Just like most major cultural groups in the world, the Chinese have strong associations with flowers. Flowers are an important gift-giving tradition and there are many special rules about which flowers to give and when to give them. Flowers and plant life feature prominently in traditional Chinese art, and some flowers also have negative connotations in China.
By far, the most important flower in China is the tree peony, a lush round flower that appears in an array of bright colors. The tree peony is considered China’s national flower and has even been used as a metaphor for the Chinese people. According to legend, the Tang Emperor Wu Zetian once ordered all of the flowers in his palace to bloom during winter, but the strong-headed tree peony would not. For that, it was banished to Henan Province and has since been regarded as the “best flower under heaven”.
Because of flowers’ obvious annual connections with time, the “Flowers of the Four Seasons” are an important motif in Chinese art. These four include the Spring Peony, the Summer Lotus, the Autumn Chrysanthemum, and the Winter Plum Blossom, each of which blooms during its coupled season.
Other non-floral plants, like bamboo and pine, are also important symbols within Chinese culture. Bamboo, one of the most durable wood plants on earth, often represents hardiness and veracity, and since it sways in the wind but always returns to a standing position, bamboo is also a symbol of uprightness. The evergreen nature of pine, meanwhile, represents longevity and steadfastness.
Though the auspicious associations that Chinese have with flowers are many, having a basic understanding of which flowers mean what can foster one’s deeper insight into Chinese artwork. Additionally, because plants and flowers play an important role in creating balanced surroundings, understanding flowers’ meanings is important for feng shui.