Oranges-Filial Love
Oranges-Filial Love

“In the time of the After Han dynasty, Luh Tseih, when he was six years old, went to Kew Keang to see Yuen Shuh. Shuh brought out some oranges and gave him. Tseih hid two of them in his bosom... while he was bowing and taking leave of his host, the oranges fell to the ground. Shuh said to him, ‘Do you, sir, while my guest, conceal oranges in your bosom ?’ Tseih, kneeling down before him, answered, "My mother loves oranges very much. I desired to give them to mother" (Doolittle 1866).

A Way of Life
A Way of Life

“… several varieties of the orange, abound in their season. One kind of orange… called the Mandarin orange, has a loose jacket or skin, and the inside is divided into ten or twelve lobes. … and a fine variety of pumelo, are brought from Formosa or Amoy in native junks or by steamers. Native pumelos, shaddocks,… are abundant, but no good apples. Large quantities of oranges,… and various kinds of fruits and vegetables, are preserved in sugar, and exported to other parts of China (Doolittle 1866).

Ascending on High
Ascending on High

“[K]ite-flying on the highest hills in the city and suburbs is observed regularly on the ninth day of the ninth month…The Chinese explain… a certain man was informed, that on [that day] calamity would befall his house… in imitation of his example, they go to the hills on the ninth day of the ninth month, and thus avoid any domestic calamity which might have befallen them at home… to while away the time…they take along their kites and fly them. This is called "ascending on high" (Doolittle 1866).

Oranges-Filial Love
Oranges-Filial Love

“In the time of the After Han dynasty, Luh Tseih, when he was six years old, went to Kew Keang to see Yuen Shuh. Shuh brought out some oranges and gave him. Tseih hid two of them in his bosom... while he was bowing and taking leave of his host, the oranges fell to the ground. Shuh said to him, ‘Do you, sir, while my guest, conceal oranges in your bosom ?’ Tseih, kneeling down before him, answered, "My mother loves oranges very much. I desired to give them to mother" (Doolittle 1866).


mouse over pictures for captions – click for expanded view

According to the USDA’s January 2014 Foreign Agricultural Services data:



“China’s production is forecast to grow nearly 10 percent to 7.6 million tons, keeping pace with rising fresh consumption and processing. China is forecast to remain the largest fresh consumer accounting for over 20 percent of global consumption. Aiming to continue to expand production, new varieties are being planted to harvest both earlier and later in the season.”


Orange Juice

“China’s production is forecast to increase by one third to a record 60,000 tons, with more fruit being used for processing. Higher production will primarily serve the domestic market as orange juice grows in popularity.”



“China’s production is forecast to jump 1.2 million tons, to a record 18.2 million on favorable weather and higher yields. China represents 70 percent of global production and 35 percent of global exports. Rising fresh consumption is forecast to almost keep pace with production. Exports are forecast to grow with the increased available supply and stronger international demand.”


A Lot of People

China’s population is listed as 1,364,710,000 (and counting) which represents over 19% of the entire world population. Geographically, China is only slightly smaller than the USA but the population density is an average of 361 people per square mile versus an average of 83 people per square mile in the USA.(1) Those figures are somewhat skewed as the eastern coastal provinces of China are much more densely populated than the western provinces. Similarly, the concentration of people in the USA is greatest on the East Coast and the West Coasts. 


A Lot of Oranges 

According to the ‘Ministry of Agriculture’ China citrus growing acreage and output increased 20 times during the second-half of the 1900’s.  Production of oranges surpassed the European Union in the 2009-10 crop year and is projected, for the first time, to exceed the USA in the 2013-14 crop year. This will make China the 2nd largest over-all orange producing country behind only Brazil. 


Not Just Oranges

China is also by far the largest grower and consumer of tangerines. In addition to the growing of tangerines for ‘fresh’ consumption, China is the largest exporter as well as a sizable consumer itself of canned mandarins. China is also the largest producer of Pomelos. According to Yi Ganjun, at the Institute of Fruit Tree Research, Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Science:


  • China has the largest acreage of Pomelos in production of any country;

  • China has been cultivating the Pomelo for more than 3,000 years; 

  • More than 200 cultivars (cultivated varieties) have been recorded in China;

  • In 2008, about 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of Pomelos were in production, of which 96% were consumed domestically. 


