Petals of Peace and Protest: #Day 6

Inspired by the Flower of Srebrenica, this six-day special series on the anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre (11 – 22 July, 1995) looks at six floral iconographies that have come to define war, revolution and resistance. Today we look at the Black Bauhinia from the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The Black Bauhinia

The Bauhinia blakeana, also known as the Hong Kong orchid tree, bears fragrant, five petaled, crimson-purple flowers. The tree is a hybrid between Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia Variegata; neither of which are native to Hong Kong. Unlike its parents, Bauhinia blakeana is sterile and can only be reproduced through horticultural practices. It was discovered along the Pok Lu Fam shore by French Catholic missionary and plant collector Jean-Marie Delavay in the 1880s who started propagating it through cuttings and grafting. It was later properly documented and named in parts after the 17th-century French-Swiss botanists and siblings Caspar (or Gaspard) and Jean (or Johann) Bauhin and after Henry Blake, a British colonial administrator and Governor of Hong Kong (1898-1903). When a typhoon swept through Hong Kong in 1906, it was observed that the Bauhinia blakeana plant in the Botanical Gardens survived and thereafter it was extensively planted across Hong Kong, beginning in 1914.

The Bauhinia was incorporated into an early design of the flag of Hong Kong in 1990 while Hong Kong was still under British rule. The flag was first hoisted on 1 July 1997, marking the handover to China under the “one country, two systems” policy. It has five white petals standing for peace and harmony, arranged like a windmill symbolizing Hong Kong’s energy, each containing a star (as the Five-starred Red Flag/National Flag of the People’s Rebuplic of China) against a red background. However, China’s tightening grip around the vocal pro-democacy lobby in Hong Kong has time and again deepened the chasm between the citizens and the authorities. 2019 saw a massive uprising against an extradition bill that would allow the transfer of fugitives to mainland China, Macau and Taiwan with which Hong Kong does not share an extradition treaty. Opposition to the bill–seen as an insidious attempt to expose Hong Kong to the Communist Party controlled judicial system–has been loud and clear. Moreover, there’s fear that the bill will make it easier to nab political activists by legalizing their abduction into the mainland that has been taking place in the recent years. It was during this movement that the original flag became a target of criticism and was replaced by the Black Bauhinia flag.

It was displayed by protesters on 1st July 2019 when they stormed in and occupied the Legislative Council chamber. Outside the building and at Golden Bauhinia Square the original red flags were lowered and replaced by the blood-stained variants of the Black Bauhinia. With the passing of the National Security law, that gravely undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy, the Black Bauhinia continues to be reproduced through art and activism. For a flower that flourishes through the harshest of winters, there is still hope that it’ll be able to resist the excesses of a regime.

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