Trees in Bei­jing

Beijing (English) - - FEATURE -

An­cient and rare trees that are scat­tered through­out the cap­i­tal make for a lush, po­etic, pleas­ant land­scape for the city.

Of­fi­cial Tree of Bei­jing

From May to July each year, blos­som­ing Chi­nese scholar trees present a colour­ful scroll against the an­tique build­ings along East Chang’an Av­enue and West Chang’an Av­enue. Such trees can also be found among old, lowslung hu­tong (lanes and al­leys). Such lo­cal­i­ties of­ten of­fer peace and seren­ity both at day and at night. In Bei­jing, many broad roads are flanked with long stretches of neatly planted Chi­nese scholar trees, such as Nanchizi Street, Be­ichizi Street, Nan­chang Street and Be­ichang Street. At the gates of some tem­ples, Chi­nese scholar trees cover the build­ings with green shade, adding solemn, el­e­gant flavour to the scenes.

A good match with the city, the Chi­nese scholar tree is the of­fi­cial tree of Bei­jing.

Dur­ing the 1970s–1980s, af­foresta­tion pro­grammes thrived in the city. In Septem­ber 1985, Bei­jing Daily and other me­dia out­lets launched a pro­gramme to choose the of­fi­cial tree and flower of Bei­jing in or­der to pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. They re­ceived more than 3,000 let­ters from the pub­lic.

In the spring of 1986, the Chi­nese So­ci­ety of Forestry, China Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and other agen­cies en­gaged young peo­ple to choose the of­fi­cial tree and flower of the city,

gath­er­ing 5,000-plus ar­ti­cles for rec­om­men­da­tion. The or­gan­is­ers heard many voices.

They listed the mer­its of the Chi­nese scholar tree. They nor­mally grow in plains and high­land ar­eas with up to 1,000 m of el­e­va­tion. In Bei­jing, they are com­mon along streets and al­leys and rep­re­sent the char­ac­ter of com­mon peo­ple. Chi­nese scholar trees have plume­like fronds, branches that can twine and climb, and roots that can pierce into stone. They also have el­e­gant ges­tures and man­ners. They put forth strings of yel­low flow­ers even on un­ex­pect­edly cool spring days. They pro­vide shade for pas­sen­gers in the scorch­ing sum­mer. They are ex­actly what peo­ple ex­pect from an of­fi­cial tree rep­re­sent­ing the city.

In July 1986, the Peo­ple’s Gov­ern­ment of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity es­tab­lished a group to choose the of­fi­cial tree and flower of the city and de­fined the ma­jor prin­ci­ples of se­lec­tion. The of­fi­cial tree of the city should adapt to the cli­mate and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of Bei­jing and should be re­sis­tant to cold and drought-re­sis­tant. It should have lux­u­ri­ant fo­liage and a good shape and be pop­u­lar with the peo­ple. The of­fi­cial tree should also echo the cul­tural rich­ness of the cap­i­tal and the men­tal­ity of Bei­jingers.

Chi­nese Scholar Tree Meets Re­quire­ments

Two months later, Bei­jing Zhong­shan Park held a spe­cial event to se­lect the of­fi­cial tree and flower. After ex­am­in­ing flow­ers, trees and pic­tures in the park, tens of thou­sands of cit­i­zens cast their votes. The Chi­nese scholar tree was the most pop­u­lar and gained the ti­tle.

In 1987, the 6th ses­sion of the 8th Peo­ple’s Congress of Bei­jing ap­proved the Chi­nese scholar tree as the of­fi­cial tree of the city. More Chi­nese scholar trees have been planted along the roads since then as well.

Sur­viv­ing His­tory

In Bei­jing, cul­tural relics ex­ist un­der a spe­cial hu­man-na­ture re­la­tion­ship. Her­itage should be viewed from the per­spec­tives of trees, stone and wa­ter.

The Palace Museum houses mag­nif­i­cent ori­en­tal build­ings, nu­mer­ous cul­tural relics and tow­er­ing an­cient trees among the palaces and halls.

A huge amount of wood was used to build brick-wood struc­tures at the palace, which cover a build­ing area of 720,000 sq.m. For the pur­pose of safety and to high­light the majesty of the Palace Museum, few trees were planted within the museum, ex­cept in some gar­dens.

In the im­pe­rial gar­den, rare flow­ers and plants can be found among palaces, bow­ers, halls and pavil­ions, in­clud­ing more than 100 an­cient cy­presses. Most of them are 100–300 years old, vig­or­ous, tow­er­ing and lush.

There is a Chi­nese ju­niper with a bulged base within the Palace Museum that looks like a pot-bel­lied arhat. The tree is said to be the same age as the Palace Museum, which would be more than 600 years old. It still stands proudly with dry branches reach­ing to the ridge of the Pav­il­ion of Pro­long­ing Splen­dor.

The bulged burls, which make the tree look se­nile, are ac­tu­ally fron­tiers guard­ing the tree from pathogens and have made it re­silient enough to sur­vive the vi­cis­si­tudes of his­tory.

There are six Chi­nese ju­nipers in the im­pe­rial gar­den, in­clud­ing four sur­round­ing Wan­shou Pav­il­ion, one be­hind the Gate of Heaven’s Pri­macy un­der the Hall of Im­pe­rial Peace and an­other on the paved path be­tween the Gate of Heaven’s Pri­macy and the Gate of Earthly Tran­quil­ity. The one un­der the Hall of Im­pe­rial Peace has the best shape, with her­ring­bone roots on two sides in­ter­twin­ing in the air two m above the ground. In­ter­locked branches sym­bol­ise love in Chi­nese le­gends. Em­peror Xuan­tong (reign: 1909–1912) and his em­press had pic­tures taken here for their wed­ding. Some peo­ple be­lieve that in­ter­locked branches

also stand for good gov­er­nance and so­cial har­mony. In re­gions where such branches ap­pear, lo­cal of­fi­cials might be re­warded by em­per­ors. Rare an­cient trees, though not ubiq­ui­tous in the Palace Museum, have wit­nessed a lot of his­tory.

The Tem­ple of Heaven is a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and is home to more than 3,600 an­cient cy­presses, most of which were planted dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644). They come in var­i­ous shapes and have some le­gends as­so­ci­ated with them.

Trees serve as the “lungs” and “kid­neys” of Cen­tral Bei­jing. They re­duce air pollution and in­ject oxy­gen into the at­mos­phere. Each morn­ing, hordes of cit­i­zens go to lo­cal parks for morn­ing ex­er­cise.

Through­out Bei­jing, many an­cient and fa­mous trees have their own sto­ries.

Most of them have thick, twined trunks and branches and stand with an im­pos­ing ap­pear­ance. They sym­bol­ise an­cient Bei­jing and add an­tique flavour and more colour to the cityscape.

Flow­ers in Bei­jing

Zhu Ziqing (1898–1948, a mod­ern Chi­nese lit­ter­a­teur) wrote a poem de­scrib­ing the mag­no­lias at the Da­jue Tem­ple.

Ev­ery April, the Da­jue Tem­ple be­comes a sea of mag­no­lia flow­ers. Nearly 300 years old, these an­cient trees grow in the Siyi Hall com­pound area. Their fame was el­e­vated by po­ems and in­scrip­tions on walls ded­i­cated to them. Fu Ru (1896– 1963, a cal­lig­ra­pher and painter) com­posed a poem to de­scribe the flow­er­ing scenes at the Da­jue Tem­ple and his thoughts as he vis­ited ste­les from the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 916–1125) and ap­pre­ci­ated an­cient mag­no­lias.

Var­i­ous relics add cul­tural value to these an­cient trees and the whole tem­ple. It is a great plea­sure to ap­pre­ci­ate the flow­ers and works of cal­lig­ra­phy on a spring day.

Mag­no­lias are spring mes­sen­gers, and red leaves are spir­its of au­tumn. The red leaves in the Fra­grant Hills epit­o­mise Bei­jing’s au­tum­nal at­mos­phere.

The ap­pre­ci­a­tion of red leaves can be traced back to the Jin Dy­nasty (1115–1234). The best red leaves ap­peared dur­ing the pe­riod of Em­peror Qian­long, when smoke trees were planted on a large scale. Dur­ing the 10th year of Qian­long’s reign (1745), a large num­ber of cy­presses, pagoda trees, elms, ju­nipers, maples and gingkoes were planted here. Since then, a gor­geous scroll un­folds in the Fra­grant Hills ev­ery au­tumn.

To­day, there are nearly 100 trees

that are 200–300 years old in the part of the Fra­grant Hills that fea­tures trees with red leaves, sim­i­lar to the scenes that had mes­merised the em­peror. The Red Leaf Fes­ti­val has been held at Fra­grant Hills Park from late Oc­to­ber to early Novem­ber ev­ery year since 1989. The Dou­ble Ninth Fes­ti­val and Chrysan­the­mum Fes­ti­val are also held here at this time. Peo­ple view the leaves and flow­ers and taste fruit at the Red Leaf Fes­ti­val, which is ap­peal­ing to the pub­lic.

