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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Twelve Beauties (2)

A Beauty at Leisure: Distant Thoughts among Antiquities
 Chinese Painting

Sitting on the mottled bamboo chair, this lady glances down, absorbed by her private thoughts. She is surrounded by an array of treasures displayed on shelves including fine ceramics. For example, behind her is a Ru ware style brush washer, and a jade table screen; to her left (our right) is a red-glazed monks-cap ewer, and a bronze zun wine beaker. All identifiable as objects from the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods, these objects present the quintessential opulent style of the imperial household. These treasures not only add credibility to the authenticity of the scene, they also are used to convey the woman’s interest in antiquities.

A Beauty at Leisure: Watching Magpies from a Couch
 Chinese Painting

Seated indoors on a couch and playing with a jade interlink, this lady is lost in thought while watching the pair of magpies that are calling outside. The artist means to show the woman’s happiness at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, but he also, perhaps inadvertently, conveys a sense of stifling solitude and utter loneliness that was the lot of many women in the palace. The screen behind her is inscribed with hundreds of different forms of the character for longevity. Although the message is to extend life hundreds of years, one feels she would willing trade the life of an immortal for the devoted pairing of Mandarin ducks.

A Beauty at Leisure: Sitting Beside a Chrysanthemum
 Chinese Painting

Sitting next to a table in a study, this woman holds a fine enamel watch. On the table stands a vase with chrysanthemums, which indicates that the time is the eighth lunar month (early autumn). Elegant and lofty, the chrysanthemum is much appreciated in the autumn for its ability to resist the cold. Endowed with a hearty nature, it was associated with firm resolution and longevity, and was also appreciated for its simple beauty and refinement. It became the favored ornament to adorn both hair and rooms in the house. Behind her is hanging a scroll with a poem by the great Ming dynasty calligrapher Dong Qichang (1555-1636). The European astrolabe on the small table in the next room and the enamel watch that the woman holds in her hand are indications that Western objects were already becoming fashionable in the palace.

A Beauty at Leisure: Watching Cats while Handling Beads
 Chinese Painting

Sitting upright, slightly leaning on the table, and leisurely handling the prayer beads, this lady is watching two cats play on a windowsill. The painter has us view the interior of the room from outside the round window, so the focal interest in this painting is relatively small, but because the painter used western one-point perspective, the foreground, middle ground, and background are laid out systematically, which has the result of significantly expanding the sense of space and also extending the charm of the scene. The chime clock next to the lattice window is marking the passage of time as the cats play on the threshold of inner and outer space. In an ambiance of suspended activity, the days thus pass quietly.

A Beauty at Leisure: Wearing a fur-lined coat, Looking in a Mirror
 Chinese Painting

Wearing a fur-lined surcoat, and with jade adorning her wrist, the lady in this painting holds a bronze mirror in one hand, while warming the other by gently resting it on a brazier. In the background, there is a hanging scroll inscribed by Hermit Pochen. Pochen (literally “defeating the dust of the world”) was the sobriquet that the Yongzheng emperor had adopted when he was still a prince. It implies that he aimed to be pure of heart and had few desires.

A Beauty at Leisure: Watching Snow Beside a Brazier
 Chinese Painting

Gently holding back a curtain, a lady sits on a bed beside the window and admires the snowy scene and blossoming plum tree. Covered with frost and snow, the jade-green bamboo looks strong and fresh despite the cold. Celebrated in poetry for its life force (it blossoms in late winter before the snow has melted), the white winter sweet is favored not only for its beauty but also because the five petals of its blossom are associated with five blessings including happiness, good fortune, health, auspiciousness, and longevity.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


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

We 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 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, 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!

Twelve Beauties(1)

When Yongzheng was still a prince, he commissioned this beautiful set of paintings for the purpose of decorating a screen in the Deep Willows Reading Hall, a study within his private quarters at the Summer Palace. An imperial garden to the northwest of Beijing, the Summer Palace was presented to the young prince in 1709 by his father the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722).

Painted in realistic style with neat outlines and generous color, the set follows the custom of depicting ladies of the court as women of elegance and natural grace. The artist portrayed these imagined beauties at leisure activities such as sampling tea, watching butterflies, and reading, as well as showing them in quiet reflection. He also showcased the most popular costumes and hairstyles of the Qing court women. For research on costume and accessories of Qing dynasty court women, these paintings are visual and historical documents of unparalleled authenticity. They reveal perceptions about the women of the court during the reigns of Kangxi and Yongzheng, whilst also documenting their refined demeanor and fine costumes.

A Beauty at Leisure: Lady Standing and Holding a Ruyi Scepter
 Chinese Painting

The lady in this picture is depicted admiring the flowers in the courtyard while holding a Ruyi scepter. The auspicious Ruyi (“as you wish”) scepter was a popular gift in the Qing dynasty. In the garden, the purple, pink, white, and red peonies are most prominent. For its opulence, grace, and fragrance, the peony is called the Prince of Flowers and is a symbol of an auspicious, thriving and prosperous future, while the Ruyi scepter carved from bamboo in the form of Lingzhi mushroom signifies wish fulfillment. Together they combine to express “Wished for Prosperity and Position.”

A Beauty at Leisure: Murmuring to herself while reading
 Chinese Painting

Holding a book with a page half revealed, the woman in this painting seems to be reciting to herself. On the wall behind her is a small colored landscape painting. The decorative leaf below the painting is inscribed in cursive script with a poem by the distinguished Northern Song calligrapher, poet, and connoisseur Mi Fu (1051-1107).

A Beauty at Leisure: Leaning on a Gate Gazing at Bamboo
 Chinese Painting

This courtyard is full of flowers, grasses, bamboo, decorative rocks, and an array of miniature landscapes in containers (pen jing) that include orchids and Chinese rose. The lady leaning on the gate wistfully gazes, perhaps with romantic yearnings, at the spring colors filling the garden.

A Beauty at Leisure: Watching Butterflies in Summer
 Chinese Painting

The lady stands leaning on a table. Beyond the railing, bright butterflies hover by decorative garden rocks and day lilies. Although the painting describes a woman doing little more than indulging in summer leisure, because of the allegorical nature of the day lily and its implication of giving birth to a son, this scene can be understood as having the auspicious message that the woman depicted is pregnant with a boy. She holds a small calabash. Since the calabash gourd belongs to a group of plants that communicates flourishing growth, it is often used to suggest the idea of many sons. With the day lilies in bloom beside the railing and the calabash in her hand, the painting is not only visually attractive, but also manages to have deeper meanings.

A Beauty at Leisure: Doing Needlework by Candlelight
 Chinese Painting

By candlelight, this lady is occupied with her needlework. Typically needlework encompassed weaving, embroidering, and sewing. In the past, needlework was one of the most important standards to judge the character of a woman. Any woman who was good at needlework would be highly regarded. The lady in this picture picks the needle elegantly and seems lost in thought as she works. The red bat flying through the bamboo in the background is a symbol of good luck.

A Beauty at Leisure: Drinking Tea Under a Parasol Tree
 Chinese Painting

With a large gauze fan in her hand, this lady is sampling tea beneath the branches of a parasol tree (wu tong shu). Originally drinking tea was a simple daily ritual. It became associated with the intellectual world when gentlemen combined sipping tea with the discussion of world affairs and ideas, thereby elevating its status. Inside the moon gate, the black-lacquer bookshelf with gold décor is filled with books. The fascicles not only add an atmosphere of Confucian learning, they also combine with the elegant porcelain cup in the woman’s hand to indicate that she is culturally accomplished.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


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

We 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 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, 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!