Cherry blossoms focus of three-nation tug-of-war over origins


A perennial debate over the birthplace of the cherry blossom has taken a fresh turn as a Chinese industry group claims the Asian giant is the tree’s true home, rather than Japan or South Korea.

Cherry blossoms have long been associated with Japan, where viewing the short-lived blooms is an enduringly popular pastime to herald the arrival of spring.

In recent years, some South Korean media have claimed that the country is actually the flower’s origin, sometimes provoking prickly reactions in Japan.

But according to He Zongru, executive chairman of the China Cherry Industry Association, both are wrong, and the Middle Kingdom is the blossom’s true birthplace.

He cited a Japanese monograph on cherry blossoms that stated that the flower originated in the Himalayan mountains of China and did not arrive in Japan until the Tang Dynasty more than 1,100 years ago.

“We don’t want to get into a war of words with Japan and South Korea, but we want to assert a fact: Many historical documents confirm that the cherry blossom’s place of origin is in China,” the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily quoted him as saying on Monday.

“As Chinese people, we have a responsibility to let more people know this history,” he added.

For decades, Tokyo has given the prized plant to countries including the United States as a gesture of goodwill, and every spring people across Japan gather under cherry blossom trees to eat, drink and admire.

Thousands of visitors line the banks of Washington’s Tidal Basin every spring to catch a sight of the city’s pink and white flowers, which were a gift from Japan in 1912.

In Beijing, the most popular place to view them is Yuyuantan Park, home to more than 2,000 cherry trees, roughly 200 of which were given to China by Japan in the early 1970s, when the two countries re-established diplomatic ties.

Nonetheless the row reflects tense relations among the three Asian rivals, which are frequently at odds on issues including Japan’s 20th-century history, when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule and parts of China were seized and held by Japan until its defeat in World War II, and competing territorial claims in regional waters.

Often, such battles see Beijing and Seoul team up against Tokyo, as when China unveiled a memorial last year to a Korean national hero condemned by Japan as a “terrorist” for killing a Japanese official a century ago.

Even so, He’s message to Seoul in the latest debate was uncompromising.

“Simply put, the cherry blossom originated in China and flourished in Japan,” the paper quoted him as saying. “South Korea has nothing to do with it.”

  • Liars N. Fools

    Oh yeah! Is this an April Fool’s joke?

  • Foreigner Friendly

    I’ve heard this a dozen times before. Does it really matter where the trees are from? Unless you’re a botanist, I think not. Perhaps it’s just a pleasure to watch the trees blossom, watch the tiny flowers burst free of their winter buds, shake in the wind and finally fall. It’s a bittersweet beauty that transcends nationality.

  • J.P. Bunny

    Everyone knows that the cherry blossoms are Chinese and have been so since time immemorial. This also includes any and all small rocks in the ocean, the Loch Ness Monster, the Moon, fat free yogurt, and any undiscovered Beatles songs.

  • Dan

    Although it has been used in other cases to trace back the origin and geographical spread of organisms, I’m not sure how well DNA analysis would work, with cherry trees having been sent back and forth. But, I see no harm in trying. Until a more definitive answer is found, I like He Zongru’s answer. The original trees with the genes for better blossoms were probably Chinese, and after a few were sent to Japan, the trees were further refined.