Tea1By Bill Waddington, owner, TeaSource, contributor

There are more than 3000 types of teas in the world, most of them from China, where tea dates back almost 5,000 years.  Legend has it that the emperor Shen Nung discovered tea in 2732 B.C. when some tea leaves blew into his pot of boiling water. It is said the resulting brew with its pleasant aroma and sweet taste invigorated both his body and spirit.

Amazingly all 3,000 types of tea come from one plant that is native to China, Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. While there are many hot herbal drinks like mint and hibiscus, all true tea comes from this one plant.

By Mary Yee, contributor



Paeonia Rockii


China is the original home of most of the peonies grown in the world.  The most commonly grown type is the herbaceous Paeonia lactiflora, a very hardy perennial that dies to the ground each fall.  P. lactiflora features diverse flower forms and colors, and thousands of varieties have been selected by gardeners over centuries of cultivation.

However, China is also the home of the tree peony.  It has woody stems that form a permanent framework of branches and, over time, develops into a large shrub or small tree.  It is the tree peony that the Chinese call “Hwa Wang” or King of Flowers.  The general name for tree peonies in Chinese is “mudan (牡丹).”  

Both kinds of peonies, herbaceous and woody, were first cultivated by the Chinese for the medicinal properties of their roots.  Peonies are still widely planted in China today for medicinal production.  But the beauty of peony flowers ensured that the plants soon made their way into gardens and into Chinese art.

Chinese peonies were introduced to the west in the 18th century although the botanical riches of China, including additional peonies species, continued to be explored and documented by scientists through the 20th century.  In 1926, Dr. Joseph Rock (1884-1962), a plant explorer for the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, came across a white-flowered tree peony in the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery in western China.  The monastery, called the Choni Lamasery, was located at an elevation of over 8000 feet in the southwestern part of Gansu Province.  Rock was able to collect seeds from this plant and the Arnold Arboretum distributed the seeds to botanical gardens around the world.  The first flowering from these seeds occurred in 1938 at various locations and the beauty of the flower created a sensation in western horticultural circles.

The flowers are very large, white petalled, with golden stamens that are beautifully set off by the distinctive dark purple flares at the base of the petals.  The plant itself is robust and long-lived, becoming a large shrub over time.  In fact, one of the plants grown from Rock’s original seed collection may still be growing in Highdown, the Sussex garden estate of Sir Frederick Stern, a noted English horticulturalist who published a monograph on peonies in 1946.


By Pat Welsh, contributor

While the Taiping Rebellion was gaining ground, the Qing Dynasty also had to contend with another foreign incursion from France and England.  Russia and the United States also were involved, but only in diplomatic efforts.

By Greg Hugh

Today, few would guess that Shanghai once played host to a bustling community of 18,000 – 20,000 Jews  --  the focus of the exhibit “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1932-1941).” For Jews desperate to flee the Nazi regime but barred from entry almost everywhere, Shanghai was the “Last Place on Earth” and a rescuing Noah’s Ark.

By Elaine Dunn -

Mango Poster MangoOnPlateThe Chinese love fruits, fresh fruits.  It is no surprise, then, that many fruits are charged with symbolism, each specifically representing longevity, wealth, prosperity, fertility, etc.  Of the ones that have achieved iconic stature are peaches, oranges, pomegranates and grapes.  And then, there’s the mighty mango.  Mao’s mango.  

During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, idealistic middle school, high school and university students throughout the country learned the sayings of Chairman Mao Zedong by heart.  They adored Mao and carried his red-cover book of sayings - the famous little red book - with them everywhere and called themselves Red Guards.  Their mission was to defend Chairman Mao’s thoughts.  Mao completely encouraged their fervor.  

Not only did these Red Guards relish in destroying everything that linked or belonged to the past, they harbored animosity against other groups in their zest to demonstrate their supreme support of Mao.

 In the spring of 1968, the rivalry between two particular units of Red Guards based at Tsinghua University - the Jinggangshan Corps and the Fours - came to a head.  In vying for Mao’s “blessing,” they threw stones, spears and acid at each other, attempting to prove their group was more loyal to Mao and his teachings.  This was known as the Hundred Day War. 

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