People in love always give gifts to each other. Flowers, chocolate jewelry… these things, however, are fairly cliche. Maybe we could have taken tips from some ancient suitors who defied the strict controls placed on social life to deliver presents to the object of their affection.
Ok, so these, admittedly, were for cheapskates, but a tasty piece of fruit is still quite nice. They were endowed with extra meaning thanks to the Shijing, or the Book of Songs, the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry. Because of the popularity of Shijing, sending fruits as a symbol of love became a custom. Here is the poem:
当然，送水果看上去很小气，但是一份美味的水果仍然还是很不错的。他们被赋予了额外的意义，这要归功于《诗经》(the Book of Songs)-现存最古老的中国诗歌集。由于《诗经》的受欢迎程度，把水果作为爱情的象征而送出成为了一种习俗。这里有关于水果的一首诗:
A quince thou givest to me;I have a gem for thee.Not as requital I give,But a token of eternal love. A quince thou givest to me;I have a jade for thee.Not as requital I give,But a token of eternal love.A plum thou givest to me;I have a jewel for thee.Not as requital I give,But a token of eternal love.
Jade was also mentioned in the poem above, smooth surface and clear color, it was usually connected with the character of junzi, referring to men of perfect virtue. As a saying goes, “A modest humble junzi is as gentle as jade. Adult men usually wore a jade pendant with them. It was said that “a junzi never takes off his jade for no reason”. No man would give their jade to others casually, unless they had a faith that this woman was his true love. Women of course needed to pay back this gift. They usually made beautiful lanyards with silk threads for their lovers, to tie their jade pendants to their waistband.
In China, the red bean has another name, love pea. It is said that long long ago, when a man went to war, his wife stood under a tree every day, looking forward to his return. The woman missed her husband so much that she cried every day. After her tears dried up, blood came out from her eyes. When those blood beads dropped onto the earth, a sprout appeared there. And when it grew into a big tree, it was covered with red beans, which just looked like the blood teardrops.
Wang Wei, a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty wrote a famous poem about the red beans. A rough translation of the poem might be as follows:
The red bean grows in southern lands.With spring its slender tendrils twine.Gather for me some more, I pray,Of fond remembrance is the sign.
Handkerchiefs were another popular option. After having a good time together, people were always reluctant to say goodbye. In most cases, they would shed tears silently. At that time, they took out their handkerchiefs, wiped each other’s tears, and left them with each other. Because handkerchiefs were usually made up of silk threads (丝), which has the same pronunciation with 思( lovesickness). A folk song written by Feng Menglong explained why handkerchiefs could express one’s feelings:
I don’t write songs or poems,Just send you a handkerchief with all my love;Please look at the handkerchief carefully,It is all made of threads (a pun for lovesickness).
Combs were a popular option. On the “The Night of Sevens”, also known as the “Chinese Valentine’s Day”, (the seventh of July according to the Chinese lunar calendar), people would send a comb to their lovers. According to the traditional customs, before a woman got married, her family would comb her hair, wishing her a long happy marriage. So buy your girlfriend a lovely comb on Chinese Valentine’s Day, she will love it.