Aristocratic Chinese penjing was a joyful pastime of the elite highly educated aristocratic leaders who were secure in their station in life. They were "generalists" who dabbled in all of the Chinese cultural arts. Each tree had its own theme or was created with a specific goal. No two were alike and none were for sale. Japanese bonsai is said to have a history of 1,500 years and more are learning that bonsai began in China 1,000 years earlier. If you carefully study Japanese ukiyoe woodblock prints made before American Commodore Perry ended Japan's isolation in 1853, you'll find that Japanese bonsai were then still identical to Chinese penjing.
"BENEVOLENT DRAGON" was selected to be the symbolic tree representing Chinese penjing as it best represents the Chinese individualistic design concepts that utilizes a dominant plant characteristic. The Ficus family produce many banyan trees with aerial roots and the roots of the Natal Banyan (Ficus natalensis) are the most aggressive in our collection.
Several of our best penjing exploit the aggressive root characteristic of Ficus natalensis. Another Natal Banyan created from a cutting rooted in 1976 was trained with exposed roots in a slightly different concept. Height was 19". It was requested and donated by Fuku-Bonsai to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. and appeared on the cover of the American Bonsai Society Journal in the Winter 1995 issue; Volume 29; Number 4.
The goal is to keep the top compact to allow the focus on the root structure and to not allow thickening of the roots. The pot compliments the design and will restrict growth. It's a priceless signed premium grade pot created by Japanese master potter Akiji Kataoka of Yamaaki Kiln of Tokoname, Japan as one of his last creations. Akiji began by copying ancient Yixing pots and ended by moving toward a Chinese style pot with four Kimei feet.
CHING: "Pure," a clear statement of beauty; immediately recognized as being appropriate or conveying a concept or principle; a plant that is instantly considered appropriately styled. "Benevolent Dragon" fits the concept of "Ching."
CHI: A celebration of a spirit or dominant force or characteristic. Strange or different; interesting or unusual; a natural conversation piece. Some plants have traits that can be used as a theme. Begin a styling to feature that trait and repeat it again and again and again! "Benevolent Dragon" and the National Collection tree also illustrate the concept of "CHI." Another is the Dwarf Autograph Tree by the late Dr. Horace Clay named "Walking Mangrove" that utilizes that trees pillar roots as a design inspiration and interpretation. Many Chinese aristocratic penjing are created as a "celebration of CHI."
KU: Old, venerable, or ancient. Asian cultures honor old trees or things. Just collecting an old knarled stump and growing it in a pot allows enjoyment of the contrast of the young new sprouts contrasted against the old stump and is a celebration of life. If the young growth can be artistically complimentary, a higher level of beauty and interest is possible.
KWAI: Odd; weird, very unusual; a unique, highly individual one-of-a-kind. This is a trait that could be expressed in an unlimited number of ways and hard to define. But it's easy to identify. When you confront a "KWAI," the immediate reaction is "WOW!!!"
While the Japanese especially favor harmony and consensus, the Chinese admire rugged individualism and originality. They utilize penjing as artistic pot plants in numerous concepts: as beautiful miniature trees and landscapes, as representations of ideas, words, or concepts, or as interesting plants in containers.
YING-YANG & LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY
"Ying" penjing are the feminine form that have an open graceful crown with delicate branching. It suggests serenity and a place for old philosophers to meet. They are often planted in glazed round or oval pots with soft shapes and lighter colors. "Yang" penjing are masculine, dynamic rugged forms with stout heavy trunks and angular branches. Larger root buttressing and a tighter crown give it a powerful appearance. These trees are often in darker square or rectangular unglazed pots.
Two balanced forms are the circle and the square and these are used extensively in Chinese design. They are often seen together. A square within a circle could represent a lady who is gracious and able to mix well in all company but who has a strong unbending inner strength and philosophy. A circle within a square could represent a man who lives his life guided by principles, who may not be the easiest to work with, but who has a compassionate heart.
Chinese carefully observe the balance or the imbalance of opposite forces and these are considered as pairs. When you see one, you're to automatically seek or think of the other. Classical pairings include black-white (dark-light), rock-water (solid-fluid), fast-slow (patient-impatient), etc. Sometimes this is perceived to be a "contrarian" philosophy.
But it's deeper in that Chinese leaders are expected to consider ALL factors, to make decisions without discussion or consultation, and have enough of a reputation that these decisions are carried out without question. Chinese aristocrats are confident autocratic leaders that earn their respect by their history of deeds. They are notoriously independent and are often perceived to be unapproachable and arrogant. These are the aristocrats that dabbled in penjing. They were not bound by rules and the best penjing reflect this quality.