Flowers in Chinese Culture

The Symbolism of Flowers and Plants in Chinese Culture

Flowers have a privileged position in the Chinese culture. They have historically served as a significant vehicle of communication. Flowers are an indelible part of the collective consciousness of the Chinese people. One is struck by the abundant presence of flowers when one visits China; and a study of the culture of China reveals the place of flowers in the consciousness of the people. peony

Flowers in China are a language that conveys positive messages and plays a significant role in the day to day life of the common folk.The most significant flower in China is the peony, the country’s national flower. At a higher level, the peony symbolizes prosperity, happiness and peace. At a material level, it represents wealth and rank. Its very fragrance in China is considered heavenly and the flower is believed to be of divine descent.

Even the chill of the harsh winter does not diminish the abundant flowering of the plum blossoms. The plum blossoms in all their charm bring with them the qualities of firmness and solidity. The plum blossom has been loved throughout the history of China. In literature, the flower has been compared to the human personality.

The lotus is also known as lianhua and shuizhi in Chinese. Fuqu, Shuifurong and handan are also names given to this pristine flower in Chinese history. As China opened to Buddhism, the position of the lotus in China was elevated. The sacred Buddhist literature is often referred to as the ‘lotus literature’ in Chinese. The sacred dwellings of Buddhist monks are known as lotus dwellings. The lotus represents that which may not be sullied. The lotus figures in a well – known adage – ‘even when the root is broken, the fibres do not break.’ This has led to belief in the abiding quality of purity and divinity represented by the lotus.

Chrysanthemums are much loved in China. They are respected as they brave the frost to bloom in a range of hues and colours. Chrysanthemums, in the Chinese ethos, indicate mobility.
The narcissus is often known as ‘the fairy over ripples’. The flower is believed to have occult value. It is used for exorcism, to rout out evil spirits. Many narcissus blooms together form a group of ‘immortals’. Glossy ganderma stands for the correct way of living, indicating clean and healthy trends. This flower is believed to have powers to bring a person back to life.

A yellow rose signifies victory; while the love -pea speaks of love sickness. Azalea stands for home-coming at both the material and the deeper level. Bamboo, which is a perennial tree and grows throughout the year, symbolizes uprightness and modesty. Maple would mean enthusiasm; camellia an icon for a combat hero; and the sago cycas for solemnity. The pomegranate promises prosperous descendants, and the rhodea japonica denotes everlasting friendships. The honeysuckle exudes good luck and auspicious omens. An olive held out is a sign of peace and the day lily blossoms for an anxiety free mind. Pine and cypress trees are the representation of staunchness and greatness. The beautiful lily unites those in relationships. The cotton tree also is designated a hero, whilst the gingko tree symbolizes ancient civilization, because this tree is known to be a living fossil which grows for thousands of years.
China Roses
Flowers are painted or used in the ancient paper-cut crafts tradition of China. These pictures are used to usher in the force they represent. The Chinese people also combined some of these flowers to bring in auspicious forces. Flowers could be combined with birds such as the magpie to build up stronger symbols. For example when the peony and the lotus are painted together, they symbolize glory, splendour, wealth and rank. When the peony and Chinese crab-apples are integrated together, they form a design symbolizing honour and distinction. The peony, lotus and chrysanthemums together symbolize wealth and rank in all seasons. Flowers that blossom in all seasons are put together to symbolize a thriving scene of the world, the nation, or society.

The Chinese script has great visual and aural significance. The sounds and the written script often are used to play with. This is known as homonym, where the Chinese characters and phrases are selected and used to signify two similar things. For example, the character representing a crane could also naturally denote longevity, or the character representing a deer would also naturally mean wealth.

Plants and Fruits in the Chinese Culture

Chinese is one of the most complex languages in the world. It is a vivid combination of sounds and visual patterns. Often a single sound has two meanings at two different levels. The way one writes ‘deer’ in Chinese is also the way one writes ‘wealth’. Similarly, ‘Peach’ could also be the same as ‘longevity’. The people of this most ancient civilization created several other languages. They had an incredible sensitivity to nature and often the aim was bringing nature indoors or from the countryside to the city. Thus a city like Suzhou has gardens which were created thousands of years back for the urbanites to appreciate and commune with nature. Chinese culture integrates flowers, plants and various symbols into its way of expressing powerful positive emotions. These practices continue up to this day. Just walk through a street. Large buildings have two lions guarding the entrance. Look at the shops, and you can see a child on each door. The children are the harbingers of new life and all the fine things of life such as abundance, good luck and auspiciousness. Windows in homes have paper cuts of various patterns. Dragons, Phoenix, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, Ornamental patterns – speaking in symbols as an intrinsic part of the flow of emotions, and relating to the environment and the forces all around.

The Persimmon fruit has a Chinese character which also means ‘affair, matter or thin’. When the persimmon appears as a symbol, it denotes an energy which would remove the obstacles and allow things to proceed smoothly. When the occult pattern combines, the cypress, ganderma and the persimmon fruit, it implies that things should be not just unobstructed but also as ‘willed’.

The Rhodea Japonica is a well know plant which flowers throughout the year. The red fruits appear in autumn and are loved by the people of China. When the Rhodea Japonica is given to mark a special occasion, it conveys the wish of permanence, such as in relationships (marriage) or life (birthday). Together with the ganoderma, the Rhodea Japonica forms the message: ‘All is well’ (wanshiriyu). Combined with two lily plants, the message conveyed is ‘Harmony and Union to last ten thousand years (hehewannian)’.

The Reineckea Carnea is a very auspicious plant and when it makes an appearance, it symbolizes good tidings. This trailing plant finds a place in the ornamental tradition of China and implies the best of wishes and feelings.

The Ganoderma is valued in China not only for its medicinal value but also for its occult properties. It is known as the plant that can even nullify death and bring a person back to life. It is considered regenerative and restores health, youth and energy. Ganoderma when offered to someone wishes the person to have what he or she wants most. It grants the gift of realization.

The bamboo is one of the most popular plants in China. There are about 300 species of bamboo covering about three percent of the forest lands of China. The bamboo is a perennial plant and remains green even in winter. The Chinese character denoting bamboo also denotes benedictions. It stands for nobility and uprightness.

The pine tree is evergreen and denotes vitality in China. It is respected for braving the winter storms and snow. Its unyielding character is held in high esteem. Longevity, eternity, resilience – these are some of the qualities symbolised by the pine tree. ‘Live as long as the pine’ is an often repeated wish during birthdays and at the New Year.

Melon trees produce endless vines. They also drop seeds and the harvest is unending. Hence they have come to denote posterity and succession in China. ‘Enduring as the sky and the earth’ is the message that is conveyed by combining the nadina and the pumpkin. When arranged with several fruits, it symbolizes abundant harvest.

A cluster of Grapes is a positive image denoting plenty, harvest, rank and longevity.

Posted in Chinese Culture, Flower Guide & Tips