My friend Deb Paredez alerted me to an article in the New York Times this week describing the Chinese authorities' crackdown on flowering jasmine.
After Tunisians dubbed their anti-government uprising earlier this year the Jasmine Revolution, calls went out on Chinese social media that those who wanted to protest government censorship of the Internet and other abuses should stroll silently through the city streets, carrying a jasmine flower. In response, the government forbade the sale of jasmine. Of course, many vendors are too busy working to have gotten the memo about what was wrong with their staple commodity, and were confused when the bottom suddenly fell out of the market for China's most iconic flower.
Rumors abound: jasmine is said to be contaminated by radiation from Japan, or to contain a poison that is making people sick. Even those that have heard that jasmine is now seen as a symbol of revolution find the idea silly. After all, a song about the beauty of the jasmine flower, "Mo Li Hua" (sung here by no other than President Hu Jintao!) is practically China's national anthem, having been sung during the Olympics whenever a Chinese athlete won a medal. And the China International Jasmine Cultural Festival--cancelled this year--celebrates the ubiquity of the flower in Chinese art, medicine, food, and everyday life. At a recent festival, one of the biggest stars was singer Song Zuyong, "Beautiful Jasmine Flower."
In fact, jasmine seems like a good symbol of the impossibility of ever completely repressing the human spirit. Despite offical bans on buying or selling the flower, the Times reports that with prices so low, many Chinese still could not resist buying jasmine. You can't keep a good plant down.