SOME people like to see snow while others enjoy the breezy autumn days but, for me, spring is the most beautiful season in Beijing.
This is the time when everything seems to awaken from a long slumber. Trees that lost their leaves
during the winter season begin to grow new ones, flowers are blooming on the streets, signifying the beginning of a new phase of life.
One of the earliest flowers to greet the Chinese is the ying hua (cherry blossom).
We have heard of the cherry blossom festival in Japan but China has one of the most scenic views for the flower, better known by its Japanese name sakura.
Wuhan University in Hubei province is famous for its cherry blossoms.
As the trees have a short flowering season of about three weeks, visitors flock to the campus to view the flowers. The number has grown over the years, forcing the institution to make up rules for crowd control.
Between March 21 and April 3, tourists must make advance bookings before they are allowed to enter the university ground. The slots were snapped up like hot cakes.
The number of visitors is limited to 15,000 a day on weekdays and 30,000 on weekends.
Cherry blossom watching at Wuhan University made headlines in the local media last week when two male visitors got into a scuffle with the guards for what was described as “improper” outfit worn by one of them.
It was initially reported that the young man, clad in a kimono-like overcoat, was refused entry at the gate, where he had an argument, followed by a scuffle with the guards.
Together with a friend, who was in casual wear, they were overpowered by the security personnel.
The man, however, insisted that what he was wearing was a traditional Chinese costume of the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD).
“I love the Tang culture, I have worn this costume to other places, it is not a kimono.
“This is call a wufu, one of the most popular outfits in the Tang Dynasty,” he told the local Chinese media.
He said he was very patriotic and would not wear a Japanese outfit.
A worker of the university said the school had banned cherry blossom watchers from wearing Japanese garment since 2002.
He said a woman and her daughter were chased out of the campus in 2009 for wearing a kimono.
The issue was heavily discussed among the people and since then, this rule has never been strictly imposed. The university decided to reimplement it this year.
“There is no proper document, the school verbally informed us about this,” said a student volunteer.
Wuhan University later explained that the man, who failed to make a reservation, had tried to force his way into the campus. The guards involved have been reprimanded.
However, the university did not clarify if the Japanese costume is banned in the compound.
The university’s website page, where advance online bookings are done, does not mention any dress code either.
Some netizens supported the move to bar kimono-wearing visitors from entering the university.
Many of them turned to social media sites to debate if the man was wearing kimono or Tang costume, but the real issue is not the costume. Rather, it was the history behind the cherry blossom trees.
Cherry blossom trees at Wuhan University were first planted by occupying Japanese soldiers in 1939. The university ground was once used as their command centre.
To the Chinese, the trees are viewed as a symbol of national humiliation.
In 1973, the Japanese government presented 1,000 trees to the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai to mark the China-Japan friendship. Fifty of these were sent to the university.
Although it has been over seven decades since the Empire of the Sun declared its defeat in World War II and retreated from their colonies, Japan or Japanese are still “sensitive words” in China.
Hatred against the Japanese is still deep-rooted in them, especially those who went through the dark period. Unofficial figures estimated that the Japanese had ruthlessly killed, abused or directly caused the deaths of hundreds millions of people in China.
This is a heavy historical burden citizens of both countries have to bear, regardless of their age.
I met with an ex-soldier, a post World War II generation, on one holiday trip.
“I hate the Japanese, they killed so many Chinese, ruined our lives and my country,” said the man, who is now a white-collar worker.
His reaction surprised me because he is too young to take this matter so seriously. His parents were born after the Japanese occupation ended but he is one of the large young community who still hold grudges against the Japanese.
Some netizens, however, said there is nothing wrong to be patriotic, but it is unreasonable to instil hatred against “a dead item”.
“It is just fashion, not all Japanese are bad after all,” said one of them.