Chinese art is rich with depictions of nature. In most cases, every flower, plant, or fruit depicted in a work of art will have some meaning as determined by the traditional symbolism attached to it. Knowing what the symbolism means can be a doorway to understanding the true meaning of a specific artwork. For instance, flowers that are red in color usually represent life.
“Apricots and the closely related almond represent female elegance, perhaps because the large seed is ovoid shaped like the eyes of an Oriental beauty. A red apricot represents a woman having an affair. Sometimes an apricot is painted together with Imperial women to express the wish for fortitude in sorrows,” according to China Sage.
In the traditional Chinese calendar, apricots represent the second month since it is the time when they flower. Every part of the apricot tree is used in Chinese medicine. A field of apricots symbolizes a wish for success, particularly in examinations. This is due to the fact that celebrations in ancient times usually took place in an apricot grove.
Orchids represent nobility and scholarly pursuit. These flowers are usually associated with the philosopher Confucius, who equated orchids with an honorable man. In religious festivals and weddings, the Chinese typically use orchids as décor. In some artwork, orchids can symbolize a married couple. They are also associated with fortune and wealth. If placed in a vase, orchids represent unity.
The symbolism of the lotus is linked with Buddhism. It is a plant that grows in the mud and yet produces a pure, beautiful blossom. As such, a lotus symbolizes the transformation of something from a lowly, impure realm to higher levels. It also represents summer and fruitfulness. The flower is linked with purity of speech, mind, and body.
“The lotus is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. Different colors of lotuses are symbolically used to represent aspects of perfection. There are four colors, which are pink, blue, red, and white. Red represents the heart — its purity, original nature, compassion, passion, love, and other qualities. White symbolizes spiritual perfection and complete mental purity. Pink represents the Buddha and is the supreme lotus. Blue means wisdom, knowledge, and victory over the senses,” according to The Crabby Nook.
The Chinese have traditionally viewed the cabbage as a sign of wealth. Its symbolism arises from the fact that the cabbage’s core is white and pure and as such represents a person’s true nature. One of the most famous pieces of jade sculpture is the “Jadeite Cabbage,” which is essentially a piece of jadeite carved into the shape of a cabbage with insects.
Chrysanthemums are a symbol of peaceful retirement and joy. If the flower is depicted together with the pine, it represents a wish for long life. A chrysanthemum together with nine quails is a symbol of peace in the home for up to nine generations. Since chrysanthemums can withstand frost, they are also seen to symbolize stoicism when faced with adverse conditions and disappointment.
“White chrysanthemums represent nobility and elegance. They are also thought to attract good luck to the home and represent a life of ease. They are often used for offerings at altars… [and] are also a favored gift for the elderly as they represent a strong life force,” according to Flower Meaning.
The peony symbolizes spring and is the unofficial national flower of China. Known as the queen of flowers, it represents femininity and reproduction. White peonies are a symbol of witty, young, and beautiful girls.