The Four Gentlemen-Chinese Four Noble Plants
The Four Gentlemen, also known as Chinese Four Noble Plants has since ancient times referred to four plants. These four plants are the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum, with each of them symbolising esteemed characters and morals. In addition to the noble characters, the Four Gentlemen also represent the four seasons. Nowadays, Chinese people still think highly of the Four Gentlemen as many people like to grow them or buy related decorations.
The Four Gentlemen - Plum Blossom
Plum blossom is a kind of cold-resistant flower, which usually blooms in winter or very early spring. Plum blossom doesn't compete with other flowers for beauty, but blooms when other plants are depressed by cold weather. On this account, plum blossom is associated with the characters of fame and wealth, unyieldingness and self-control. Chairman Mao also wrote a famous poem to praise plum blossom, which translates as:
"Wind and rain escorted Spring's departure,
Flying snow welcomes Spring's return.
On the icy rock rising high and sheer
a flower blossom sweet and fair.
Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom,
She will smile mingling in their midst."
There is a word in Chinese literally meaning "a secluded deserted orchid valley". As orchids often grow in mountains and deep valleys, they are regarded as noble and pure. Both ancient litterateurs and those from recent generations admire the orchid as quietly elegant without angling for praise, as well as chaste and undefiled characters. Han Yu, one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song, wrote a famous poem named "The Orchid Song" to praise the temperament of the orchid. Here are some translated lines from the song:
"The orchid is flourishing, its fragrance spreads.
If no one plucks one to wear it, how could that harm the orchid"
Bamboo is also a kind of cold-resistant plant. A bamboo grove or even a single bamboo can form beautiful scenery. Bamboo grows straightly and keeps green in winter, which is an indication of its firm and tenacious character. Moreover, bamboo is hollow inside, so it is regarded as modest, honest and upright by Chinese people since ancient times. Even in winter, bamboo leaves rustle in the wind, while it still stands straight. Therefore, bamboo is the symbol of modesty in Chinese culture. Zheng Banqiao, a renowned poet, painter and calligrapher in Qing Dynasty, is famous for painting bamboos. He wrote a poem about bamboo, saying (translated):
"Grasping green hill with a tight bite,
In rock's cracks they root deep to stay.
Standing firm despite plight and blight,
They don't fear any wind from any way."
Chrysanthemum is famous for its adaptability to the natural environment and Chinese people have been interested in growing different varieties of chrysanthemum since ancient times. The chrysanthemum is beautiful and colourful, while it often blooms in autumn when other flowers are fading away. It is tranquil and harmonious with others, but also dignified and indomitable. Tao Yuanming, a renowned litterateur in the Jin Dynasty, was very keen on chrysanthemum. He wrote many famous poems about the chrysanthemum, below are some translated sample sentences.
"Chrysanthemum blooms gorgeously in autumn,
pick one with dew on it.
Dip the flower in the wine while drinking,
making me forget why I was upset."