In late autumn, when hoar frost has already formed and the temperatures in the early morning dip below freezing, the chrysanthemum flourishes. It is regarded by Chinese people as strong, graceful , and with no egotistical desire for fame or gain.
Peony is another flower prized in Chinese culture. It is enjoyed for its stately color and heavenly fragrance. Due to its grace and poise, it is fitting symbol of splendor, wealth, and happiness. Among others, it was proposed as the national flower of China.
The most highly regarded classical piece of writing about peony is Notes on Peony in Luoyang City. This was written by Ouyang Xiu, a Song Dynasty man of letters. He elaborated on the peony’s history, methods of planting , varieties, and related customs. Literary figures of the Song and Ming dynasties also composed similar works.
There is a legend that describes how peony came to be associated with the city of Luoyang. The Empress Wu Zetian planned to visit her Upper Garden in early spring. At the time, the plants were budding but not yet in bloom. The fussy monarch issued an imperial decree in the form of a poem:
I will visit the Upper Garden tomorrow,
Spring shall be let known in time.
All flowers shall overnight bloom and grow
And wait not for vernal wind.
The Empress had her wish- almost. Althoug the other flowers did as commanded, peony declined, due to its pride. Wu Zetian was furious and ordered peony be demoted to Luoyang. Peony has been endowed with the quality of indifference to the powerful and the influential, and the strength to stay true to its own principles.
Narcissus, the water fairy, is considered special because it grows in clean water and exudes an elegant and pure fragrance. Due to these attributes it is regarded as possessing pure and refined qualities. Similar to the other flowers mentioned in this chapter, it has been subject matter for many poems.
There are still many other flowers that have symbolic value in Chinese culture. Peach blossoms are thought to represent pretty ladies. Due to the fact it grows in mud but manages to achieve to be visually pleasing, lotus stands for grace and purity. The broad-leaved epiphyllum represents a brief duration, according to the expression “lasting as briefly as the broad-leaved epiohyllum”. The seed of the red bean shrub is a token of love. Interestingly, with regards to love, sometimes Chinese refer to one’s wife as a flower at home. On the other hand, wild flower describes a woman one has an affair with. A popular Chinese song includes the line “Don’t pick a wild flower by the roadside”, meaning it is better to stay faithful to one’s love.
Grasses also have their place in the Chinese cultural realm. They are admired because they do not seek fame or attention, but are content with their lot in life. The resilience of grasses is also admired by the Chinese people. The lyrics of one song note:
I am a nameless piece of grass,
I never feel lonely,
I am never disturbed,
I have friends
At the most remote corners of the earth.
The Tang Dynasty’s Bai Juyi penned the most famous lines regarding grass:
Balefire never extinguishes grasses,
They continue to grow in the vernal wind.