by Craig Coussins


Source material from Robert Baron , Phoenix Bonsai Society




"Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, certain historic, cultural and economic factors led people in certain areas to shape trees into extremely rigid forms. Very strict rules were codified for each school and set them apart. Most of this is history today. And I think it is very important to understand that the distinct styles produced by these schools never accounted for more than just one strand in the overall development of penjing. In traditional China, penjing was an art of the scholar. Trees sculptured by scholars mirrored the tastes of their creators, reflecting a high degree of education and self-cultivation. Penjing created by scholars were never confined to rigid patterns, but instead sought to express the kind of special atmosphere emanating from Chinese paintings. I believe this kind of penjing has always been the main stream. China's six penjing schools (* below, and based on regional variations which emerged during the late Ming and Qing Dynasties, c.17th century) are not a major influence today. Clearly, there's a return to the roots, to the free-spirited kinds of penjing traditionally created by scholars." -- Qingquan Zhao 1

Map of China
from ( )

* YANGZHOU (Styles include: "Platform," "Ingenious or Delicate Cloud," " Pagoda," " Three-Winding ")
TUNG (Styles include: "Coiled Dragon," " Dancing Dragon ")

* SUZHOU (Styles include: "Six Platforms, Three Bases and One Top," "Tree Branches Overhanging a Cliff," "Split Trunk," "Screen," "Following the Wind," "Aslant and Supine," "Erect with Spreading Foliage," "Phoenix and Crane on Pavilion and Pagoda")
ZHEJIANG (Styles include: "Tall Trunk," "Forest")
HUNAN (Styles include: "Hanging Cliff")
HUBEI (Styles include: " Flat-Top ")
HENAN (Styles include: " Flat-Top ")

* SICHUAN (CHUAN) SCHOOL (Styles include: "Straight," Reclining and Slanting Trunk," "Hanging Cliff," " Earthworm ")

* LINGNAN (Styles include: "Ancient Tree" or "Military General Tree;" "Large Tree" or "Tall Tree;" "Towering Tree", " Five-Tree ")


Penjing have traditionally been divided into two categories: shansui and shumu.
Shansui are the "mountain and water" or landscape penjing which feature mostly rocks and depict mountain scenes. Trees may or may not appear; if they are included, they play a minor role in the overall composition.
Shumu or "tree" penjing [aka penzai ] are the close cousins of the Japanese bonsai, depicting the image of one or several trees, those being the main material and dominant element in the composition. When creating a shumu penjing -- or a traditional painting, for that matter -- the Chinese artist pays much attention to variation inherent in contrast, seeking to generate opposites (upright vs. slanting, solid vs. void, dense vs. sparse, etc.) which will successfully unite in a harmonious fashion. Although nursery-grown stock is now the source of most material, shuzhuang (literally, "tree stump") or collected penjing was the traditional beginning for a composition. The six basic forms in China are the straight trunk, slanting trunk, curved trunk, cliff-hanging, vine, and forest styles. Literati penjing are in a category to themselves, imbued with the characteristics of aloofness, sparseness, refined elegance, and plainness.

Regional Styles and Schools: THE SU SCHOOL (Northern)
Since penjing seeks to recapture real scenery and the characters and moods of natural trees, it is not surprising that this longtime art forms displays as much variation as the regions -- differing in geography, climate, and appearance of trees -- in which it has developed and is practiced. The materials chosen by artists in different regions are not alike, and styling techniques vary as well, and each has its merits. Further variables include the artist's personality, philosophy, and artistic training. Over the centuries different penjing schools have emerged in China.
At present there are two main groups of regional styles with regard to shumu penjing. First, the Su or Northern group: from the area of the Yangtze River Valley, its trees -- predominantly conifers -- show the presence of distinctly shaped foliage layers or clusters. And because of a shorter growing season, the tree shapes need to be established using wiring. Apart from these common traits, however, styles differ significantly. In general, Northern landscape penjing are noted for their grand, fantastic appearance. The Northern school is divided into the Eastern Su and Western Su schools.

