This story was originally published in 2021. This year the Lunar New Year starts on January 22, 2023.
Pretty, pink and plentiful, peach blossoms (tou4 faa1, 桃花) are one of the most popular flowers during Chinese New Year, especially in the Year of the Ox 2021, with Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day falling just two days apart, on 12 and 14 February, respectively. A symbol of love, prosperity and growth, the magenta pink blossoms can be spotted everywhere from shopping malls and offices to the flower markets, where budding trees and branches of all sizes are carried home proudly like torches by their new owners.
Peach blossoms are often placed in expensive vases at home to attract love and prosperity, making them especially popular among singles looking for love. The more buds that bloom, the more love and romance to come in the new year, so choosing the right tree or branch is key.
What many people don’t know is that peaches (Prunus persica) are native to China, with historical records tracing them as far back as 6000 BC. No wonder the plump stone fruit features so prominently in Chinese art and literature as a symbol of luck and longevity, while its blossoms—the first to bloom after a harsh winter—represent rebirth and the start of a new year. In fact, peaches require a degree of winter chilling in order to burst into growth after its dormant period, yet cannot survive the extreme cold. This could be why the particular yet resilient peach is so loved in China, which is now the world’s largest producer of peaches including a vast genetic diversity of peach trees and related species that grow in its warm, subtropical south to its cold and dry north.
So how exactly did peach blossoms come to symbolise love? According to legend—and there are multiple versions of this story—there once was a poet and scholar in the Tang Dynasty (618-906) named Cui Hu who went for a walk in the countryside. As he became tired and thirsty, he sought refuge at a house with peach blossoms at its door and was greeted by a lovely girl. Although he felt an instant connection, he returned to the city without saying a word, and it wasn’t until a year later that he decided to look for the girl by returning to the house with the vibrant peach blossoms.
Depending on the version of the story, the girl was either not home, deathly ill or already married, leading Cui Hu to write a poem on her door to express his heartbreak – a bittersweet ending for this would-be love story. However, for those who prefer happy endings, there are also versions of the story where the girl recovers once she realises that Cui Hu came back for her, or was even brought back to life by his love. The two ultimately got married and lived happily ever after, and that is how peach blossoms came to signify love.
Today, those who are lucky in love are said to have tou4 faa1 wan6 (桃花運, “peach blossom luck”), while tou4 faa1 ngaan5 (桃花眼, “peach blossom eyes”) are one of the most popular and sought-after eye shapes in Chinese society. Used to describe eyes that are shaped like peach blossom petals—that is, with a deeper set inner corner and greater curvature on the upper lid—people with peach blossom eyes are said to be naturally charming, attractive, and have no trouble finding love in their lives.
So, if it’s love and prosperity you’re looking for this Chinese New Year, be sure to pick up some peach blossoms to put in your home, and let love bloom.
Photographies : courtesy of Hasan Yuzeir, Ilee Wu, Koji Tachibana via Flickr