Magazine article World Literature Today

Flowers in Chinese Culture: Folklore, Poetry, Religion

Magazine article World Literature Today

Flowers in Chinese Culture: Folklore, Poetry, Religion

Article excerpt

An Lan Zhang. Flowers in Chinese Culture: Folklore, Poetry, Religion. St. Petersburg, Florida. Three Pines Press. 2015. 155 pages.

In the preface to this beautifully illustrated study of the significance of flowers in Chinese culture, An Lan Zhang first pays tribute to her parents for inculcating in her a love for the flora that surrounded her childhood: her father was an expert in the cultivation of rare orchids, and both her parents shared a love of poetry, thus creating a rich intellectual environment for the children. Her father was a legal scholar, her mother a celebrated teacher who lived through the Japanese occupation, the civil war, and the Taiwan insurrection in 1947.

The book is structured alphabetically by the names of flowers and the distinctive trait attributed to each: chrysanthemum, strength and endurance; hibiscus, devotion and reunion; pomegranate, many sons.

For good measure, she includes flower-bearing plants like bamboo, gingko, gourd, pine, and tea, and these chapters come attached with health tips as well as mythological tales. "The Gingko has survived from the time of the dinosaurs" and today "is being studied for possible use in treating Alzheimer's disease." On tea, Zhang quotes the Qing poet Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765): "There is no wind or rain; the weather is pleasant. / The verdant green bamboo is tall and straight. / I particularly love having a guest on a cool evening / To enjoy a pot full of new Songluo tea."

Despite the solid base of research that will appeal to those familiar with Chinese culture, Zhang writes with a light touch, which makes it almost magical for the lay reader. …

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