Hainan's "noble" natural resources win global name

By Wu Ruolin / HICN / Updated: 17:30,30-July-2021

Being a tropical island, Hainan abounds in valuable natural rarities, like the Yellow Rosewood, used to make exquisite furniture, and the Eaglewood, whose resin is regarded as the first instance of Chinese incense culture. 
In the Tang dynasty, eaglewood was part of the tributary offerings to the emperor while huanghauli, also known as yellow rosewood, began to be used by the aristocracy towards the end of the Song dynasty. Yellow rosewood and eaglewood subsequently became representative symbols of Chinese culture and wisdom after centuries of use by skilled artisans and apothecaries. 

But the ancestors of the ethnic Li people in Hainan had discovered the advantages of yellow rosewood much before it found its way to the royal court. It was a hardwood, resistant to insect damage, and they used it to make many of the tools they needed in their daily lives, including the plow and hoe. The core of the wood, boiled in water, was also used for bathing to treat skin diseases.

Yellow rosewood was regarded as a gem among hardwood varieties and became the preferred wood for making traditional furniture because of its beautiful texture and hard substance. Yellow rosewood is unique. Since only the heartwood of the tree can be used and since the tree grows very slowly, it is regarded as an extremely valuable plant. “It generally takes about a couple of centuries or even longer for the usable part of the tree to grow big enough to be made into furniture,” said Zhang Peilan, Deputy Director of the China (Hainan) Museum of the South China Sea.

As for eaglewood, it is the product of the tree’s injuries. When the eaglewood tree (i.e. Anquilaria tree species) is damaged, either by the wind or other external factors, such as becoming infected or chewed by insects, the wounded part oozes a type of dark resin, which becomes the highly valued part of the eaglewood. According to historic literature, the ancients used different methods to induce this resin from different parts of the tree, creating 12 distinct types of eaglewood, mainly used to make incense. 

“Generations of literati have regarded eaglewood as the first instance of Chinese incense culture, and the most important part,” Zhang said. Every “wound” became a fragrance with the passage of time, and every injury yielded a precious treasure. Eaglewood is highly valued not only for its fragrance but also for its noble spirit of returning pain with priceless treasure.

Hainan’s yellow rosewood and eaglewood embody the many facets of Chinese culture and represent the wisdom and strength of the Chinese in ancient and modern times. As China opens up to the world, they are being adopted by people globally and their value have been widely recognized, along with the reputation of Hainan. 



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