About Penjing
Extracted from Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants, 1967
Wu Yee Sun


The choice of containers is of great importance. It may be likened to the clothes one wears, if the clothes do not fit the person, then no matter how nice the quality of the cloth or how handsome the person is, the result will be bad. The same with bonsai in their relation to containers. There are many kinds of containers of different colours, sizes and shapes. The colour of the containers should be in harmony with that of the dwarfed tree it holds. For example, if a red maple tree is placed in a red-colour container or a white plum in a white container, or the ancient pine in a dark colour container, they are all unsuitably matched and this will do much to minimize the effect of artistic pot plants. And so with the shape, measurements and depth of the containers; they must all be appropriate to the trees they contain.

Containers are made of different materials. Generally speaking, earthenware containers are better than stone containers, and stone containers are better than procelain containers. Earthenware cantainers possess simplicity and an "antique" look. Chinese pottery has long been known for its superior quality as to style, shape and the earth used, and is highly regarded by bonsai enthusiasts the world over. Old containers are collected as antiques. The best Chinese earthenware containers come from Sekwan, near Denton, Kwangtung Province. Those produced in other Chinese provinces are of less fine quality, the chief reason being the basic quality of the earth. The Sek-wan earthenware containers are poor radiators of heat and therefore do not absorb heat as much as the other kinds. This may be proved by placing the Sek-wan containers under the scorching sun, for it will be found that they do not absorb much heat. It is no wonder that they are especially preferred to the other kinds by bonsai growers.

As I have said, bonsai culture is very popular in Japan nowadays. The Japanese place great importance on the choice of containers, and regard the old Chinese containers as the best. Therefore old Chinese containers are very much in demand in Japan. I have travelled many times to Japan and have visited several bonsai exhibitions. I noticed that nine out of ten containers there were old Chinese containers, each bearing an explanatory note on a small card. In Japan containers which are modelled after the old Chinese containers are manufactured in large quantities. They are so well made that it is not easy to distinguish between the replica and the original. New containers made in Japan are much cheaper than the old Chinese containers and this fact helps make bonsai culture popular in Japan.

The matching of suitable stands to bonsai is almost as important as that of containers. If a pot of beautiful bonsai is placed on a suitable stand, the beauty of the plant will be enhanced. It is likened to the clothes a man wears. As Mr. Yuji Yoshimura has said. a pot of bonsai without a good stand to match it is just like a person without shoes. I think the analogy is perfect. It also explains why in bonsai exhibitions in China, each exhibit on display is placed on an appropriate stand.

Bonsai stands are usually made of wood, but some are made of porcelain and others are of wood with mother-of-pearl or marble inlaids. Among the different kinds of wood, red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) ranks first. The tree grows in the tropical forests in South-East Asia, and differs from the others as its wood sinks in water. This special feature also helps to distinguish it when buying. Mahogany (blackwood) is the second best, followed by rosewood. These last twe belong to the Redwood family.

In China, the styles of stands have changed with the times, each having its own characteristics. For example, we have the Ming Style (1368 - 1644) and the Ching Style (1644 - 1911), the former emphasising the "lines", while the latter emphasising the "carving". Stands which were manufactured in the Ming and the Ching Dynasties have become antiques, and are now very expensive. Moreover, they are not easily obtainable. Those which can be obtained from the market nowadays are replicas. The best are those from Peking, those from Shanghai and Kwangtung being the second and third best respectively. Since these stands are for decoration purposes only and not a daily necessity, they are not manufactured in large quantities nor in a great variety. As a result, bonsai enthusiasts have to collect and preserve them for future use, as they may not be able to find a suitable one when they need it.

Previous: Method of Cultivation
Next: Different Plant Groupings

Suggestions? info@manlungpenjing.org