General Description / Cultural Significance
China is renowned for its jasmine plants. Cultivation of the plant in China began between 206 BC and 220 AD, and use of Jasmine flowers to scent tea has been documented since the third century. Grown primarily in western China, the dried, highly fragrant flowers open in the teacup to create a soft, sweet, aromatic experience. To create jasmine tea, the flowers, which bloom at night, are picked in the early morning and mixed the next evening with tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) as the jasmine opens and releases its scent. The flower’s aroma is calming, often used to treat stress and depression; it is also a known aphrodisiac. Medicinally, Jasminum officinale L. var. grandiflorum has antiviral actions, and is used to treat the Hepatitus B virus in China.
Inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the 2011 pro-democracy protests, also known as the Chinese Jasmine Revolution, involved massive street demonstrations in twelve cities across China. The call for revolution spread primarily through the internet. In response, the Chinese government banned the sale of Jasmine flowers, the word “Jasmine” was blocked from search engines, and there were arrests of protesters and journalists, resulting in numerous injuries.
China is one of many countries considered “megadiverse,” in that it is rich in biological diversity highly associated with the country’s historical traditional knowledge base of plant use. China has become fully engaged in creating ecological stability, protecting their natural heritage and defining a sustainable way of life.
Climate Change/Conservation Status
From 2011 onwards, air quality in parts of China, especially Beijing, have been described as “post-apocalyptic,” with pollution levels beyond the 500 point limit on the Air Quality Index. Independent reports have put the number beyond 755. The fog and haze is said to be caused by both pollution and anthropogenic factors. A paper written in 2016 concluded, “Smog is related to nearly one-third of deaths in China, putting it on a par with smoking as a threat to health.” The research was “based on the study of air pollution and mortality data in 74 cities.“ The severity of the air pollution has caused the Chinese government to be more responsive to the causes of the pollution.
In 2014, the country said it is no longer putting economic growth ahead of the environment and progress has been made. Several Chinese cities have cut concentrations of fine particles by 32 %. Beijing has reduced pollution by 25%. China has prohibited coal-fired power plants in the most polluted areas of the country. It is often replaced with natural gas. The country has also reduced its iron and steel manufacturing and closed coal mines completely. These actions are projected to increase average life expectancies of the country’s people.
However, studies from 2017 have shown that China’s effort to control the smog crisis may be futile without the world coming on board to resolve climate change. Climate change has caused wind patterns across Asia to shift and in winter the air no longer clears over Northern China. It will take the world’s action in limiting greenhouse gases to clear air pollution, but without change, concentration of toxic particles that can penetrate into the bloodstream will continue. China and other cities grappling with bad air pollution cannot solve their smog crisis alone. Air pollution is severely affecting peoples’ olfactory systems and ability to appreciate and detect the smell of jasmine.
The people of China are now demanding a shift to clean, sustainable energy. It is hard for outsiders to believe that before the Cultural Revolution, Beijing was the spiritual center of the country but remnants of the medieval old town and of its values, beliefs and ways of worship can still be seen in temples, alleys, gardens and hidden streets. The country’s indigenous religion is Taoism (there are also Buddhism, Christianity and Islam) which is also working to recover and maintain China’s rich traditional medicine practices.
Agricultural production, vital to China’s population and economy, is vulnerable to the ravages of climate change, understandably worrisome to a sector that employs nearly half of the country’s population. From 2010 to 2011 in the agricultural areas of the country, China experienced its worst drought in 60 years. Such droughts are expected to increase and be more prolonged, threatening China’s global standing as one of the world’s breadbaskets. In China’s Fujian region, a leading area for tea cultivation, droughts, flash floods, and overall changes in climate patterns are impacting the crops. Also affected are the jasmine flowers, used to scent the tea traditionally consumed across the country. Weather changes are also affecting the amounts of antioxidants and other chemicals in tea leaves.
The bottom line is that China’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions was 29.34% in 2017 and in 4 years the number climbed by 9%. It emits more carbon than the United States and Europe combined. The government is making progress: non-fossil fuel energy has become a priority in their adaption to climate change. China dominates the businesses of wind turbines and electric cars and is second in manufacturing solar panels and has increased their use. However, three quarters of its energy still comes from burning coal and their carbon footprint is still climbing.