Cherry picking

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In a recent bid to woo more Japanese tourists to its cherry orchards, a company in Wuhan decided to run an advert in the bustling Shibuya district of Tokyo, proclaiming the splendour of the city’s own sakura. The advert beamed that Wuhan is “the world’s home of the cherry blossom” and invited Tokyo’s residents to “come to Wuhan University to see”.

Unfortunately for Wuhan, this advertisement glosses over one important feature of the university’s cherry blossoms: the trees in question were actually brought over from Japan in 1939, following the imperial army’s occupation of the city.

One professor at Wuhan University has taken issue with the ad campaign, contending that in forgetting the origin of the cherry trees, Wuhan has forgotten the “national humiliation” that the country suffered at the hands of the Japanese armies.

Professor Wu Xiao explained in an online article that the cherry blossoms at Wuhan University were planted to lift the spirits of homesick Japanese soldiers, as well as to make a statement about the intended longevity of the Japanese occupation. “You could say the first saplings of Japanese cherry blossoms planted at Wuhan University are evidence of the criminal Japanese invasion of China, and are an emblem of our national humiliation,” Wu writes, arguing it is thus abhorrent that they now be used for commercial gain.

For others, this is stretching history too far. One reporter with IPTV news, for example, explains that the average lifespan of the tree is only 50 years, so the trees in the Wuhan campus today cannot be the same ones planted by the Japanese in 1939. But despite this, as late as 2007, Wuhan University erected an engraving near the trees that reads, “Wuhan University’s cherry blossoms are not only famous for their beauty, but they are also witness to the invasion of Japanese militarism.”

In fact, it seems that much of the cherry blossom-related news this year has had a negative slant. In separate reports in Chinese media, local tourists visiting the blossoms in Changsha and Nanjing have been blasted for climbing the trees, shaking them and kicking them in order to get the perfect social media photo (they kick them to be showered with petals). But as a Guangxi newspaper noted, perhaps the weirdest story of this cherry blossom season involved a prison in Guilin, which somewhat surprisingly planted its own trees in 2006. According to prison officials, an estimated 10,000 tourists have visited since February to take photos with its cherry blossoms. But when their behaviour also became unruly – snapping off branches, for instance – the prison banned such visitors. Now it has caught tourists scaling its fences to take snaps – a rare instance of people breaking into prison rather than out.

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