YANGZHOU School (principal city: Yangzhou; 2008 pop.: 4,590,000): Here there is a long tradition of training penjing featuring neat, distinctive foliage layers. Limbs thus trained into thin, flat, oval-shaped foliage usually of equal or similar size, horizontally placed, are traditionally known as "cloud layers," and are the product of artistic exaggeration. A tree usually features an odd number of these richly decorative layers. Penjing with one to three levels represent the "Platform Style," and those with over three levels are of the "Ingenious or Delicate Cloud Style." Most of the trunks are trained into a spiralling shape known as "Roaming Dragon Curves."
Yangzhou artists are highly skilled at bending the trunk, heavy branches, and shorter branches with palm fiber strings. Influenced by the painting theory that branches should not be straight for the length of one cun (3.3 cm, or about one and a third inches), the penjing artists twist branches into "Flower Pagoda" and "Three Curves Per Cun." In training from an early age, the trees undergo meticulous bending and careful pruning. This style requires a high level of skill and is very time-consuming. Scrupulous attention is paid to every detail, and their meticulous work has earned the artists universal respect.
The traditional, conventional and standardized styles with their unique features have been preserved to this day. Material used includes species of pine, cypress, Chinese elm ( Ulmus parvifolia ), Chinese littleleaf boxwood ( Buxus microphylla var. sinica), Podocarpus, Gingko, Damnacanthus, azalea, camellia, Chinese wolfberry, Wisteria, Nandina domestica, Chimonanthus, pomegranate, and honeysuckle.
4 Banyan and other Ficus penjing are a more recent product of the area.
A famous tree is "Towering Canopy," a one hundred cm. tall Sabrina chinensis which is about four centuries old. This tree typifies the traditional Yangzhou penjing. The coiled shape of the trunk calls to mind a dragon dancing. The lush foliage forms a canopy over the figure. According to historical records, "Name 47" was planted in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It grew for many years in the compound of Yangzhou's ancient Tian Ning Monastery. As a living cultural relic, it was given to the Yangzhou Museum in the early 1950s, together with two other Qing dynasty cypresses (1644-1912). In 1964, it found a new home in Yangzhou's Slender West Lake Park. This irreplaceable penjing is a treasure handed down from ancient times.
Qingquan Zhao is Vice-President of the Association of Penjing Artists of China, a third generation enthusiast, and a Penjing Master at Hong Yuan in Yangzhou. At age twenty he was introduced by his father to an old friend, Xu Xiaobai (b. 1909-2006), a retired horticultural professor at the Nanjing Agricultural Institute. Xu was one of the very first persons in modern China to engage in penjing research. He became Zhao's mentor and co-author for several books and articles on the subject. The younger also learned from some of the country's best known old masters while also studying poetry and traditional Chinese painting techniques.
In the 1970s Zhao began developing what has become a third category of penjing, shuihan ("Water-and-Land" style). Inspired by Yangzhou's classical garden art and the great landscape paintings of the southwestern provinces, he created garden scenes of inextricably linked water, rocks and trees in miniature on very shallow containers (usually marble slabs).
Zhao authored The Art of Penjing Creation: An Analysis, and his tree "Painting With Eight Horses" took first prize at the judged First Chinese National Penjing Exhibition in Shanghai in September 1985. He conducted a demonstration and workshop in water-and-land penjing for the World Bonsai Convention in Florida in 1993. This was Zhao's second trip to a Florida-based convention, where he is highly popular as well as in many other places in the U.S. and China. He authored Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment in 1997.
Master Wei Jinshengis the author of General Sight of Chinese Penjing Art, Pithy Penjing of Today in China, and China Penjing of Yangzhou Style.
See also this material in questionable English-translation.

The TUNG [T'ung] School is based in Anhui (capital city, Hefei; 2009 city pop.: 4,914,300; 2009 province pop.: 61,350,000): Similar to the method of the Yangzhou school, the Tung uses as a guideline for the styling of plum penjing in She County the ancient saying that "a plum tree is beautiful when twisted and devoid of appeal when straight." Beginning with a circular bend starting from the plant's roots in the container, the upper trunk is curved with two half-bends into a smooth S-configuration. The trees, positioned so that they incline forward, gradually reach upward in a form known as "Coiled Dragon" for its resemblance to a roaming dragon.
When training the Chinese cypress or Sargent juniper, Anhui artists twist the trunk into a spiralling shape when the tree is still young to create the striations in the bark typical of an aged specimen. Other species used include Pinus taiwanensis, Podocarpus, boxwood, heath, sweet-scented osmanthus, Lagerstroemia, Nandina domestica, Ulmus pumila, and Sageretia.
Some Anhui bonsai are characterized by their screen-like horizontal extensions. At an early stage of cultivation, branches are trained sideways. Sometimes several trees are combined by means of grafting to achieve a multi-dimensional geometric shape.
See also this material in questionable English-translation.

