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April 17, 2010

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Celebrating 'queen of flowers' in petals, paintings and poetry

LUSH, ruffled peonies -- flowers of richness and honor -- are blossoming around Changning District, which celebrates the annual peony festival of gorgeous blooms, painting, poetry and more. Fei Lai reports.

April is the month for China's peonies, traditionally known as the "queen of flowers with ethereal color and celestial fragrance."

Its lavish blooms symbolize abundance and wealth.

And the peony in all its aspects will be celebrated in Changning District from next Tuesday through the middle of May at the Fifth Fahua Peony Festival.

Fahua peonies are famous in the Jiangnan area, regions south of the Yangtze River, and they are cultivated in the peony garden in Anshun Greenbelt in Changning District.

The festival -- themed "Beauty of Luoyang Peony, Passion for Shanghai Expo" -- is part of the simultaneous 28th Luoyang Peony Festival in Henan Province. Luoyang peonies from Henan are famed throughout China.

The Changning festival features not only flowering peonies, but also peony painting and calligraphy exhibitions, symposiums on peony art, growing and business. Young peony lovers can get to know each at banquets.

Fahua peonies are famous in the ancient town of Fahua, now known as Xinhua Community in Changning. In the Southern Song Dynasty (AD 420-589), gardeners from Luoyang moved to southern China to escape military conflicts and they brought the Luoyang peony with them.

They created the first Fahua peony, created by grafting the Luoyang peony. Fahua's are mostly grown in pots.

Ji Nan, a peony expert in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), recorded 104 species in his book "Peony List." Among them, 48 were classified as types of Fahua peony. So Fahua Town became known as "junior Luoyang."

Changning has nurtured many peony enthusiasts.

The festival's art and calligraphy exhibit features, among others, 14 works by Zhang Weizong, a stage art designer at Shanghai Opera House, who is also an expert on traditional Chinese painting and oil painting.

The exhibition is held at the Xinhua Community Youth Activity Center.

Each of Zhang's works paints the flower with different strokes, from different angles, reflecting its diversity.

One with subtle lines and vivid color is Zhang's favorite.

"When painting the peony, we need to capture its distinctive characteristics -- charm, richness and elegance," says Zhang. "But art should be superior to life, rather than copy it, so in painting I can imbue the flower with special aesthetic flavor and feeling."

Four years ago Zhang took part in the Fahua Peony Festival for the first time, exhibiting his study and love of the flower. He used to spend hours at Zhongshan Park observing the peonies, sometimes taking photographs to study their shape, color and detail.

"I finally grasped the way to express the flower's beauty, after exploring and appreciating it many times," says Zhang. "I want to express not only its physical beauty but also its inner feeling."

In painting peonies, Zhang has made many friends of other peony painters and enthusiasts.

"In this festival I get acquainted with artists from Luoyang," Zhang says. "We've exchanged ideas on painting and how to add more creative elements to traditional peony paintings."

Big, lush peonies are also an omen of good fortune and peony paintings appear in many Chinese homes and businesses.

Fahua Peony Festival

Date: April 20 till mid-May

Venue: Anshun Greenbelt, Anshun Rd and Dingxi Rd


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