The Buddha’s Hand Citron is also abundantly grown in China. “The citron is a bright yellow lemon-like fruit with a thick rind and long finger-like tendrils. Because it resembles the familiar hand position of the Buddha, the citron has the auspicious Chinese name of foshou (佛手) which literally means "Buddha's Hand". The name foshou sounds very similar to the words fu (福 happiness) and shou (寿 longevity) and therefore the citron is a symbol for "happiness and longevity". The citron is one of the "Three Abundances" (Three Plenties).”(2) The Buddha’s Hand has many uses in the Chinese culture: it is esteemed for its unique form and delightful aroma, it is often just carried by people or placed on tables around the homes, it can be eaten by hand or as an ingredient in a variety of dishes and desserts, the peel is used medicinally, and the fruit is presented as an offering at temple altars. The tree is also grown as an ornamental in pots and containers and has been depicted in Chinese art pieces since at least the 10th century A.D. in Fujian. “Chinese artists classically depicted the fruit in jade and ivory carvings, in prints, and on lacquered wood panels.”(3) 


A Long History

The exact date that cultivation of citrus first began in China may never be known for certain but Chinese literature has confirmed it has an extensive history. One of the modern-day studies of citrus affirms, “The earliest reference to any citrus fruit to which attention has thus far been directed is contained in the book "Yu Kung" or "Tribute of Yu" (The Emperor Ta Yu, who reigned from 2205 to 2197 B.C.), where the statement was made, "The baskets were filled with woven ornamental silks. The bundle contained small oranges and pummeloes."(4)  


Debating the Origin of Citrus 

The true origin of Citrus has always been elusive to scientists and research experts in the field. An accepted theory has been one by Japanese scholar and Citrus taxonomist, Tyôzaburô Tanaka (1885-1976). In 1954, Tanaka concluded the center of the Citrus genus origin was northeastern India and northern Burma. Based on his extensive research, he designated an imaginary dividing line of flora distribution, the “Tanakan Line”, which starts from the north-western border of India, runs above Burma, through the Yunnan province of China, and ends in the south at the island of Hainan. Tanaka contended that from India and Burma modern Citrus migrated through the mountain passes to China; thus China was a ‘secondary’ point of origin. Although Tanaka was a devoted researcher and important contributor to the understanding of Citrus, material has become available that debates his theory.


Yunnan, China – A Wealth of Citrus

When Tanaka designated the line of demarcation, he had not been able to gain access to the remote areas of the Yunnan province and was unaware of the rich diversity of Citrus that exists in the region. In 1990, Frederick G. Gmitter, Jr.( University of Florida , IFAS, Citrus Research and Education Center) and Xulan Hu (Yunnan Agricultural Extension Center, People’s Republic of China)proposed from their findings that Yunnan, China and adjacent areas ought to be included as part of the primitive center of origin of modern Citrus. They state:


“The number and diversity of Citrus species and types in Yunnan…and the character variation within species (wild and cultivated) represents a substantial portion of the Citrus gene pool. We suggest that Yunnan is a joining link between the Indo-Burma and the central China-Japan regions of Citrus diversification and evolution, and not a dividing zone… We consider the genetic diversity, coupled with the available natural system for plant dispersal, to be good evidence in support of the hypothesis that the Yunnan area was a part of the primitive center of origin of contemporary Citrus species…”(5)


Why So Many Theories?

Today, new methods in molecular biology and DNA testing are re-examining evidence and assessing possible new propositions, including the hypotheses of plate tectonics contributing to the spread of citrus that might have actually originated in Australia. What makes citrus so difficult to determine its true origin? “It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to be certain that local "wild" Citrus populations are indigenous to an area and are not naturalized forms introduced or spread by the activities of earlier human generations.”(4) Determining origin means determining specific types. China’s vast amount of citrus and the many cultivars demonstrates the prolific nature of the genus and the difficulty of experts to determine ‘type’. But why does Citrus produce a seemingly endless array of varieties? 


Apomixis & Polyembryony-Definitions Please?

Basically, these scientific terms refer to the ability of citrus to asexually reproduce and to easily reproduce hybrids. As explained by a horticultural authority in Australia:


"There is considerable controversy between different authorities as to the number of valid species within the genus Citrus. The main reasons are that citrus fruits have been grown by man for many centuries. Early descriptions lack precision so that origins and ranges of natural occurrences are now uncertain. Hybridisation both between and within species occurs readily and the phenomena of apomixis and polyembryony are widespread in the genus. By these means… seed can develop into plants… and enable both natural and artificial hybrids to reproduce themselves.”(6)


With its prolific, essentially asexual ability to reproduce, it is no wonder after 3,000 years (or more) that with both natural and assisted propagation, the number of different ‘types’ of citrus possible are almost unlimited in China.

