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Meaning in Chinese Flora

Orchids and Rocks, 1606, by Zhou Shichen, Chen Dao, and Cao Xi

Humans have long depended on plant life for survival and expression, from harvesting medicinal plants to creating works of art from natural materials. Based on form, shape, and physical properties, plants have also been used to convey auspicious meanings.

Early Daoists adopted the view that humanity and nature were all connected, believing the natural character of plants to have something in common with human characteristics and morals. For centuries artist and poets have depicted flora to express virtues such as perseverance, modesty, steadfastness, and simplicity. The pine, for example, was likened to an upright person, representing endurance and strength in the face of adversity as it remains green through the harsh winter months. Bamboo, with its hollow core that allows the plant to bend in the wind, was depicted to show the virtue of being strong yet flexible and adaptable to its environment.

Visit gallery 334 to see some of these works on view and learn more about their many meanings.