Peonies & Co.: The Enchanting Power of the Chinese Flower

Written by Maria Giglio

Attention boyfriends of the world, I’m about to tell you the secret to a woman’s heart: if you love her, bring her flowers. That’s right, that’s it. Every woman in the world has a thing with flowers… unless she’s allergic, of course. In any case, no doubt she will fall in your arms. But why? Well, for starters it’s the simplest gesture to show appreciation to your other half. Plus, because there is a mystic, millennial symbolic connection between flowers and women.

Many cultures worship flowers as a universal image of feminine grace, beauty and prosperity. For example, in Christian tradition the Virgin Mary is often associated with the lily, symbol of purity or referred to as “Mystical Rose” without thorn to represent her sinless nature. In Buddhist culture, the lotus is worshipped as a symbol of perfection and fertility; resembling the woman’s uterus with its rounded shape, this flower is known for its incredible beauty and the capacity to stay clean despite flourishing in swamps and wet habitats. The energising power of flowers and spring are immortalised in Botticelli’s eternal masterpiece La Primavera.

In Botticelli’s La Primavera, Flora (3rd figure on the right) personifies the rebirth of Spring wearing a floral dress

Naturally, this charming love story between flowers and women reaches one of its highest peeks in Chinese culture, where it has been widely celebrated over millennia by a prosperous artistic tradition.

Chinese blossoms

Since ancient times, the Chinese have cultivated a true passion for flowers, by decorating their public and private spaces with beautiful gardens. Interestingly, the Chinese word for flower is “花” (huā) and visually represents the magic of a flower in bloom. In fact, the character is a compound, growing from the radical for grass “艹” under which the magic joyful metamorphosis of a plant when producing flowers is represented by a cheerful character.

On the twelfth day of the second month of each lunar year, as soon as nature awakens, a Spring Festival is held in honour of百花深 (Bǎihuā shēn), the White Goddess of Flowers, to celebrate fertility. As in other cultures, Chinese people too associate flowers with women and beauty very frequently, although the symbology related to flowers is much richer and varied, as evidenced by traditional and tribal art and poetry production.

Pink peonies

King of Flowers

Among the many flowers linked to Chinese culture, peony is certainly the most treasured by Chinese people. The equivalent of the Westerners’ beloved rose, the peony is also known as the king of flowers (花王, Huāwáng), existing in two main varieties, the tree and herbaceous peony. The original Chinese word for the herbaceous peony was 芍药 (sháo yào) to refer to the medical properties of the flower. Shao (芍) means in fact a spoonful (勺) of plant (艹), whereas yao (药) means medicine. After a while, both the tree and herbaceous varieties were known as 牡丹 (mudan). This word consists of two characters. The character 牡 (mu) is composed of the radicals for ox (牛) and and earth (土). The character 丹 (dan) means either pill, probably referring to the healing properties ascribed to the peony in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or the typical colour red, as a typical variety of the flower.

An ancient passion

Up until the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912 A.D.), the peony was renowned as the official national flower of China, as per appointment by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1903. As a matter of fact, Chinese passion for this flower sprang around 1,400 years ago. During the Tang Dynasty (around 600 A.D.) peonies started to be employed to decorate the imperial gardens and soon began to spread everywhere else in China. An imperial emblem of opulence and beauty, peonies were featured in paintings and textiles, as well as used in poetical allegories to celebrate the prosperity of the nation. Among the most valuable, the red ones represent wealth, while white peonies symbolize the beauty and cheerfulness of Chinese young girl.

Cultivating national pride

After the Cultural Revolution, the Peony is not recognised the official status of national flower anymore, though its fame and glorious reputation is unvaried in the heart of the Chinese people as it embodies the national hope for an ever-growing prosperity. Over the last twenty years people already expressed their willing twice by casting a ballot (one in 1994 and one 2003) for a renovated official acknowledgment by the Government of the peony as a national emblem. The proposal is still pending.

Although Chinese peonies can be found almost everywhere in the country, Luoyang (Henan Province, Eastern China) is certainly the best place to admire their beautiful blossoms. Renowned as the city of peonies, Luoyang offers a spectacular Peony garden showcasing over 500 varieties in full bloom. The garden is famous for hosting a peony high over 3 metres and as old as 1,600 years.

A view of Luoyang Peony Garden

Flowers in Chinese traditional fashion: take your pick!

The passion for flowers is vividly featured in the traditional apparel of Chinese people.

Back in the 60s Scott McKenzie used to sing “if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair”. If you insteadwant to wear flowers everywhere, check out our exclusive florid collection of handmade Qipaos!

Amongst the 56 minorities in China, Miao people hold pomegranate blossoms 石榴花 (Shíliú huā) particularly at heart. A national cultural heritage as enlisted by UNESCO, Miao embroidery features pomegranate flowers to symbolise the wish for prosperity. If you want a taste of this true textile rarity, check out these handmade bags that our Miao artisan partners have created exclusively for our costumers!

If you smell a nice deal… Discover these and more products on InteractChina.com!


About Interact China 

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”  

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste. 

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts. 

Shape

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!  
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you! 

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The Amazing Journey Of Kites

Written by Maria Giglio

When you fly a kite you stare at it floating in the air and ask yourself where it will go. But have you ever wondered where does a kite come from? Surprise, surprise… China, naturally! The Chinese kite is called Fēngzhēng (風箏), which literally means ‘air (fēng) zither (zhēng)’. I’ll get to that later but first, a little bit of history that you’ll love. Ready? Then fasten your seatbelt and let’s fly away!

