Photo courtesy of National Palace Museum Open Data.

The Legend of How the Peony Became the Queen of Flowers

Dan Skorbach and Natasha Stevanovic, Contributing Writers

Did you know that the beautiful peony is the most celebrated flower in Eastern tradition? Her story of dignity has been cherished for thousands of years. Let's find out why.

Empress Wu Zetian lived long ago during the Tang Dynasty. One day, as she stared out on the dull winter landscape, she felt disappointed by the lack of flowers in her garden.

So the Empress issued an imperial decree: “All the flowers in the royal garden must bloom in the middle of winter!”

When the flower fairies heard this, they flew into a panic. “We should follow the course of nature and only bloom in the spring," they said. “How can we go against nature?”

But none of them dared disobey Empress Wu Zetian, who was known to be ruthless. And by the next day, even though it was snowing heavily, the imperial garden was in full bloom.

Delighted, the Empress walked through the garden, admiring her control over nature. But something was amiss. Not all the flowers were in bloom.

Out of all the flowers in the royal garden, only the peonies refused to go against the course of nature and bloom in winter.

Enraged, the Empress banished the peonies from the capital city to the city of Luoyang.

That spring, the peonies bloomed beautifully in Luoyang.

When the Empress found out, in a fit of anger, she ordered all the peonies be burned to the ground.

The peonies struggled to survive in the red fire. Although their branches blackened, the flowers seemed even more dazzling in the glowing flames. Yet soon they were all destroyed.

But to everyone’s surprise, the next spring all the peonies grew back and bloomed once again across Luoyang.

To this day, Luoyang is still known as the City of Peonies.

Because the brave peonies continued to follow the course of nature, even when faced with dire consequences, the flower fairies declared the peony the Queen of Flowers.

The peony thus became the most celebrated flower in the Eastern tradition. It symbolizes staying strong and righteous in the face of great hardship, and taking the “right way” even if it’s not the easiest way. The ancients called this “living in the Tao.”

To celebrate the importance of the peony in Chinese culture, Shen Yun Performing Arts choreographed the dance Flower Fairies, and performed it on their 2011 world tour.

Our Tang Peony jewelry collection was inspired by this heavenly dance and features the Queen of Flowers—the peony—as depicted on the dancers’ Flower Fairies costume.

Photo courtesy of National Palace Museum Open Data.


Thanks for this lovely story! I’ve always loved peonies; their big beautiful blooms and their amazing scent! Whenever I’ve had them in my yard, I’ve cut them and put them in my home as a wonderful natural air freshener. I particularly love that they always come back; my dad would often forget about them when he mowed the first time in the summer and although they were absent for that season, they always came up again the next summer. To me, they represent great endurance, but knowing the story behind them, I see that they mean so much more. I am blessed.

Barbara Gay October 22, 2023

Thank you for offering this beautiful jewelry! I purchased the peony scarf a few years ago, and I’ve received many compliments whenever I wear it. I’ve purchased items from the Shen Yun gift shop as birthday or holiday gifts that they are greatly appreciated by my friends and family.

Jill October 22, 2023

Peonies are my signature flower and since my birthday is in June it is very befitting.

Val Carey September 06, 2022

How can I grow them in San Clemente California

vincetta sheftell September 06, 2022

Everything on our earth and universe can teach us a lesson. The peony and the Tao are living teachers…

Stan Jernigan September 06, 2022

nice to have in future when I have money :)

hong February 25, 2021

A dear friend of ours visited us this past week to help lend a hand with some work and cooking some wholesome meals around the house as our household was quite busy. On one of the days, she looked in our backyard and was looking at two varieties of Peonies that were in full bloom. She discovered they were edible and incorporated them in one of her salad recipes for us on afternoon for lunch. I decided to cut some fresh blooms and place them inside on our countertop in the kitchen to greet us as we passed by. Our dear friend mentioned that the petals that fall off can then be used in a warm bath to add to its everlasting life and allure…

Brad-Lee July 02, 2020

Are there only the three items pictured the only ones designated towards peonies?

Annette E. March 05, 2020

That was very inspiring ~ I will now look upon the Peony flower with different wonder on their beautiful petals.

Hesther March 04, 2020

Peonies are one of my favourite flowers

Susan Russell March 04, 2020

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published