SUZHOU School (near the southern end of Jiangsu province, principal city, Suzhou ; 2009 pop.: 6,332,900): Trees trained here are known for the aged appearance of their trunks and their curved branches. Pure and beautiful, they impart a feeling of classical elegance. Traditional forms were fairly standardized, one major style called for the trunk to be twisted from one side to the other into a total of six curves; three branch arrangements extended from the bole to the right and three to the left. These branches were called "Six Platforms." Three more were trained toward the back, being the "Three Bases." Another cluster crowned the top, and the entire design was named "Six Platforms, Three Bases and One Top."
The area around the town of Guangfu (near Suzhou) has certain formulae for training plum penjing. These include the "Tree Branches Overhanging a Cliff Style," "Split Trunk Style," "Screen Style," and "Following the Wind Style." This latter form is similar to the "slanted trunk" form, but the angle of the trunk is more extreme and an overly extended branch protrudes abruptly at the top. Pine trees are often used in this type, and they can then be placed in living rooms because they mimic a beckoning gesture that is easily observed by guests. Such creations are called "guest welcoming pines."
The "Basic Shaping Through Bending, Fine Shaping Through Pruning" technique is used for style development. The bole and branches are first bent into S-configurations with the help of palm fiber strings. In the ensuing years, this elementary shape is refined by meticulous pruning. Cutting is viewed as the chief styling method, assisted by trunk and limb bending. Special features of Suzhou penjing are an old-looking trunk with a large number of branches, sharp contrasts between dead wood and lush sections, and a plump, smooth foliage layer rounding out the top. Deciduous species such as the Hedge Sageretia ( Sageretia theezans ), Chinese Elm ( Ulmus parvifolia ), Trident Maple ( Acer buergeranum ), Plum, and Pomegranate ( Punica granatum ) are extensively used. Conifers like the Chinese Juniper ( Juniperus chinensis ) and Five-needle Pine ( Pinus parvifolia ) are a common sight as well.
Famous artists include Zhu Zi'an [Chu Tzu-an] and Zhou Shoujuan [Chou Shou-shih], who have since the 1950s opened up new prospects for Suzhou penjing, advocating that miniature tree designs should emphasize natural beauty.
Probably the most famous tree of this school is named "Artistic Spirit of the Qin and Han Dynasties," a 170 cm tall Juniperus chinensis which is over five hundred years old. Winding, swaying branches and branchlets have grown off the cracked old bole which consists largely of dead wood. There is a strong contrast between the old and the new, and the grand appearance of pines and junipers [from paintings?] from the Qin and Han (221 B.C.E. - 220 C.E. ) have been fully captured. This ancient, majestic and robust tree with its unique vitality has been planted in a Ming dynasty terra cotta pot of bright red color, shaped like a lotus flower. Tree and pot rest on a stone block featuring nine lionheads which dates from the late Yuan dynasty (14th century), an arrangement which perfectly complements an already beautiful penjing. Tree, container and stand enhance each other's beauty. Since this penjing is an excellent, rare work of art as well as one of the miniature trees more advanced in age, it is called a "living antique." The tree is being maintained at China's famous penjing garden, Suzhou's Tiger Hill area Wan Jing Shan Zhuang ("Mountain Village of 10,000 Views").
Said to have the most beautiful gardens in all the country, Suzhou has over one hundred and fifty gardens. Combining traditional elements of pavilions, temples, rock sculptures, trees and flowers, these gardens were privately built with one dating back to at least to the tenth century. Most were restored in the early 1950s and now belong to "the people."
In the Humble Administrator's Garden -- built by a tax collector who extorted enough money to construct it in 1513 -- there are quality bonsai being actively developed and trained along with beautiful old specimens of many different varieties of trees. On some of the impressive Chinese elms, very fine twiggy growth has been developed on old collected stumps which were partially carved and allowed to rot. Many of these are six or seven feet high [sic] in pots or trays of agreeable dimensions. Also in this garden can be seen many beautifully trained Juniperus procumbens in classical styles. Tables full of wei-xing (aka mame, trees under six inches or so), identically styled, are waiting to be sold.
From 1547 comes the following:
"As for the growing of pine, cypress and hai tong in dishes, they mostly imitate a pictorial idea ( hua yi ). Aslant and supine ones are in the [painter] Ma Yuan (fl. c.1190-1260) technique, those with erect trunks and spreading foliage in the Guo Xi ( c. 1001-90) technique. Other forms, such as 'phoenix and crane on pavilion and pagoda' are variously refined and marvellous, and can be laid out for pure enjoyment." 11
See also this material in questionable English-translation.