The rise (and fall) of a wooden bird

Would you believe me if I told you that the first kite prototype was invented by a philosopher? You better do! According to some ancient texts, more than 2000 years ago, Mozi (470-391 B.C.), the founder of Mohist philosophy designed a bird-shaped tool made of wood, the mu yuan (‘wooden bird’). According to the story, it took Mozi three years to complete the mu yuan and… only one day to wreck it after a short flight! No wonder that as soon as paper was invented, kites started to be made with it and to be named zhi yuan (‘paper bird’).

War Games

Fun fact: originally the kite hasn’t always been a toy, but employed as a war tool. Actually, the military use of kites was still widespread even in modern times.

The earliest written evidence of flying war kites in fact dates to general Han Xin, who served under the reign of Han Emperor Gao Zu (202-195 BC). According to the record, general Han Xin used a kite to estimate the distance from an enemy town, so to build a tunnel of the same length to breach the city.

Another case of military use of flying kites is that of Emperor Wu of Liang (464-549 BC). In 549, dissident general Hou Jing surrounded the city of Tai, where the Emperor and his family resided. Since there was no possibility to launch the alarm outside the wall without risking being breached, the Emperor sent out a kite as a carrier pigeon to request extra troops. Unfortunately, while flying the kite was spotted by the enemies who shot it down believing it was a demon. After that episode, the city was taken.

Finally, kites had also been used as bombs for a while. During Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) they were in fact filled with gunpowder and firecrackers – which, by the way, were both also invented by Ancient Chinese – to fly over the enemy campsites and explode. The kites, which were usually crow-shaped, were also known as God Fire Crows and said to be able to carry up to 500 grams of incendiary powder.

The Kite’s redemption song

Let me guess. You are confused. How on earth – or in sky? – such an infernal object became an innocent toy for children, praised and raised all around the world? How did it turn from a symbol of war to one of peace and freedom?

Well, the kites as we know them started to arise during Tang dynasty (around 600 A.D.). Since then, they have been diffused among people of all age and social class in China.

Originally, a kite was equipped with a small bamboo bow and a silk string, so to make it sound like an harp while flying in the air, due to the vibration of the string. This finally explains why the Chinese word for kite is Fēngzhēng (風箏), air zither. The zither is in fact a particular kind of string instrument – from Ancient Greek kithara (κιθάρα) to which also guitar owes its name.

A kite of magic

Over time, the kite has gained a mystical reputation in China. In the past, people lifted musical kites to avert evil spirits with their vibrato. Letting a kite go was instead a sign of bad luck, as it meant to send away protection.

Kites were also considered to have divinatory powers. In his memoirs, Marco Polo reported that before sailing, the crew built a huge kite and tied it to a man – usually a drunk person or a fool – in high wind: only if the kite rose vertically they would sail.

By the 7th century, kites had conquered the Japanese sky, where they were brought by Buddhist monks and kept their mystical fame. In Japanese culture the use of kites was in fact associated with good luck and especially with rich crops.  

From East to West: from kite to airplanes

Already in 1500, flying kites had become very popular around all Asia. From China, to Japan and India, , they have become the favourite pastime for all generations and social classes. The time had come to let kites known by the rest of the world.


The diffusion of kites in Europe is due to explorers such as Marco Polo. However, it wasn’t love at first kite. At first, European only regarded them as exotic souvenirs and started to take them seriously only in 18th century. Brightest inventors of the Western world started to use their knowledge of the kite for scientific purposes.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin, with the assistance of his son, flew a kite towards a thunder cloud to collect electricity through its conductive wire, thus discovering that lightning and electricity were produced by the same phenomenon. The Wrights brothers used kites for their flight experiments. Slowly all this took to the invention of the airplane at the beginning of the 20th Century.


Today, we ask ourselves if a man can fly: we have built kites, and airplanes, but the answer is still no. But maybe, if it wasn’t for Mozi and his wooden bird, we wouldn’t dare even asking.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Peasant Painting

Just as the name implies, Chinese peasant paintings are decorative paintings and printed pictures created by peasants in China. These simple aesthetic works are much loved by rural and urban people, as well as attracting attention from abroad. Dongba people

 

Origin

Chinese Peasant Painting is both ancient and young. It is ancient because it originates from the thousand year traditions of embroidering, batik, paper cutting and wall painting. It is young because as a genre of painting it has emerged within the last thirty years. It appeared in the late 1950s partly as a result of political encouragement, took shape in the 1970s, but to the 1980s, it had demonstrated its vitality with unique charm.

 

What to Appreciate in Peasant Paintings

 

Dongba people

Chinese peasants paint their works by using bright colors in a simple and authentic style to express their good wishes, record their everyday lifestyle, and illustrate festivities. Some paintings are bold and unconstrained, some are strong and impassioned, while yet others are ornate and elegant. All of them have a naive charm, clear and full of the feeling of folk life. By appreciating these art works, you get a full picture of how these Chinese peasants live, how they think, and what they love.

Dongba people

Looking at those works at the first sight, impressionism may be the first thing to come to your mind. The similarities between the two are obvious: both have intense colors, simple and clear lines, and detail the feelings and understandings of the world except for the fact that these are not done by a Chinese Monet, but, surprisingly, Chinese peasants.

Dongba people

Dongba people

More than three quarters of the population in China are peasants, creators of this unique genre of fine arts in China. Without professional training in art academies, the peasants make these paintings to express their own joys, upsets, and ponderings. As a matter of fact, a lot of the painters are illiterate. When they cannot express themselves with written, they take painting brushes instead.

If you are becoming weary of watching the classic canvas and abstract modern paintings, these works provide you an alternative that strikes you with its extreme liveliness, vivaciously rural style, and bold imaginations.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.