A Blog Post About China’s Floral Emblem, the Peony

Peony: The Secrets behind China's Symbolic Flower

February 6, 2017

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Chinese, English

Hello again, Naho here. Summer is finally here, and so is my queue to get on a diet. Every girl dreams about being beautiful, and I guess I'm no exception.

As an old Chinese and Japanese saying goes, "she stands and sits a peony and walks a lily". The flower of peony has long been a symbol of beauty in China. Considered one of the floral emblems of the country, the peony has a special status in the hearts of Chinese people, from emperors to artists. Today, I would like to explore the secrets behind the long-lasting popularity of the Chinese peony.

The "King of Flowers": Adored by Generations of Emperors

The peony is a beautiful flower with eye-catching petals that look like the frills of a skirt. With such dazzling appearance, it is difficult to imagine that the flower is also well-known as a medicinal herb. In traditional Chinese medicine, dried root bark of peonies is famous for being effective at reducing inflammation and pain.

In China, peony has been cultivated as a medicinal herb since the year 200, and for over a thousand years it has been adored by generations of emperors and people of China. Especially, the flower is widely known for being the favorite flower of Emperor Xuanzong and Empress Yang of the Tang Dynasty.

In all its glorious history, the peony was honored by the Chinese as "Huawang" (King of Flowers). It comes with such cultural significance that no other flower could possibly rival it, and it seemed only natural that the peony became one of China's symbolic flowers.

The Peony's Many Representations in Art

The captivating beauty of peonies gripped the hearts of numerous Chinese artists. In one of his poems, Li Bai compared Empress Yang's beautiful visage to an exquisite flower of peony, and the flower often appeared as one of the key subjects in Chinese literature.

A famous Japanese ghost story called Botan Dōrō ("牡丹燈籠": The Peony Lantern), is also believed to be an adaption of the Chinese Mudan Dengji ("牡丹灯记": Tales of the Peony Lantern), a short novel written during the Ming Dynasty.

The figure of a peony is not only appreciated in literature, but also widely used in the visual arts. For example, Senshi (paper-cutting) is a unique type of traditional Chinese folk art where red papers are carved into different patterns, and the peony is one of the most popular designs as it is believed to represent wealth and longevity in China. Today, peonies can still be seen on postal stamps, and the beautiful motif is said to have gained the flower great attention from stamp collectors.

The Peony's Bashful Red?

The Japanese word for "peony" is "botan" (ボタン). The flower is famous in Japan for its use in fragrances and herbal medicine. Often found in perfumes and cosmetic products, the gentle, sweet aroma of peonies is often treasured in the beauty industry.

The brilliant red color of a peony makes it look like the face a bashful person, maybe that's where the expression of "to blush like a peony" comes from. I personally find this expression truly adorable, just the like the flower itself!

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