SHANGHAI School (capital city, Shanghai; 2009 municipality pop.: 19,210,000). The trees of this school have freely curving and extending branch lines and a firm, exquisite quality. The "Basic Shaping Through Bending, Fine Shaping Through Pruning (Coarse Wiring and Fine Pruning)" training technique is employed on over 140 species of trees. Conifers like the Five-Needle Pine ( Pinus parvifolia ), Black Pine ( Pinus thunbergiana ), Yew Podocarpus ( Podocarpus macrophylla ), and Juniper are emphasized. Many deciduous and flowering/fruit bearing species are also used. The trunk and branches are coiled and curved with metal wire -- usually iron, though it rusts easily -- instead of palm fibres, while the branchlets are meticulously pruned over a period of several years. Trees trained in this manner feature trunk and branch lines that extend and bend freely. Curves are smooth, and the increasingly dense branchlets form bold, angular lines as a result of pruning. The whole impression is one of solidity contained in softness. There is great variety in the non-formula natural shapes and appearances of Shanghai penjing, which also include renowned delicate and exquisitely trained "palm-sized" miniatures. All this testifies to the high level of workmanship found in this region.
Shanghai's contribution to the development of landscape penjing has been substantial. In the past, hard rocks were frequently appreciated as viewing stones, while water absorbent soft rocks were displayed in high-rimmed containers. These pots only allowed for the contemplation of the peak's posture; the view of the foot of the mountains was obstructed. From the 1960s on, Dong Shuyu, Yin Zimin, and other penjing masters have been boldly creating new types of landscapes. They were the first to use flat trays made from Fan stone or marble. This enables the viewer to appreciate the mountain base -- zigzagging and rich in variation -- the interplay of mountains and water, as well as the peak and central parts of the mountains. The old practice of including an excessive number of brightly colored accessories was discarded.
These artists eagerly tapped the rich reservoir of hard rocks for use as penjing material. Landscapes were created from Axe-cut Rock, Stone Bamboo Shoot Rock, Ying Rock, Xuancheng Rock, and others. These masters also pioneered the cultivation of miniature trees and other plants on these rocks. At present, miniature landscapes from Shanghai may be divided further into roughly two categories:
1.) Those made from hard rock which recreate a near scene. Enormous peaks scrape the sky, while beautiful plants grow luxuriantly further down the mountains. Rocks and trees are combined in an ingenious manner.
2.) Those made of soft rock such as Coral Rock, Pumice, and Sedimentary Sandstone. The rocks are meticulously carved [sic] to bring out the outlines and grain, the li. Small grasses are cultivated on the rocks, and trays typically feature a wide expanse of water. Artists employ a "Flat Distance" or "Deep Distance" composition to recreate the country south of the Yangtze River, a land of rivers and lakes.
Exposed root sinuous style is much used by the Chinese. Often both trunks and roots are encouraged to grow in a totally natural manner, crossing and twisting as nature dictates without noticeable human interference. Another root treatment is the root over rock planting in what might be called "squid" or :octopus" style, the upper roots having fused into a cap engulfing the rock.
The Shanghai Botanic Garden is the largest and most famous in China. There, Yunhua Hu (b. 1943) is an Assistant Director of the Administration Bureau and formerly (1977) Curator of Penjing. A graduate of the Beijing School of Forestry and author of several books, he has also been Chairman of the Chinese Flower and Bonsai Association. The Garden is undoubtedly the center of dwarf tree culture in that country. There are eight to nine hundred penjing at the garden from all the various parts of China. The collection includes a large number of old trees inherited from the Guomintang Government, and some were gifts from Japan in 1928. During the domestic turmoils these trees were protected and spared.
The Shanghai Botanic Garden contains 120 varieties of trees and uses twenty different kinds of rocks. It is managed by a production brigade of fifty experience workers. In addition to the main collection, a large number of miniature landscapes and trees are created for export. The production of penjing has been increasing: in 1980 or so, some twenty thousand were sold from here (most of these going to Japan!), and by 1988 the number exported had doubled.
The reception area holds a fine educational museum with a photographic reproduction of a mural found in a 1700-year-old Jin Dynasty tomb showing the dwarfed trees being presented as gifts. This is said to be the oldest historical proof of the existence of this art. There is also a display of antique pots and tools, as well as a fine shop where scroll paintings, books, pots, and bases can be purchased. Furthermore, bonsai enthusiasts from outside of China can be shown the penjing collections not open to the public.

NANTONG School (in south-east Jiangsu province, principal city, Nantong; 2008 Prefecture-level city pop.: 7,737,900): Their specialty is the Shrubby Yew Podocarpus ( Podocarpus macrophylla var. maki), whose trunks were trained with palm fiber strings into "S" shape (two and a half curves) and lean forward. The branches are pruned into clear-cut pieces. The foliage layers are arranged on either side, and the whole is a unique design. 15
See also this material in questionable English-translation.
The city of Rugao on the northern bank of Yangtze River in northeast Jiangsu is also a source of penjing, as seen in this video.

