The China Flower Association (CFA) recently launched an online vote to select China's national flower. On the website, the question is: Do you agree the peony should be designated as the national flower? If a participant votes "no," he or she will have nine other candidates to choose from, including the plum blossom, the chrysanthemum and the Chinese rose.
The CFA said on July 23 that 80 percent of the 362,264 participants voted for the peony, followed by the plum blossom and the orchid. It also made it clear that the vote is only an opinion poll and will not decide the national flower. A proposal based on the result will later be submitted to related government agencies, according to the association.
However, the move has prompted a heated debate online, with some questioning whether the CFA is qualified to organize the poll and others differing over which flower should be chosen.
Cao Fei (Shanghai Observer): It is neither fair nor reasonable to ask for a majority public opinion about the national flower on a little known website over a few days.
Currently, China has no official flower and the debate surrounding its selection has been ongoing. There were two votes in the 1980s, with the plum blossom winning one and the peony winning the other. Some have even raised the proposal of "one country, two flowers" or even four or five flowers. Even in the recent vote, some netizens suggested "one country, multiple flowers" in order to more comprehensively reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of Chinese people.
As a matter of fact, the CFA organized a national flower vote in 1994 and decided to recommend the peony, the winner of the survey, as the national flower. However, when the proposal was raised with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, it met with strong objection from lawmakers who supported the plum blossom. In the end, the NPC had to shelve the decision to designate the national flower.
It's not to say that the association cannot organize a new round of voting again. But the vote must have a wide representation of public opinion and have no preset results. Otherwise, it will only result in disagreement in society, while the more important issues are ignored such as whether a national flower should be designated and what the point of selecting a national flower is.
It also needs to be noted that a consensus about the national flower has not been reached for many years because the official designation might have a significant impact on its main production bases. Peony cultivation has a history of more than 4,000 years in China. Luoyang in central China's Henan Province and Heze in the eastern province of Shandong are the major production areas for peonies in China. The two cities have vehemently supported the idea of the peony becoming the national flower both in 1994 and in the current vote.
Another question arises: If the peony is finally designated as the national flower, will the two cities be embroiled in a fresh debate about the place of origin of the flower and which city has better peony species? If so, the national flower selection would have totally missed the point.
Zhang Feng (Qianjiang Evening News): The peony probably won the vote before it ended. The website for voting is rarely visited and it's hard to solicit the majority opinion of Chinese society in just a few days. More importantly, media outlets in Luoyang and Heze mobilized local citizens to cast ballots for the peony.
The two cities' enthusiasm for the vote is evidently high. Although they have long had disputes about whose peony species are better, they were united in this vote.
Luoyang's peony has been very famous since ancient times. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the flower was common in the city and there were many poems singing its praise. On the other hand, Heze has made great efforts to develop peony cultivation in the past two decades, with its cultivated area surpassing that of Luoyang. The two cities have both upheld the peony as the drawcard for local tourism. Therefore, there are clear economic considerations behind their push to turn the peony into the national flower.
However, many people in other parts of the country reject the idea of the peony becoming the national flower. Some netizens in south China say they have never even seen a peony and they prefer the plum blossom or the lotus flower. In China's cultural traditions, although the peony was widely popular during the Tang Dynasty, the plum blossom and the lotus have been more frequently seen in paintings drawn by scholar-painters since the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The two flowers were given noble characteristics in these masterpieces, with the plum blossom symbolizing the ability to bear hardships and the lotus embodying purity.
The two cities' desperate efforts to make the peony the national flower are understandable. However, the question of whether we need a national flower requires more deliberation. Many cities in China have their floral emblems, thus, identifying one flower as the sole national flower seems unfair.
Flowers are only plants with no special meaning; humans are the ones who endow them with meaning. Therefore, an opinion poll on whether China actually needs a national flower should be held first.
Wang Wencai (www.xhby.net): China has rich floral resources, with many flowers qualified to become part of the national symbols. It's hard to make a choice. A consensus has not been reached for a long time, as the divergence has mostly focused on the peony and the plum blossom. Late horticulturist Chen Junyu (1917-2012) advocated over 30 years ago that the peony and plum blossom both become the national flowers.
I agree with this inclusive proposal. The two flowers both originated in China and have a long history of cultivation as well as unique appearances. The peony represents material wealth and thereby a country's national strength, while the plum blossom signifies spiritual wealth and therefore China's national character. The two flowers combined will more broadly represent China and reflect the country's diversified flower varieties. I think recognizing both flowers as the national flowers is the most ideal option.
Han Zhe (Beijing Business Today): It's logical for Luoyang and Heze to solicit public support for the peony to become the national flower. It will boost their tourism industry given their rich peony resources.
But who said the national flower is a purely cultural icon? The peony can be used for curing diseases and can also be eaten. At present, peony cultivation is a sunrise industry. Why should we be ashamed to talk about its commercial value?
The national flower is a country's cultural symbol and therefore should not be decided in a rush. However, to industrialize and commercialize the national flower isn't disrespecting it but only finding a way to popularize and promote it.
People should stay calm and try to be open-minded about the selection of the national flower.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo