Hubei province's Wuhan is well known for its cherry blossoms, which attract thousands of tourists every day each spring. One of the most popular places to see the blooms is Wuhan University, though its tranquil atmosphere has been disturbed by some badly behaved visitors in recent days.
A video showing a tourist violently shaking one of the university's cherry trees was shared online on the evening of March 24, quickly sparking furious condemnation from students and netizens alike.
The university also posted a notice on its official social media accounts voicing concern for the tree's well-being.
The answer lies in an article, titled Admiring the Flowers with Two Lines of Tears: The Miraculous Stories Beneath the Cherry Blossom in Wuhan University, that went viral recently online.
It tells the story of a young teacher named Tang Shanghao and his Japanese wife Suzuki Hikariko, who were tasked with helping protect the university during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
▲ Tang Shanghao, Suzuki Hikariko and their children
Tang, who had previously studied in Japan, was made a campus protector in April 1938, shortly before the university was evacuated to Sichuan province and Wuhan was occupied by the Japanese military at the end of October.
The Japanese regiment stationed at the university was lead by one Colonel Arahara, who initially forbid Tang or any of the remaining university staff from entering the premises.
It wasn't until Tang's wife, Suzuki, managed to persuade the Japanese to let them in that the staff saw how much had already changed — the post office had been turned into a stable, while the gymnasium was repurposed as an entertainment hall.
▲ Wuhan University in the early 1930s
Under military police escort, Tang met with Arahara and bravely argued that it would be better if the Japanese military were to relocate somewhere else, so as to keep the university campus intact. Impressed by Tang's eloquence, Arahara agreed.
A few months later, when Tang inspected the campus again with his wife, he saw far fewer troops than the first time. The site had become a logistics base, with soldiers kept out of the teaching facilities.
This time, Japanese Major General Takahashi received them and promised to take better care of the campus. During their talk, Takahashi compared Wuhan University to Hakone in Japan, describing both as cultural spots with picturesque scenery.
▲ Wuhan University in the 1940s
It was Takahashi who suggested to Tang that they should bring some cherry blossoms from Japan as "the enchanting spring here deserves more flowers and trees as decoration".
Tang replied that they should also plant plum blossoms, which are more usually associated with China, though Takahashi was not as fond of that proposal.
▲ Wuhan University in the 1940s
For the next eight years or so, Tang and his wife stayed in Wuhan until the Japanese military surrendered in 1945.
Then Tang went to Taiwan, while his wife was repatriated to Tokyo, fell into a deep depression and died less than a year afterward, age 34.
It wasn't until 1985, when a 72-year-old Tang returned to Wuhan for the first time in four decades, that the secret behind the university's cherry blossoms was finally revealed.
▲ Tang Shanghao (middle) is with two friends in Wuhan in 1985.
Out of the approximately 10 staff who stayed behind to protect the university, Tang was the only one who not only survived, but succeeded in his mission and returned to tell the tale.
Because of their history, some might regard Wuhan University's cherry blossoms as a symbol of national humiliation left behind by Japanese invaders. But that isn't the whole story.
As mentioned before, the Japanese military did plant the university's first cherry blossoms in 1939 as a symbol of occupation and to alleviate soldiers' homesickness.
But when the university's faculty and students returned from Sichuan in the autumn of 1946 following the Japanese surrender, they chose to keep the cherry-blossom trees in place as a reminder of what had happened during the war.
In March 1973, following a normalization of relations between China and Japan the year before, the Japanese people gifted 1,000 cherry-blossom trees to then Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. Zhou went on to donate dozens of these trees to Wuhan University.
The university received further gifts of cherry-blossom trees In 1983 and 1992 to commemorate the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and Japan.
▲ Wuhan University in the early 1980s
In the meantime, trees have been transplanted from other parts of China and cultivated on campus.
In 1997, the last of the cherry blossoms planted by the Japanese military died, meaning that all of the more than 1,000 trees on campus today are either symbols of Sino-Japanese friendship, or else the fruits of the university gardeners' labor.
What is your opinion?
Sources: Xinhua, Changjiang Daily, cnhubei.com
Editors: 张曦 Zhang Xi, 沈哲远 Shen Zheyuan (intern)
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