ZHEJIANG School (capital city, Hangzhou ; 2009 sub-provincial city pop.: 8,100,000; 2009 provincial pop.: 51,800,000): A newcomer to penjing, it uses the same species as the Shanghai School with the foliage now trained into distinctly shaped layers. To treat the trees, the artists use metal wire and palm fiber strings combined with meticulous pruning, such as pruning back buds and shoots and removing terminal buds. Much attention is paid to rhythmic change and the artists strive for dynamic beauty. Artists in Zhejiang Province do not always seek to curve a tree's trunk. Especially when training the Five-Needle Pine, they often aim for an erect bole and strive to highlight such features as venerability, a lean strong frame and a majestic tall appearance. Hence, the most common styles as "Tall Trunk" and "Forest Style."
In the beautiful city of Hangzhou can be found the Hangzhou Flower Nursery, established in 1958. Here can be found all types of flowers, rose gardens, and a two and one-half acre bonsai garden. There, thirty-five hundred potted plants, many of which are large pines thirty to one hundred years old, are cared for by a staff of fifteen. The collection includes Five-Needle Pine ( Pinus parvifolia ), shimpaku ( Juniperus chinensis 'sargentii'), elms, Black Pines ( Pinus thunbergiana ), Ginkgo, pomegranate ( Punica granatum ), olive, zelkova, Fukien Tea ( Ehretia buxifolia ), Yew Podocarpus (aka Buddha Pine, Podocarpus macrophylla ), the Sparrow Plum ( Sageratia theezans ), maple ( Acer palmatum ), boxwood, ( Buxus ), Nandina domestica, Lagerstroemia indica, and Ilex.
The collection has three purposes: for the pleasure of tourists, to provide bonsai for exchange with other cities, and for research. There seemed to be little active training, and it was some visiting enthusiasts' impression the nursery was a holding area for trees to be exported for much needed foreign exchange. To experienced eyes, however, the old Chinese pots could be far more exciting than row after row of similarly shaped pines, healthy and short needled as they are. The trunks of the trees are said to be often pounded or carved by the workers, and "destructive worms" are put into the trunks to give them an aged look.
This populous city of Hangzhou in the early 1980s had only one amateur club with thirty members who met once a year for a bonsai demonstration.
See also this material in questionable English-translation.

HUNAN School (capital city, Changsha; 2009 city pop.: 6,642,200; 2009 province pop.: 63,930,000): From here can be found Sabina chinensis cv. procumbens (Juniper) penjing trained into "Hanging Cliff Style."

HUBEI School (capital city, Wuhan [Hankow]; 2007 sub-provincial city pop.: 9,700,000; 2009 province pop.: 59,490,000): This School effected a breakthrough in styling techniques with a penjing named "Autumn Melancholy." As a result of pruning, branches and foliage appear to be fluttering off one side. The artist sculpted a penjing which vividly portrays a tree attacked by heavy winds. Syzygium and Pyracantha are commonly used.

HENAN School (capital city, Zhengzhou; 2007 Prefecture-level city pop.: 7,356,000; 2007 province pop.: 94,290,000): The specialty here are trimmed and wired Chinese tamarisk ( Tamarix chinensis, especially in the Weeping-style ), Negundo Chastetree ( Vitex negundo, especially in the Cloud-style ), and Common Pomegranate ( Punica granatum, especially in the Natural-style ).

SHANDONG School (capital city, Jinan; 2009 city pop.: 6,036,500; 2008 province pop.: 94,000,000): In the city can be found landscape penjing using Tortoise Vein Rock and Green Laoshan Rock, both known for their bold yet unpretentious character. These are often used to depict Peng Lai, the magical abode of the Immortals, or Mt. Tai in its majestic grandeur. The rocks' contours are imposing and rugged.
The collection of potted trees at the Beijing Botanic Garden was only established in the late 1970s. The curator in the early 1980s was Zhu Ge Zheng-wing, who had studied penzai culture in Shanghai. The art of penzai had been almost obliterated during China's modern political upheavals, and thus most of the trees here were young and lacked vigor and the look of age.

LIAONING School (capital city, Shenyang; 2008 sub-provincial city pop.: 7,760,000; 2008 province pop.: 43,060,000): Landscape penjing from this School are made from Petrified Wood to represent the steep mountain sceneries of China's North.

JILIN School (capital city, Changchun [Hsinking]; 2007 sub-provincial city pop.: 7,459,000; 2009 province pop.: 27,400,000): Pumice penjing are also created here, again striving to recapture the steep mountain sceneries of the North.