China and Citrus

China-A Kingdom of Citrus
China-A Kingdom of Citrus

Power of the Mandarin Orange
Power of the Mandarin Orange

A Modern Celebration of the Moon
A Modern Celebration of the Moon

China-A Kingdom of Citrus
China-A Kingdom of Citrus


Citrus and Celebrations

It is also no wonder with such a long history in China that citrus plays a notable role in many of the vibrant holiday celebrations and festivals that comprise the Chinese culture. Most of the traditional festivals took shape in the Qin Dynasty (221-366 BC) but it was in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) the festivals lifted the shrouds of centuries of mystery, sacrifice, and taboo and the many events of each year became more festive occasions:


  • New Years – is the most important holiday in China. The start date changes yearly as it based on the lunar calendar, as opposed to the western calendar which is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun. The Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice (on the western calendar this start date can be in January or February), and ends on the full moon, 14 days later.

    In 1866, American Protestant missionary Reverend Justus Doolittle, while in China, documented many of the customs he witnessed during his stay. In regards to the New Year celebrations, he wrote, “The First day of the new year is a day of great festivity and rejoicing among all classes.”  He describes the many traditional uses of citrus during festivities including, “Custom requires that every boy who calls on his neighbors or his relatives…should receive a couple of loose-skinned oranges [this describes a mandarin tangerine], or the lad would consider himself slighted…The reason why this kind of orange is so popular at New Year’s is, that the colloquial name for it, kěk, is precisely the same as the term for “fortunate,” “lucky,” “auspicious.” The presentation of these oranges is equivalent to the wish of an auspicious and lucky year; it is an omen of good.”(7)


  • The Festival of the Tombs – is the second most important celebration in China, held in early April, and its aim is to commemorate ancestors.  Doolittle describes that, “often a few days previous to the worship of the dead…and if residing not far from the family burial-ground, someone goes and sweeps the graves, removes the rubbish, and pulls up the tall grass and weeds which may be found growing on them. Sometimes this festival is often referred to as “Sweeping the Tombs.”(7) This is time for family to visit graves in memory of the dead, and bring offerings of gifts to those entombed. Citrus is often included as an omen of good. Overtime, this custom has evolved from extravagant ceremonies of the ancient emperors 2,500 years ago and now combines the sadness of the worship of the dead with the contrast of the celebration of Spring. This festival is also known as the Qingming Festival, translated as “Pure Brightness”, and it is a time to enjoy the outdoors, fly kites (by day or night), plant new trees, and in general, rejoice in the on-set of the Spring season.

  • The Festival of the Middle of Autumn – is the third most important celebration in China. Held from the eleventh to the fifteenth of the eighth month of the lunar calendar the celebration is also referred to as the “Moon Festival”. Although the origination of the festival is not clear in western understanding, Doolittle comments in his book gives an outsider’s viewpoint: “The original design seems to be to commemorate the arrival of that particular time of the year. The middle of autumn is thought to be a propitious season, calculated to render one happy and joyous…The early autumnal harvest has already been secured. The season, on so many accounts, is adapted to joyful congratulations and festival amusements.”(7)  But according to the 2009 Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, the significance of this event is much deeper in Chinese culture and represents an important time of family gathering. In this Festival, the roundness of the full moon symbolizes, at least in this day and age, a full circle of complete togetherness. Although sinologists do not agree on the origin and purpose one can conclude from the literature the significance correlates with bountiful harvests as a result of adequate tributes to “heaven and earth.” The important foods for the celebrations are ‘moon-cakes’, a flour-based shell with sweet bean-paste stuffing and pomelos. The round shape of the cakes and the roundness of the pomelos are believed to also represent a full circle of the togetherness of family.





(3)Simoons, Frederick J. 1991. Food in China: a cultural and historical inquiry. CRC, Boca Raton.

(4)H. J. WEBBER History and Development of the Citrus Industry CHAPTER 1. The Citrus Industry Revised Edition University of California Division     of Agricultural Sciences 1967 Volume I: History, World Distribution, Botany, and Varieties

(5)  The Possible Role of Yunnan, China, in the Origin of Contemporary Citrus Species (Rutaceae): Frederick G. Gmitter, Jr. and Xulan Hu Source: Economic Botany, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1990), pp. 267-277

(6) Donald McEwan Alexander, 1983, Some Citrus Species and Varieties in Australia, Photographs by E. A. Lawton, Division of Horticultural Research, C.S.I.R.O. Research Organization, Australia.

(7)Doolittle, Rev. Justus.  Social Life of the Chinese: with some accounts of their Religious, Governmental, Educational, and Business Customs and Opinions. 1866. London: Sampson Low, Son & Marston, Milton House, Ludgate Hill.