In a private conversation with a common friend, the writer Milan Kundera scoffed that as soon as you add a qualifier to the name of a revolution, like “Velvet” or “Orange”, you somehow disqualify it. Clearly the Chinese authorities weren’t listening in on the call. In a kafkaesque move to crack down on the dissenters who might be inspired by the Jasmine Revolution spreading through the Arab world, the government has been cracking down on the little white flower so beloved by its constituents.
In a May 10th article entitled “Catching Scent of Revolution, China Moves to Snip Jasmine”, the New York Times reports that authorities have cancelled China’s International Jasmine Cultural Festival, blocked the ideogram meaning “jasmine” from appearing in text messages and instructed growers and vendors that the flower had become contraband. Vendors are even asked to note the licence plate numbers of those seeking to buy jasmine.
Will dissidents turn to jasmine scents to signal their protest, just like the Muscadins wore musk during the French Revolution – a fragrant badge that could cost you your head? And will this put a crimp on the sales of, say, Dior J’Adore just as cosmetics giants are panting to find a peg on the humongous Chinese market?
But as the artist Ai Wei Wei, arrested on April 3rd, has not been seen or heard from since, nothing the Chinese authorities do is a laughing matter. In an admittedly feeble gesture of solidarity, I plan to wear a beautiful jasmine scent to remind myself of his plight…
I am a writer and translator based in Paris, as well as the perfume editor for Citizen K. My book The Perfume Lover, A Personal History of Scent is published by Harper Collins (UK), St. Martin's Press (USA) and Penguin (Canada). The perfume linked to the book,Séville à l'aube, was composed by Bertrand Duchaufour for L'Artisan Parfumeur.