Distinct from the Su schools (and Lingnan, below) is the SICHUAN or CHUAN [Ch'uan] School (capital city, Chengdu; 2007 city pop.: 11,000,670; 2009 province pop.: 81,620,000): The trees of this school are characterized by many flowing curves and upward spirals. The plants are twisted into a multitude of shapes. They appear old, grand and dignified, with a touch of the unusual. Palm fiber strings are used for training. Based on strict patterns, most traditional penjing here have their boles and branches curved into a variety of shapes. Each bonsai has a focal point, poetically referred to as a "pearl embraced by a cavorting dragon." Popular formulae for trunk coiling are "Square Turns (Corner Bends)," "Curves With Paired Branches," "Reversing Curves," "Large Curves With Drooping Branches," "Straight Trunk With Crown," "Coiling Dragon Embracing a Staff or Pillar," and "Old Woman Combing Her Hair or Wife Applying Make-up." Branches may be twisted to appear as "Flat Branches," "Spiralling or Coiled Branches," "Half-Flat, Half-Spiralling Branches," and so on. Collectively, these are referred to as "Earthworm Curves"
In addition to the traditional standardized styles, the Sichuan School has created many naturally shaped trees in recent years, using traditional Chinese paintings for reference. Penjing in the Straight, Reclining and Slanting Trunk Styles as well as the Hanging Cliff Style are particularly common. Exposed roots resembling dragon claws are also frequently to be found here. Trees appear unsophisticated yet convey a sense of elegance and dignity. With flowering and fruit bearing species such as Common Flowering Quince ( Chaenomeles lagenaria ), Spiny Persimmon ( Diospyros armata ), and Snow-in-summer ( Gerastium tomentosum ), Lagerstroemia, Damnacanthus, Bauhinia, Osmanthus, and Ilex the trunk and limbs are curved in an effort to reduce the tree's size and to enhance the visual effect of abundant flowers/fruits and exuberant foliage. Other specialties of the Sichuan School are Ginkgo biloba with Stalactite Trunks, bamboo penjing in the Forest Style, Yew Podocarpus, garden camellia and azalea.
Sichuan landscape penjing artists use mostly sedimentary sandstone, and popular motifs include the hazards of the Three Yangtze River Gorges, the elegant beauty of Mt. Emei [one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China and mentioned in the "Poem About Two Stones" by Su Shi (aka Su Dongpo, 1037-1101)], the tranquility of Qingcheng, and the grandeur of Jianmen.
See also this material in questionable English-translation.


Regional Styles and Schools: THE LINGNAN SCHOOL (Southern)
These are from regions which enjoy a warm climate and plentiful rainfall throughout the year. The temperatures a relatively high and there is a long growing season, and so plants grow luxuriantly and retain their lush green foliage in the winter. Reflecting this environment, the penjing created here frequently feature an erect majestic posture and exuberant growth.

LINGNAN School in Guangdong province (capital city, Guangzhou (Canton); 2008 sub-provincial city pop.: 7,841,695; 2008 province pop.: 95,440,000): Artists of this School select tree species for their ability to shoot from old wood and their compatibility with the "Grow and Clip" training technique. Hedge Sageretia ( Sageretia theezans ), Orange Jasmine ( Murraya paniculata ), Fukian Tea ( Ehretia microphylla ), Chinese Elm ( Ulmus parvifolia ), Japanese Zelkova ( Zelkova serrata ), and Fig -- particularly banyan ( Ficus microcarpa ) -- are the most common materials.
The majority of penjing trained by this School do not have their foliage arranged in clusters. Trees are noted for the unrestrained, natural flow of trunk and branch lines, and their bold, vigorous appearance. Lingnan penjing appear lean and hard like twisted iron. Even in their winter state the trees are not an insipid or bleak sight.
Only in the past few decades has there been a gradual development toward more natural styles. Today, the shape of a penjing is largely determined by the tree's natural growth pattern. The artists are not bound by any formula. The artists have attained a high level of proficiency in pruning: trees taper from base to apex, and the proportions between trunk, limbs and branchlets are highly developed. If one were to cut off any branch at random, that branch itself would display the shape of a grown tree. This highlights the exquisite results that can be achieved by the "Grow and Clip" method. Bending by wires, weights and other "artificial" means of training is not utilized, but only the technique of selective pruning. The Lingnan artist strives to reveal, not control, the nature of a specimen, a goal very much in line with Daoism. Spontaneity and whimsy are encouraged. (Lao-zi would be proud.)
A notable style from by-gone days was "Ancient Tree" or "Military General Tree," the traditional Lingnan penjing featuring a trunk coiled vertically like a snake. Resembling arms, the main branches extended from either side with a downward tilt. The limbs of each tree formed five or seven very flat "bases" of horizontal leaf growth and a flat treetop. All trees had to follow this preconceived and carefully arranged pattern, and a rigid appearance was the result.
This has been replaced by at least two modern, non-formula styles, "Large Tree" (or "Tall Tree") and "Towering Tree." The former has trees with an erect trunk, numerous branches, and an elegant, lush, dense crown. Sturdy and mighty, these trees typify the bold, free personality of the huge tree in the wild. A notable example of this is "Old Tree Leaning Over Water", 120 cm high and 80 years old. This was created by Lu Xueming, a well-known master who had studied under the great "Large Tree" artist, Kong Taichu [K'ung T'ai-ch'u]. Eager to reach beyond the limits of convention, Lu took the "Large Tree" type as his starting point from where he zealously explored new possibilities. He created penjing in a slanted style, and trees featuring a major branch thrusting out clearly bear his "signature." Lu is only one of five nationally certified bonsai masters in all of China.
The other modern style, "Towering Tree," has trees noted for their lean, clean, tall, pure appearance. Growth is luxuriant, although the lines are well-spaced with a sparse yet coherent foliage distribution. The trees have an elegant, floating quality and impart a certain aloofness from worldly affairs, a desire to rise above the trivial. Emphasis on the soaring trunkline and small, open -- rather than lush -- foliage masses portrays a desire to shed the cares of a material world and reach heavenward. The most famous example of this style is another major work by Lu Xuenming, a 57"H Surinam cherry ( Eugenia uniflora ) named "Holding Up the Sky." It has become part of the Weyerhaueser Pacific Rim Collection.
The founder and representative artist of this style is the Buddhist monk Su Ren (aka Su Jen or So-yan), from the Haichuang Monastery. Other outstanding followers of the Lingnan School include Messrs. Wu York Yu, Liu Fei Yat, Hung Tai Chor, Mok Man Fu, Luk Hok Ming, Tsui Hung Pui, Chan Kam Tak, Yu Shun Nam, Tang Heung Hoi, Wong Kam, Chan Tak Cheung, Kong Chee, Lee Shu Chik, Cheung Sui To, and Jim Ting Bor. Master Xie Keying, from Guangdong Province, is editor of China Flower & Penjing Magazine and co-author of Zhangjaing Penjing. Master Liu Zhongming is the author of Collector's Rare and Precious Lingnan Penjing, Art in Shaping Lingnan Penjing, and Art and Technique of Lingnan Penjing. Master Yang Hanlian is from the Shunde district of Foshan in Guangdong.
In Guangdong province, landscapes made from Ying Rock are common. Rock pieces are piled in an ingenious manner to create an appearance of both grandeur and elegance, or to effect rock formations which either thrust into the sky and pierce the clouds or lie across the container and stretch toward the horizon.
Most of the ornamental objects (cottages, boats, pavilions, and bridges, for example) used in Chinese miniature landscapes are made of clay from Foshan in Guangdong province. There are also some carved out of Qingtian stones and some made of lead.
Some Lingnan styling techniques, such as hollowed scars of branches cut off at the trunk ("horse eyes") and leaf-cutting defoliation ("changing clothes to gold"), are seen here.
A new style from Foshan artist Han Xue Nian is what could be termed "growing in/along a wall." Replicating the habit of Ficus to grow from seeds in bird droppings falling on masonry, the unusual custom containers for these have a hidden soil pocket for the roots to grow from. The visible surface roots then crawl over and around the bricks in the face of the container, hugging its surface as if it really was part of a building.

