The Chinese were the first to document the arranging of cut flowers in containers with water. Chinese flower arrangements always feature seasonal blooms and plant life, with each month represented by specific flowers. The symbolic language of the flowers includes characteristics such as prosperity, good fortune, wisdom and purity. The arrangements also seek to balance masculine and feminine energy.
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Chinese flower arrangements use the concept of yin and yang, the balance of female and male elements. Male energy, or yang, is represented by strong colours, upright stems and dominant blooms. Female energy, or yin, is incorporated through the use of vines, horizontal stems and finer, more delicately-hued blossoms. Combining these elements in pleasing proportions allows the flowers to represent the perfection attained in life when contrasting natures are in balance. In this way, a Chinese flower arrangement is believed to bring balancing energy into the home.
Chinese culture attributes certain characteristics to certain plants. Pine boughs represent nobility and wisdom. Narcissus symbolise purity and prosperity. Bamboo signifies constancy, long life and loyalty. Youth and charm are the characteristics celebrated with peach blossoms. Chrysanthemums have powerful yang energy and bring good luck and ease to the home. Orchids are emblems of plenty and fertility, while peonies symbolise spring and peace. The lotus is the ultimate symbol of purity and the true nature of reality.
The significance has been attached to the different plants over time and reinforced through art, poetry and other literature.
Containers are an important element of the Chinese flower arrangement. Vessels never should compete with the flowers, so plain receptacles are preferred, made from pottery, glass, wood or porcelain. The finish of the surface of the container is chosen carefully to complement the nature of the flowers being placed in it. Glass and smooth, shiny porcelain are the best for delicate blooms, and heavy, rough-surfaced pottery or textured metals work well with heavier branches and stronger colours
As early as 589, growing and arranging flowers was a popular profession in China. There was much prosperity during the Sui and Tang dynasties, which brought about a comfortable life and free time for cultural pursuits. Enjoying flowers became a priority, and many flower festivals were celebrated. In earlier times, flowers had been used mainly for decorating religious shrines, but during these eras of cultural blossoming, the display of flowers became an art form.
Contemporary practitioners of Chinese flower arranging still prefer to grow their own flowers, as the arrangements are traditionally based on seasonal availability. A well-chosen planting can provide a series of blooms from early spring until late autumn. Certain flowers, such as the brilliant orange Chinese lantern, and seed pods can be used dried for unusual winter arrangements combined with bare winter branches or pine boughs.
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