SEES FLOWER MARKETS FLOURISH
Tradition of buying plants ahead of Spring Festival gets a boost from rising living standards
Xiao Aiting, a doctor in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, buys a potted kumquat tree and flowers such as rhododendrons, chrysanthemums, narcissi and orchids before Spring Festival every year to create a festive floral corner in her home.
The word for kumquat in Cantonese sounds like the word for luck and Xiao sticks a red envelope on the pot of the tree to wish for abundant luck in the coming year.
She spends 400 yuan to 600 yuan ($63-95) on her floral decorations, depending on the price of flowers each year.
To Lu Shaoqin, 25, who works in an internet company in Guangzhou, shopping for flowers in a nearby flower market has been an important family tradition since her childhood, without which Lunar New Year celebrations would be incomplete.
A kumquat tree and chrysanthemums, which also symbolize luck; Pachira macrocarpa, also known as the money tree; Dracaena sanderiana, or lucky bamboo; and Solanum mammosum, which is called five generations living under the same roof, are the blooms favored by Lu’s family.
A mini peach blossom tree, signifying good luck in relations with the opposite sex, is also a must.
Other flowers popular at Lunar New Year in the city are cockscomb, dahlia, gladiolus and lily.
Ruan Lin, dean of the Guangzhou Institute of Forestry and Landscape Architecture, said most families in Guangzhou, buy flowers for Spring Festival.
The love of flowers by the people of Guangzhou, which is known as the “City of Flowers”, was recorded in ancient writings as early as in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24).
Su Lisi, chairwoman of the Guangdong Floral Culture Club of the World Flower Council, said there is no official definition of the meanings of festival flowers, but rather customary understanding of local people.
All flowers are beautiful and offer hope for the future. But, positive connotations are sought during Spring Festival and so some flowers have become popular, Su said.
Peach blossom is a favorite of Su’s family because it means love and prosperity. This is also why businesspeople prefer the flower, she said.
The tradition of shopping in the city’s flower markets is due to its warm weather and great selection of flowers available, Su said.
Ye Chunsheng, a retired professor from the Sun Yat-sen University and a folk culture expert, said Guangzhou’s flower trade can be traced back more than 1,000 years to the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960), when farmers sold flowers in what is now Zhuangtou village in Haizhu district to the south of the Pearl River.
Flower markets assumed their current form gradually between the 1860s and 1920s when visiting them became a Lunar New Year custom in the provincial capital, with bamboo frames built to display and sell flowers as well as arts and crafts in designated streets closed temporarily in the few days before Spring Festival, he said.
Abraham Morse, a doctor from the United States working at Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center, visited the flower market in Liwan district with his wife last year.
“It was busy and crowded with lots of activity and people of all ages. There was definitely a festive atmosphere. The entire wide avenue was closed off for a distance of about 1 kilometer.
“In the middle of the avenue were stalls mainly selling plants, flowers, pots, and other arts and crafts. Also some snack foods. The stores along the sidewalks of the street were also busy,” Morse said.
The couple bought flowers, potted plants and decorative pots as well as snack foods.
“It is not hard to spend your money if you have a place to put what you can buy. We were primarily buying things to decorate the entrance to our apartment and in our apartment as well as the balcony. A few things were for gifts,” Morse said.
“It would be a great place to visit to see many beautiful local products and get some sense of the culture of Chinese New Year.”
Ye’s family moved to Guangzhou when he was 16 and at that time jasmine was widely available in the flower markets.
Over the past 40 years, the varieties of flowers on offer have increased vastly and so have the prices, with balloons and toys also occupying the stalls now, Ye said.
“Folk culture comes from life and develops with life. The content has changed but the meaning of bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new by walking in the flower markets remains,” Ye said.
With higher living standards, people now have more aesthetic demands with many families now pursuing artistic shapes and forms, Su said. “The flower markets in Guangzhou will surely become larger in the future, because living standards are higher and people’s expectations have risen, hence the increased spending on festive flowers,” Su said.
Official statistics indicate the flower markets in the 11 districts in Guangzhou drew 5.35 million visitors and generated revenue of 120 million yuan last year.
The flower markets marking the coming Year of the Dog started on Feb 12 in Guangzhou, with New Year’s Eve falling on Feb 15.
Sheng Wuhan contributed to this story.
The flower markets in Guangzhou will surely become larger in the future, because living standards are higher and people’s expectations have risen.”
Su Lisi, chairwoman of the Guangdong Floral Culture Club of the World Flower Council
A flower grower at Datian village in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, waters roses on sale in her shop.
Guangzhou citizens purchase flowers at a market before Spring Festival.
Customers choose flowers at Guangzhou’s Xihulu Flower Market.