Also in the Lingnan School are artists in FUJIAN province (capital city, Fuzhou; 2009 Prefecture-level city pop.: 6,870,000; 2009 province pop.: 36,270,000). These are known for their penzai Indian Laurel figs ( Ficus retusa ) which are of a jade-like green color throughout the year and possessing aerial roots drooping from the trunks. The limbs and exposed roots are coiled into bizarre shapes on the container surfaces. These trees convey a sense of the Southern country. Elms and Sageretia are other common species employed.

Southern landscape penjing are renowned for their elegance and beauty. For instance, those made in GUANGXI province (capital city, Nanning; 2006 Prefecture-level city pop.: 6,480,000; 2009 province pop.: 48,670,000): These are frequently made from local Sedimentary Sandstone or Reed Pipe Rock and depict the landscape around Guilin. The essence of the scenery along the Li River, with its jade-like peaks, elegant waters, bizarre caves, and gorgeous rocks, is fully captured.

Other Penjing Masters in China include Sufang, Shang Shifan, Lu Zhiwei, Bao Shiqi, Wei Xushan, Wang Xuanmin, Yuan Guodi, Yang Yongmu, Liu Hong, Zhang Zhengwu, Liu Chuangang, Zhang Zunchong, Jiao Guoying, Zhen Jianming, Wang Ruseng, Li Zhonghong, Xu Hao, and Lu Zhi Quan.


