The plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum were called by the ancient Chinese the “Four Gentlemen.” The plum blossom was especially appreciated.
“The plum blossom sprigs in the corner of the wall/
Alone bloom in the frosty chill/
Seen from afar I know it is not snow/
For a hint of the fragrance to come.”
These verses were written by the Song Dynasty (960-1279) statesman Wang Anshi (王安石), in praise of plum blossoms. But what are the special characteristics of plum blossoms? “Alone bloom in the frosty chill” points out the difference between plum blossoms and other flowers. Other flowers bloom only in spring and summer; only the plum blos¬som has the hardihood to withstand the bone-piercing cold of winter; in fact, the colder it is the more luxuriantly the plum blossom blooms, and the sturdier its spirit.
Legend has it that every flower and every month have an official patron. The official guardian of the plum blossom in January is Wang Zhaojun (王昭君). As one of the Four Great Beauties of ancient China, her appearance was said to be strikingly like that of the plum blossom. But apart from this, what other similarities were there between Wang Zhaojun and the plum blossom?
During the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) there was constant warfare between the Han and the northern tribe of the Xiongnu. When finally both sides wanted peace be¬tween them, the Xiongnu leader Khan Huhanye visited the Han capital Chang’an three times to pay his respects to Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty and ask for a marriage al¬liance. This was a political arrangement whereby two countries could become related by marriage. Emperor Yuan valued highly such a connection with the Xiongnu, and decided to select a palace maid to go and marry the Xiongnu leader.
However, the distant land of the Xiongnu was a bleak place, and all of the palace maids were reluctant to go there except Wang Zhaojun, who bravely volunteered to marry the Xiongnu chief for the sake of ending her people’s suffering. She said, “Finally, the leader of the Xiongnu desires peace with us. Whoever of us is willing to marry him will be a peace envoy. This is the great significance of such a step. I used to think of myself as be¬ing no more than a weak woman, who would never have the opportunity of serving my country like a man would. Now I have such a splendid opportunity!”
Emperor Yuan, hearing of her words, thought to himself: “The courage of this woman is really deserving of respect.” He hurriedly summoned Wang Zhaojun to his throne room.
Wang Zhaojun was extremely beautiful, had a lofty character, and was dignified and graceful. She captivated the whole court, from the emperor to his ministers. Moved by both her beauty and her nobility of character, Emperor Yuan gave Wang Zhaojun rich rewards, and allowed her to go and marry the leader of the Xiongnu.
After she had done so, Wang Zhaojun not only devoted herself to maintaining peace between the Han and the Xiongnu, she also actively introduced the civilization of the Central Plain to the latter. There followed over half a century during which there were no more clashes between the two countries. Wang Zhaojun dedicated all her efforts to peace between the Han and the Xiongnu.
Such is the story of Wang Zhaojun. Do you feel that there was a difference between her and the other palace ladies? In order to benefit her country, Wang Zhaojun braved the harsh life of a far-off land, conquering her own fears about leaving home and making a choice the other palace ladies had refused. This was the embodiment of the plum blossom spirit – a “noble character fearless of hardship.” The legend goes that after her death, Wang Zhaojun returned to the Han court in the form of a plum blossom.
昭君的故事讲完了。你是否觉得昭君和其他宫女很不同呢？她能从家国利益出发，不怕塞外艰苦的生活环境，也克服了自己对远离家乡的恐惧，做出了和其他宫女不一样的选择。这正是梅花精神 “不惧艰难，质本高洁 ”的体现！传说她死后灵魂回到了汉朝化成了梅花。
Chinese history contains many accounts of staunch figures as unyielding as plum blossoms. They were the backbones of our people. That is probably the reason why the Chinese people cherish plum blossoms so much.