Central China's Hubei province hopes to boost tourism by promoting the seasonal blooming of its cherry blossoms, Xu Lin and Liu Kun report.
Spring is a time of renewal. It's Mother Nature's coming out party, where she drapes herself in the verdant finery of flowers and leaves, breathing life into the year. Very few things symbolize this transition from the cold winter to the long days of summer quite like the blooming of cherry blossoms.
For many around the world, perhaps the first thing that springs to mind is Japan's seasonal celebration of the flowering fruit trees. However, for those in China, Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, is the place to be to welcome the bloom.
Beijinger Qu Tong, 28, recently enjoyed a five-day trip to the central Chinese city with her friend, traveling especially for the cherry blossoms.
"The color of the blossoms is simple but elegant. It's been raining recently, but it puts me in an artistic mood-seeing how short the life of such pretty flowers is makes me cherish the present," says Qu, an office worker.
"Wuhan is such a big city and its roads are complicated, unlike Beijing. I like the local snacks, such as hot dry noodles and three delicacies wrapped in tofu skin."
She says the century-old architecture at Wuhan University set off the large areas of cherry blossoms on campus, and some youngsters were dressed in hanfu, a type of traditional Chinese clothing.
In April of last year, an online survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed the city that respondents most wanted to visit was Wuhan, once the city hardest-hit by COVID-19, and which reopened on April 8, 2020, after a 76-day lockdown.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan only ranked eighth on the list, with Beijing taking the top slot. However, people wanted to make their contribution to the recovery of Hubei's economy via travel.
The provincial government made over 42,000 greeting cards and provided them to the medical professionals from across the country who came to aid Hubei's fight against COVID-19, inviting them, and three family members, to the province where they can enjoy free admission to all A-level tourist attractions for the rest of their lives.
Last March, Wuhan University promised to offer medical professionals who came to Hubei, and the province's resident doctors and nurses, that worked on the front line a "green channel" to enjoy the university's beautiful cherry blossoms for three years.
This year, as the cherry blossoms reach full bloom, the university has kept its promise and sent invitations to those medical professionals to enjoy the flowers on March 13 and 14, days that have been allotted especially for them to visit.
The medical workers entered from a green channel at the university gate before enjoying a welcome ceremony, a guidance service and a special musical performance.
On the first day, more than 10,000 medical workers from across the country visited the university and met their former "comrades-in-arms". Many recognized each other by the timber of their voice rather than appearances, as many only interacted with each other through layers of protective clothing when they were fighting the virus.
Gao Yan, from a hospital in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, received a flower garland that represents friendship from a former comrade, Xiong Zhao, from Wuhan, China Central Television reports. The duo worked together during last year's lockdown.
Gao says that they had never seen each other's face. They became familiar with each other's appearance by seeing photos on WeChat.
Other visitors can book online and enjoy the cherry blossoms for free, with a limit of 10,000 people on workdays and 15,000 on weekends. They need to provide their travel history and health codes, ID card and undergo a temperature check.
The city's East Lake Cherry Blossom Garden displays an exhibition of photos, videos, paintings and sculptures of medical workers fighting against COVID-19.
According to officials of the garden, establishing these sculptures is a way of paying their respect to contribution to the city of these brave men and women, as well as enhance the garden's artistic atmosphere.
With an area of 28.3 hectares, the garden boasts more than 60 species of cherry blossoms and a total of 10,000 trees, providing a longer flowering period each season. It has welcomed as many as 40,000 daily visitors.
From 6:30 pm to 10 pm, tourists can enjoy a fantastic night viewing of the flowering cherry trees, along with colorful lighting in the shape of different animals, together with the nearby traditional Chinese tower.
During its annual cherry blossom festival that lasts until early April, the garden holds colorful activities pertaining to traditional Chinese culture, such as a hanfu festival and a traditional Chinese music festival.
The provincial culture and tourism department announced 10 routes for visitors to embark upon to the city's famous cherry blossoms.
It's also appealing to scenic areas and travel agencies across the province to improve their tourism products and arranging chartered buses and trains to enjoy the cherry blossom season, offering coupons for entrance ticket fees.
According to officials from China International Travel Service (Wuhan) Ltd, of CTG Travel, thanks to the promotion of the central and local government, more tourists are showing their interest in visiting Wuhan and enjoying its cultural heritage, seas of flowers and delicious food.
The travel agency offers popular two-and three-day trips to the city, allowing tourists to enjoy the Yellow Crane Tower, Yangtze River Bridge and cruises featuring the city's grand light shows along the banks of the river.