China’s national flower is the ‘mu dan’ (peony). (Hua is the Chinese word for flower, pronounced h’wa)
Mu dan hua is a most beautiful flower. In China, many artists draw the ‘mu dan’ hua. If you have been to China you can see pictures of the famous flower everywhere. Chinese people love the ‘mu dan’ hua. Not just because it is beautiful, but because it has a special place in Chinese culture. It represents nobleness and richness and honour. Why?
In China’s five thousand year history, there was been just one female Emperor. Her name was Wu Zetian. She became a legend.
An extremely beautiful woman, when she was fourteen years old she became Emperor Tang Taizong’s (Tang dynasty) imperial concubine. After Tang Taizong died, she became Tang Taizong’s son’s (Tang Gaozong) wife. She was a highly intelligent woman and helped her husband manage state affairs. After Tang Gaozong died, Wu Zetian through a series of palace intrigues, murders and plots became Empress. She changed the Tang dynasty to the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou dynasty stabilized the economy and made the country strong.
When she became old, she craved even more greatness and success. Her life had become one of extravagance. She ruled with absolute power, no-one dared disobey her. The ‘mu dan’ legend is from this time.
The Story began in the depths of winter during a huge snowstorm. Wu Zetian was in her palace keeping out of the biting cold. She was sitting in front of a warm fire, drinking bai jiu (white wine) and writing poetry. She became drunk and in one of the poems she announced, ‘ tomorrow I am going to visit the garden. You must let all the flowers know, so that they will open for my visit.’
All the flowers feared her, so that even though it was the depth of winter they started to open. Just the ‘mu dan’ hua didn’t open. In the morning when Wu Zetian went to the garden she saw all the flowers. It was like a rainbow scattered across the virgin snow; she was so happy.
As she looked around in delight, she saw that one shrub hadn’t flowered. She asked, “what is this flower’s name?” Someone answered, “this is ‘mu dan’ hua.” She was beside herself with anger, and she ordered the ‘mu dan’ plant be taken to Luo Yang city. ( Luo Yang is a very very cold and distant place in the far north of China. When the mu dan hua was planted in Luo Yang it opened immediately. It was so beautiful in the stark landscape. This made Wu Zetian even more angry. She gave orders to burn all the ‘mu dan’ plants in Luo Yang. They were burned to the ground so that just black ashes and charred stumps covered the earth. However, soon after, the first green shoots appeared out from the soil. When next spring arrived the ‘mu dan’ hua opened and was even more beautiful than before. There is no flower as flamboyant and fragrant as the ‘mu dan’ hua. It is the apex of flowers.
The ‘mu dan’ hua represents high-principle. It does not fear power, and is stands strong. It is resilient in the face of adversity.
So the Chinese people love the ‘mu dan’ hua. Not just its beauty but also its high principle.