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What are Some Examples of Flower Symbolism in China?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Flower symbolism is an important part of many cultures; many Westerners, for example, associate the rose with love and calla lilies with death. The symbolism of flowers is quite ancient, and many historians have traced flower symbolism through art, poetry, and music. In China and Asia, the symbolic meanings of flowers are often very important, and people must take care to give appropriate flowers as gifts or offerings in temple. The wrong flowers could be considered very offensive.

Learning about flower symbolism in China can also be helpful if you are interested in Chinese art and culture. By understanding what various flowers mean, you may be able to read additional context into pieces of art. Specific flowers carry very clear meanings, and arrangements of flowers can also be important. Many art museums which specialize in Asian art have periodic displays of floral art, along with explanations of their meanings, if you are interested in learning more specifically about flowers in Chinese art.

One of the most well known Chinese flowers is the peony, which is considered a symbol of China itself, along with the plum blossom. Chrysanthemums also appear frequently in Chinese art and flower displays, because they signify happiness, good luck, and long life. This meaning is also true in Japan. Another frequent appearance in Chinese flower symbolism is the lotus, which has special meaning in Buddhism. Lotuses signify enlightenment and purity, since they rise from the mud to unfold into beauty. Bamboo is also associated with enlightenment, with each segment representing a step in the path to enlightenment.

Carnations are associated with marriage in China, as are orchids, which indicate fertility and abundance. Peaches are associated with longevity, and their blooms are considered sacred. A gift of narcissus indicates a desire for talent to flourish in the terms of Chinese flower symbolism, and it is considered an excellent present for someone embarking on a new career. Hydrangeas are said to suggest love, gratitude, and enlightenment, while the citron or Buddha's hand is given for luck and happiness. Mandarin oranges with their leaves are also especially lucky, and they are often given out at Chinese New Year.

If you are considering a gift of flowers to someone of Chinese descent, remember that odd numbers of flowers are considered somewhat unlucky. A gift of a pair or even number is appropriate, since it suggests wishes of good fortune and happiness. You should also avoid giving white flowers, because this color symbolizes tears, death, and mourning. Red is a particularly lucky and favorite color in much of China, and it is very appropriate for weddings.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By naturesgurl3 — On Sep 22, 2010

What would be the symbolic flower meaning for something that is traditionally associated with death in Western culture, such as a lily?

I know that white is associated with death there as well, but does it have the same sort of symbolism in that culture as it would in the West?

By googlefanz — On Sep 22, 2010

I had heard that there is a lot of violet flower symbolism in Chinese culture too.

Violets are generally considered to be feminine flowers, though kind of dark. It's almost like something that is alluring, yet dark.

Additionally, violets are associated with ghosts, since ghosts are thought to have purple blood.

That's why you will rarely if ever see violets in an offering or in a temple, since they are associated with dark things, ghosts, and death.

By pleats — On Sep 22, 2010

I have always been fascinated by flower meanings and symbols, especially Victorian flower symbolism. I recently was asked about lotus flower symbolism, so I started looking up Chinese flower symbols, which is how I got to here.

I think it's so cool that the flower symbols and meanings in Chinese culture can be so different than ones here, especially the part about white flowers' symbolism.

Thanks for such an interesting article!

By BostonIrish — On Jul 27, 2010

Giving four flowers, or four of anything can also be dangerous, since the Mandarin word for four (si) has the same pronunciation (but different tone) as the Mandarin word for death. This is a long-held historical association, and it is seen as very bad luck to receive four of anything on one's birthday.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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