Throughout the novel, references to fruits and flowers are made, all pointing to well-wishing on the behalf of the narrator, Qin Ruhua. However, the traditional symbolism loses its meaning after the ill-fated romance between Ruhua and Aren comes to an end in the novel’s conclusion. A parallel between the symbols and Mencius’s idea of marriage exists.This is perhaps intentional to show how tradition is not a reliable source, since things can change and also to reinforce the idea that there was nothing lucky or auspicious in their union as these symbols may indicate. The symbols and Mencius’s idea represent tradition while the culminating ill-fated romance of the narrators show that tradition should be changed to be more realistic and sympathetic to young lovers.
Firstly, on Page 24, Ruhua mentions that he pins Aren against a “flowering plum tree” and later on page 27, the author mentions the plum, willow, and apple trees, behind the study of his new home.
The plum blossom specifically, symbolizes the traditional five blessings (longevity, wealth, health, virtue, and a natural death of old age). The plum blossom is ironic because: Aren dies young, dies without her mother having enough money for the funeral arrangements, is in awful health, and dies from complications following opium poisoning. Due to the standard that females must remain virgins until marriage and the concept of virginity being synonymous with “virtue” for females, the author makes clear that her “virtue” is still intact by the end of the novel, and therefore she at least has this “blessing.”
One of the symbolic representations of the willow is parting and sorrow. This foreshadows the separation and the subsequent sorrow the lovers will experience after Ruhua leaves for the south and his grief at being parted from his lover.
The apple is a symbol of peace. This symbol is also used ironically since the Boxer rebellion and subsequent chaos causes their separation.
The peony is mentioned throughout as a comparison for Aren’s beauty. It is a symbol of longevity, eternal beauty, loyalty, and happiness. Again, by the end of the novel, this also loses its meaning, with the exception of loyalty (Ruhua and Aren still try to save themselves for each other. Ruhua rejects the idea of another engagement and Aren drastically poisons herself with Opium to avoid being sold into prostitution), for even Aren’s beauty had diminished in her near-death state.
Apricots, which Ruhua had bought after spotting Asou and her lover (, symbolize success. In the short term, they are symbolic of his victory of having something to blackmail her with, and in the long-run it signifies his success in having her approve of him. However, this is success is all for naught since the pair didn’t end up marrying one another.
The pomegranate flowers he buys the sisters are symbolic as well. Pomegranates are seen as important marriage symbols because they are symbols of fertility and offspring. Again, this is ironic because he did not get the chance to marry Aren and therefore will not have offpsring.