there was a businessman with a very beautiful wife. The businessman travelled often, and missed his wife. Unbeknownst to him, while he was away, the beautiful wife kept herself entertained with other men. When he came home, he told her how much he missed her. She made him a green hat, and told him to wear it to remind him of her. He went off happily, wearing the hat, while she and all the neighbours knew what was really going on.

Adding to the poor man’s plight is the fact that in the Ming dynasty, green material was a sign of the lower classes. Prostitutes were often artisans as well, and they were known for making green-coloured material.

The term dài lǜ mào endures to this day, and you would understandably be hard pressed to find any man in China wearing a green hat.


As an aside, a while ago Dave mentioned the corna, a hand gesture used in some countries to indicate that a man’s wife is cheating on him. I’m not quite sure what it says about us that we’ve mentioned cuckoldry on two separate occasions so far. Maybe it just means that it happens everywhere….

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