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February 23, 2011

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Prime time for plum blossom

FOR most Chinese people, the plum blossom or meihua is a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity - so dignified and elegant that it has for centuries been an inspiration to poets and artists.

Now with spring beckoning, it's the best time to appreciate the blossoms until March. Suburbs in Shanghai and areas around the city such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces offer ideal places to see this wonderful sea of colors.

In China there are more than 300 recorded species of meihua that can be generally divided by colors such as white, pink, deep red, purple and light green.

Traditionally five petals of plum blossom signify five blessings - happiness, luck, longevity, success and peace and hope.

Plum blossom is also a member of the Four Gentlemen of Flowers in China with the others being orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo that together symbolize nobility.

Usually plum blossoms need a long growing period and currently the eldest plum tree - 1,600 years old and still flowering every February - can be found in central China's Hubei Province.

Grand View Garden

Qingpu District, Shanghai

The Grand View Garden in Qingpu District is a replica of Daguanyuan where the Chinese literary classic "A Dream of Red Mansions" is set.

The garden has become an attractive location in Shanghai since it was first built in 1979. The garden perfectly presents the romantic scenery of the novel and illustrates a typical private garden built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Tourists can walk in the garden as plum blossom in various colors fills the air and evokes memories of scenes from the classical Chinese novel.

Open: 8am-4pm (November-February),8am-5pm (March -October)

Address: 701 Jinshang Highway

Admission: 60 yuan

How to get there: Take sightseeing bus No. 4 from Shanghai Stadium.


Yuhang District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province

Situated 29km northeast of Hangzhou, the Chaoshan Scenic Area at this time of year is famous for its covering of more than 50 hectares of plum blossom that resembles a sea of snow flakes.

Late February is the ideal time to scale the 260m high hill to appreciate the "rare, old and wild" blossom and pretend one is swimming in an enormous pool of white plum blossom.

During the annual blossom festival now underway, many interesting activities including a photography competition are held, and visitors can complement the visual delights by tasting the local green tea.

Open: 8am-5pm

Admission: 60 yuan

How to get there: Take a high-speed train to Yuhang, and at the Yuhang high-speed train station take bus 786 to Chaoshan. Or, you may take train or long-haul bus to Hangzhou, where seasonal bus service is availed to the scenic area.


Suzhou, Jiangsu Province

Suzhou, with more than 4,000 years of history, is a place adored by many authors, poets and artists. Xishan is one of the best places to appreciate the blooming plum blossoms in late February.

Xishan is the largest freshwater lake island in China with a total area of 82.36 square kilometers. It is 35km southwest of Suzhou and only 130km from Shanghai.

During the pleasant wintersweet season, tourists can enjoy beautiful blooming scenery in this national 4A scenic spot which has the longest history of plum blossom planting, the largest amount of plum blossoms and the greatest variety of such flowers in China.

There is a popular saying among locals that the plum blossom in Xishan resembles a watercolor painting because the flowering scenes are tremendously changeable and sometimes look like clouds, sometimes fog and other times snow.

Since it began in 1997, the plum blossom festival is an annual celebration in Suzhou, and the 15th Suzhou Plum Blossom Festival is currently underway until mid March.

Open: 8:30am-4:30pm

Admission: 50 yuan

How to get there: Take train to Suzhou and then transfer to bus No. 69. If you arrive at Suzhou's south bus station, take bus No. 58.

Plum Garden

Wuxi, Jiangsu Province

Wuxi Plum Garden is famous as one of the best places to appreciate the plum blossoms in southern China.

Located to the west of Wuxi, the garden is sandwiched between Taihu Lake in the south and Dragon Mountain to the north.

There are three scenic areas. First is the romantic plum blossom scenic spot where people can both appreciate the flower and study cultural relics.

Second is the garden area which has many facilities including a hanging bridge, a windmill, a church and cafes.

Finally is the Huaxi scenic spot that displays 100 different species of exotic flowers.

At present there are nearly 40 types of plum blossom at Wuxi Plum Garden, which was originally built in 1912.

Open: 6am-6pm

Admission: 45 yuan

How to get there: Take train to Wuxi, then take bus No. 2, 88, 91 or 206. The sightseeing bus can also take you to the garden.


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