Botanic ballot

Official vote held for public to decide China’s national flower


Plum blossoms lost to peonies

Most countries have an official national flower. Scotland has the thistle, India the lotus and Malaysia the hibiscus, to name but a few.

But China – one of the most botanically rich countries on the planet – does not have a national flower of its own.

The reasons are somewhat political as there are two obvious choices – the plum blossom or the peony.

The problem is that peonies were much beloved of Chinese emperors and in the dying days of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) the Empress Dowager Cixi had them declared the national flower.

Then, in 1929, the nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek named the plum blossom as China’s official floral emblem – arguing for its resilience and delicate beauty, even in the frosty early spring.

So when the Communists came to power in 1949 they had a problem: the country’s two most popular flowers were tainted by association with past regimes. Complicating matters further was the fact that the plum blossom effectively became the official flower of Taiwan after the nationalists fled there.

Over the years there have been various attempts to remedy the situation. Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics government horticulturalists made a big push to get as many as five flowers named as official national emblems so they could showcase them as part of the event.

But milestones came and went, and no decision was made due to the sensitive nature of the issue. Now, however, there is another push afoot, this time linked to the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in October this year.

In July the government’s National Flower Association launched a survey asking people if they would support the selection of the peony as the country’s national flower.

If people said no, they were offered a list of nine other blooms to choose from, including the plum blossom and the chrysanthemum (the latter having the additional complication of being the symbol of the Japanese royal family).

In the end 362,000 people voted and most followed the National Flower Association’s advice and chose the peony.

“The peony originated in China and has been cultivated here for more than 4,000 years. It has bright colours, a graceful appearance and rich and auspicious implications. It can best reflect the style of our big country,” the floral body said. State media hailed the poll’s decision. “China, at long last, has its own floral symbol,” wrote the Beijing News. In reality the government will still have to approve the selection.

The National Flower Association hinted that a decision will come before National Day on October 1. “This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China… the time is ripe to pick a national flower,” it said, rather pluckily, on its website.

Yet some people were confused by the poll. “I thought the peony was already our national flower,” wrote one netizen.“The peony appears rich and luxurious, but it’s superficial. The Chinese nation should be symbolised by the plum blossom, which is persistent and dauntless and thus expresses our inner spirit,” argued another.

Others pointed out that Mao wrote poems praising the plum blossom and not the peony.

And with other more pressing concerns on its plate – such as the US trade war and protests over an extradition bill in Hong Kong – don’t be too surprised if the government opts to kick this can down the road once again…

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