In re­cent years, the Peach Flower Fes­ti­val and Apri­cot Blos­som Fes­ti­val in the spring and Ginkgo Fes­ti­val and Red Leaf Fes­ti­val in the au­tumn have emerged as brands of tree cul­ture and en­rich the lives of Bei­jingers.

Trees and Men of Let­ters

Mag­no­lia, crab ap­ple, pe­ony and cherry bay trees sym­bol­ise riches and hon­our in Chi­nese cul­ture, per­sim­mon trees sig­nify that “ev­ery­thing fares well” and pine trees sym­bol­ise longevity. Lit­er­ary peo­ple, there­fore, take de­light in plant­ing trees and en­joy these ad­di­tional mean­ings.

There is an an­cient Chi­nese wis­te­ria in the for­mer res­i­dence of Ji Xiaolan (1724–1805, a politi­cian and lit­ter­a­teur of the Qing Dy­nasty), which orig­i­nally grew in the Jinyang Res­tau­rant com­pound.

Each spring, the wis­te­ria would bur­geon ten­der vines and new buds. Ji Xiaolan de­scribed the flo­res­cent views of the wis­te­ria in his writ­ing. Read­ing his works is like en­ter­ing a clas­sic scene of both an­tiq­uity and vi­tal­ity.

Writer Lao She (1899–1966, a mod­ern nov­el­ist and play­wright) vis­ited the an­cient tree many times and en­joyed the spe­cial wheaten food of the res­tau­rant. He also com­posed a poem to com­mend the nice dishes and the prac­tice of pro­tect­ing the wis­te­ria.

Ji Xiaolan planted crab ap­ple trees also. There were orig­i­nally two crab ap­ple trees in front of his for­mer res­i­dence. Now, only the one on the east side ex­ists. As the stele un­der the tree records, Ji Xiaolan and his maid­ser­vant Wen­luan loved each other and they both loved crab ap­ple trees. Their ro­mance was ob­structed by other peo­ple though. Wen­luan died in a state of de­pres­sion. In mem­ory of his beloved girl, mourn­ful Ji Xiaolan planted crab ap­ple trees.

Lao She ar­dently loved Bei­jing for its his­tory and the Chi­nese scholar trees, ju­jube trees and per­sim­mon trees in court­yards and hu­tong.

In 1949, Lao She re­turned to his home­land from the United States. He pur­chased a court­yard on Fengfu Hu­tong, which is only sev­eral m away from Wang­fu­jing. He and his wife planted more than 100 species of chrysan­the­mum, two per­sim­mon trees and two ju­jube trees in the court­yard. His wife named the court­yard the “Red Per­sim­mon Yard.”

The court­yard wit­nessed his pro­lific out­put of literature. Over the course of 17 years, he wrote 27 dra­mas, two nov­els and a large num­ber of es­says, po­ems and other works on folk art. When­ever he tired of writ­ing, he would come out and take a look at the flow­ers and trees. When the per­sim­mon trees bore fruit, Lao She would in­vite friends to have a taste and gave them some as gifts when they left.

Zang Ke­jia (1905–2004, a mod­ern poet), a close friend of Lao She, wrote an essay to de­scribe the fond mem­o­ries of per­sim­mon trees and fruit. In hon­our of the two per­sim­mon trees, a Ja­panese pub­lish­ing house pub­lished the col­lected works of Lao She. This book is called Lao She’s Per­sim­mons.

To­day, the ju­jube trees and per­sim­mon trees stand even taller and are heavy with fruit each au­tumn, re­mind­ing peo­ple of their planter.

Plant­ing trees in com­pounds is of course not exclusive to celebri­ties and literati. In old Bei­jing, ju­jube trees and per­sim­mon trees were very com­mon in court­yards. They added beauty to the an­cient city and sus­tained its sto­ries.

The trees in Bei­jing fea­ture end­less his­tory, nu­mer­ous sto­ries and colour­ful scenes amid chang­ing sea­sons.

Trees at the Palace Museum

An an­cient ginko tree at the Da­jue Tem­ple in Bei­jing’s Western Hills

An­cient trees are very scenic and of­fer shade for residents in the sum­mer.

An­cient trees in the Tem­ple of Heaven Park

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