Gateway to Maritime Silk Road


How did flower become a symbol of Guangzhou?

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :August 5, 2022


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Guangzhou has long been famous for various kinds of flowers as shown in many of its street names, such as Huadihe, Huadiwan, Huadi Avenue and Hualei (flower bud) Lu. Hua, stands for "flower" in English.
One of the flower markets in Fangcun area of Liwan district in Guangzhou
Cantonese have developed their enthusiasm for flowers since the reign of Nanyue King in the Western Han Dynasty which dated back to over 2,000 years ago.
According to historical records, in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), blooming flowers were spotted everywhere in ancient Guangzhou (Canton) and many commoners wore hair accessories made of flowers. There were even more varieties of flowers and plants grown in the royal garden owned by Zhao Tuo, the founder of Nanyue Kingdom.
Lu Jia, an envoy to Nanyue Kingdom, also wrote about the scene of ubiquitous blossoms that he had seen in Canton, which was the earliest record of the city’s year-round flowers in full bloom in history.
Emperor Wu, the most well-known emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, showed his preference for flowers of Lingnan region as well. After establishing his regime in the Nanyue Kingdom, the ruler issued an order to transplant some Lingnan plant species to his royal garden in Chang’an (present-day Xi'an in Shaanxi province), including henna, osmanthus, lychee, longan, calamus and citrus.
A garden scenery of ancient Guangzhou (Canton) depicted in an export painting

During the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279), Huadi, located in present-day Fangcun area of Guangzhou, was where Datong Port, a major harbor for foreign trade, situated in. Many merchants from different places brought assorted flower seeds to the port by sea, turning a vast land of marsh into flower fields. Besides, Cantonese peasants also grew flowers on the farmlands of thirty-three villages located south of the Pearl River.
So where exactly did vendors sell flowers in the city? The most famous flower hub was the space in front of the Kuan Yin Temple, while the flower market in Huadi debuted in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and ushered in its heyday in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Long before dawn, flower growers would ride their boats along the river and ship the flowers to the Huadi market to do business. When the sky brightened, they would head toward other flower markets in town. A woman selling flowers depicted by a painter in the Qing Dynasty
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, flower markets were scattered at the seven city gates of Canton, which were open all year round. The flower business flourished in the city and the sales of jasmines alone reached hundreds of dans (dan, a unit of weight, one dan equals to 50 kilograms or so) per day. At that time, flower markets of Canton were dubbed one of the four market clusters in Guangdong, together with herb markets of Luofu, incense markets of Dongguan and pearl markets of Lianzhou.
The flower trade also contributed to the boom of Canton which was the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road.
As early as the Western Han Dynasty, people of Lingnan region had sailed to Sri Lanka. In the Tang and Song dynasties, a shipping route of over 14,000 kilometers was established, allowing people to travel to as far as the Persian Gulf. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, several trans-oceanic routes had connected Canton with many other parts of the world. In the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty, Canton was assigned as the only port open for foreign trade.
 A vendor selling vegetables and flowers on the street in the Qing Dynasty
According to historical records, starting off from the Lingnan region, diverse kinds of flowers found their way to the West, including camellia, Chinese rose and azalea, which were cultivated into more varieties in merely 300 years.
The ancient Maritime Silk Road played a key role in bolstering the export of locally-grown flowers of the Lingnan region. It also brought exotic flowers from countries and regions along the route to Canton, which enhanced the city's reputation for giving people excellent views of blossoms in all seasons.
Source: 广州日报《读懂广州·粤韵|古有花地,香自西汉》
Editors: Liu Liu, Joyce, Pauline