The Spirit of Spring in Chinese Painting
By Evan Yeh
With iconic subjects like flowers and birds, Chinese Brush Painting has always been intimately intertwined with the Spirit of Spring. The Spirit of Spring is a spirit of renewal and rejuvenation. In China, the festival to celebrate the lunar or Chinese New Year is called the Spring Festival. So, the biggest holiday of the year is essentially an ushering in of the season of Spring.
Chinese ideas of Spring can be further examined from their ideas of the iconic elements of Spring. Among those are flowers. Ming Dynasty author Wang Xiangjin (王象晉) had this to say about Flowers:
“I try to observe the morning flowers putting on their splendor, competing in all their great beauty and fragrance. Some keep company with others as they grow, while others go against time and show their preciousness. Despite their great floral beauty and exotic nature, such myriad manifestations are not easy to grasp. Their flourishing stems bloom and wither, also bringing joy and sorrow. Who says that such lodgings of joy and pleasantries of the heart are unrelated to the emotions and character?”
Here we see expressions of the richness of the Chinese understanding of the spirit of flowers. Not only do they see them as obvious expressions of the beauty and fragrance of nature, but they also see them as symbols of the volatility of blooming and withering love. Chinese painters and philosophers elevate flowers as symbols of desirable character traits. We see plum blossoms as the symbol for perseverance, lotus for purity and upright character, and peony as abundance and prosperity.