This summer we were tasked with researching plants that are important in Chinese culture and throughout their history. We started by reading an ancient Chinese text by Cao Xueqin called The story of Stone, and specifically the section called Dreams of Red Chambers. We read this section and searched for plants that were of some artistic and useful value. We found six very important plants and then thoroughly researched each one. We looked through many famous art books, and visited galleries. We took a trip to Washington DC to visit The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, as well as the National Botanic Gardens.
We found that the most important plants we found in the texts we researched were; rice, bamboo, lotus flowers, crabapples, ginseng, and plum blossoms. These six plants were cultivated for many years throughout China. They all have a direct effect on the economy in China as well as on their art and culture. Agriculture was the main profession in China for thousands of years. These plants influenced Chinese art and art is a reflection of culture. Therefore by looking at the art of ancient China, people today can briefly understand how culture has been changed and shaped. A large part of culture is the food which one consumes. These plants have shaped the culinary world, they have changed how and what people eat and how these dishes played a part in our everyday history. The growth and cultivation of these seven plants have changed the natural and physical environment of China. By farming one must change the landscape to produce a domesticated crop.
About the Researchers
Emma is a sophomore dual majoring in Environmental studies and History. She took on this research project this summer to get more experience in the field of research and to learn more about the culture of China and East Asia. She was also interested to study the connection between history and how it shapes the environment.
Linda is also a sophomore majoring in History with a minor in secondary education. She decided to participate in this research project because she is very interested in Chinese art and poetry as well as its effect on the culture. She also wanted to get more experience doing research on a specific historical subject.