1. Albert, Karin "A Chinese Penjing Artist Visits America," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, July/August 1992, pg. 13. Reprinted on .
2. Albert's article, pp. 11-12; Zhao, Qingquan Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment (Athens, GA: Venus Communications, LLC; 1997), pp. 46-54; Wu, Yee-Sun Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants (Hong Kong: Wing-Lung Bank Ltd.; Enlarged second edition June 1974), pg. 63 mentions the old styles which have died out ; Koreshoff, Deborah R. Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy (Brisbane: Boolarong Publications; 1984), pp. 4-5 echoes this.
3. Hu, Yunhua Chinese Penjing, Miniature Trees and Landscapes (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1987 Wan Li Books Co., Ltd., Hong Kong), pp. 131, 133; Albert's article, pp. 13-14.
4. Hu, 1987, pg. 77; Liang, Amy The Living Art of Bonsai (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.; 1992), pg. 105; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," in Tsukiyama, Ted T. (ed.) Bonsai of the World, Book I (Japan: World Bonsai Friendship Federation, 1993), pg. 81; "Yangzhou type bonsai,"
5. Hu, 1987, pp. 11, 59, 89, 131.
6. Hu, 1987, pg. 59; Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXXII, No. 3, May/June 1993, pg. 8; Albert's article, pp. 12-13; Zhao, pg. 43; "Penjing Masters of China,"
7. Hu, 1987, pg. 132; Liang, pg. 105; Lin, Kuo-cheng Miniature Bonsai, A Complete Guide to Cultivating Tiny Bonsai (Taipei: Hilit Publishing Co., Ltd.; 1987. First English Edition: January 1995), pg. 29; "Shanghai [sic] type bonsai,"
8. Hu, 1987, pg. 142; Liang, pp. 105-106; cf. Keswick, Maggie Chinese Garden: History, Art & Architecture (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1978), b&w photo fig. 35, pg. 39 caption: "Corner of a Suchow [sic] garden devoted exclusively to dwarfed trees in pots. The trees are set on up-turned flower-pots against the white plastered wall."
9. Liang, pg. 106; per Lindsay Farr's World of Bonsai, Episode 7, the father of modern Suzhou penjing was Zhao Shoujuan. His grandson, Lei Wei Min, is now one of China's 15 penjing masters.
10. Hu, 1987, pp. 36, 57, 131.
11. Eshom, Enid Parks "A Glimpse of China," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXI, No. 4, May 1982, pg. 125; Albert's article, pg. 14; Clunas, Craig Fruitful Sites, Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press; 1996), pg. 101.
12. Hu, 1987, pp. 131-132, 144; Liang, pp. 105, 106; Hu, Yunhua Penjing, The Chinese Art of Miniature Gardens (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1982 China Pictorial), pg. 69.
13. Hu, 1987, pp. 133-134; Derderian, Constance "Some Observations on CHinese Bonsai," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 15, No. 4, Winter 1981, pp. 74-75.
14. Bonsai Journal, ABS, Fall 1988, pg. 7; Eshom's article, pp. 125, 127; Chan, Peter Bonsai, The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees (Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books Inc.; 1985), pg. 168; Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1987, pp. 12, 20; Engel, David H. Creating a Chinese Garden (London: Croom Helm Ltd. and Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1986), b&w photo, Figure 3.20, pg. 59.
15. Hu, 1987, pp. 132, 142; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," pg. 82.
16. Hu, 1987, pp. 104, 132; Eshom's article, pg. 125; Flaherty, Georga "An Interview With John Naka," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXI, No. 1, January/February 1982, pp. 22-23; "zhejiang bonsai style,"
17. Hu, 1987, pp. 132-133.
18. Hu, 1987, pg. 133; "Other place bonsai style,"
19. Hu, 1987, pg. 132; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," pg. 82; "Other place bonsai style,"
20. Hu, 1987, pg. 133.
21. Eshom's article, pg. 125.
22. Hu, 1987, pg. 133.
23. Hu, 1987, pg. 133.
24. Hu, 1987, pp. 131-132; Liang, pp. 104, 106; Lin, pp. 28-29; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," pp. 81-82.
25. Hu, 1987, pg. 133; Engel, b&w photo, Figure 4.43, pg. 131; "Sichuan type bonsai,"
26. Hu, 1987, pp. 27, 131; Liang, pg. 104; Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection Guide Book (Tacoma, WA: Weyerhaueser Company; 1992), pg. 22; Davis, Rosalie H. "A Gift From the East," Horticulture, August 1987, pg. 52; Lin, pg. 28; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," pg. 82.
27. Hu, 1987, pg. 131; Liang, pg. 104.
28. Hu, 1987, pp. 69, 131; Liang, pg. 104; Pacific Rim Guide Book, pg. 22.
29. Wu, 1987, pg. 65; Liang, pg. 104; Pacific Rim Guide Book, pg. 22; Hu, 1987, pp. 101, 121, 133.; Hu, 1982, pg. 90; "Penjing Masters of China," Can you image what the collected bodies of work by these teachers might look like? This is just a sliver of what enthusiasts, especially in the West, have barely glimpsed; new style shown in first three-and-a-half minutes of Lindsay Farr's WorldOfBonsai series 2 episode 6 video.
30. Hu, 1987, pg. 132; Hu Yun-hua "Bonsai in China," pg. 82; "Other place bonsai style,"
31. Hu, 1987, pg. 133.
32. "Penjing Masters of China,"

The population figures are from the various Wikipedia articles about the cities and provinces, accessed 12/28/2010.

* * * Additional info which RJB hasn't yet incorporated into the above include these articles on penjing styles from other locations. * * *