In 1969, as a Honolulu Bonsai Kenkyu Club member, I first saw the book MAN LUNG GARDEN ARTISTIC POT PLANTS. I later learned that Yee-sun Wu of Hong Kong personally borne the cost of publishing and distributing 10,000 copies free of charge to leading international libraries, universities, bonsai organizations, and other lovers of the art. The first edition featured more than 200 photos of his trees.
In 1976, an enlarged second edition added the history and evolution of artistic pot plants, notes from presentations, and over 100 additional photographs. It commemorated Mr. Wu's retirement as chairman of Wing Lung Bank which he had founded in 1933 and where he served for forty-three years. 10,000 copies were printed and donated to Hong Kong Baptist College who handled distribution and used the proceeds to promote education. I obtained several copies before they ran out.
Yee-sun Wu was the spirit of the scholar-farmer form of aristocratic Chinese penjing. As a successful banker, he had the resources to help introduce Chinese penjing to the western world.
He is an outstanding generous patron who shared and advanced the concept of international artistic pot plants!
Yee-sun Wu had an extremely wide range of artistic creations. This Sageretia theezans landscape subtly uses ornaments to provide scale. The container has been crafted from marble. Cascading Chinese Elm
A relatively young tree already has dynamic design with a lively interest beginning at the roots. As your eye follows the trunkline, it treated to a roller coaster ride!
AN INTRODUCTION TO HONG KONG PENJING
In 1981 wife Myrtle and I were a part of the American Bonsai Society China Tour led by Dorothy and Luther Young. Being the only two from Hawaii, we were to meet the group in Hong Kong. Our plane developed engine problems and; in being forced to return to Honolulu, we missed our connection and were not able to visit Mr. Wu's home. Instead we viewed the impressive Hong Kong Urban Council Flower & Penjing Exhibition and; through interpreters, talked with several of the exhibitors. I learned that Chinese penjing was based upon semi-tropical horticulture and ideal for Hawaii. I recognized the trees that grew well in Hawaii but we hadn't thought about training them as bonsai.
We met up with the tour group later that night at the hotel in Hong Kong and a surprise awaited us. Yee-Sun Wu had prepared a written offer to donate a number of his plants for public exhibit in Hawaii! That night I wired the offer and additional information to the leaders of the Hawaii Bonsai Association and in the morning our group entered the People's Republic of China by train to Guangdong, then by airplane to Beijing.
PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA BONSAI TOUR
The visit to Beijing Botanic Garden was a puzzling disappointment. There were beautiful Chinese penjing pots with only young seedlings being trained by beginners. Penjing was the art of the despised aristocratic class and those who did not flee during the 1949 People's Revolution were killed. Whatever penjing survived was further decimated during the Cultural Revolution. At one spot we saw over one acre of penjing pot shards. Mobs had gathered the penjing throughout the area, burned the trees, and smashed the pots.
The fanatical communist grip relaxed as we traveled away from Beijing. In Wuhan and Kwelin some penjing had been saved. At Hangchow, Suchow, and Shanghai penjing had been collected for safe keeping and we saw the start of commercial penjing production. Older trees were receiving adequate care but had not received skilled training for many years.
By the time we returned to Hong Kong, Yee-Sun Wu had left for Macao. His secretary Ms. Chen provided a tour of his home and garden and allowed me to study his private nursery, dissect the technical training principles, and to see his newest creations. Hong Kong were experts compared to those in the People's Republic. We left with a treasured gift of an autographed copy of his 1976 enlarged second edition.
Murraya paniculata (Common Orange Jasmine) In Hawaii this plant is known as Mock Orange.
This is one of the outstanding penjing of Hong Kong where old character specimens may be collected. A photo of this tree appeared in the earlier edition as training was still in the early stages. The newer photo shows a wonderful development of the branches. Clearly, Yee-sun Wu was also a master of training by pruning!
BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT YEE SUN WU
Yee Sun Wu was born in 1904 in Guangdong province into a family of scholars who had grown penjing for generations. The family suffered through a number of disasters and as the oldest son, he left to seek work in Hong Kong to help support his family. In the midst of the depression in 1933 he began Wing Lung Money Exchange. The small bank has grown into the highly respected Wing Lung Bank with multi-story buildings in Central Hong Kong and Kowloon.
When his health suddenly declined, he was forced to rest and he rekindled his love of penjing. By the end of World War II, the business was firmly established and he devoted himself to the study of penjing. He called himself "Man Lung" which means "scholar-farmer." In 1967, he and his friends established Man Lung Garden as a place to meet, to discuss, study, and exhibit. Two years later, he published and distributed Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants.
Rock planting of Chinese Elm
Yee-sun Wu had access to extraordinary rocks and he utilized them in a manner that no one had ever done before! Tall balanced rocks seem to float and suggests the high towering cliff scenes of China.
THE ESSENCE OF MAN LUNG PENJING
There are many forms of penjing. Yee-sun Wu's "scholar-farmer penjing" requires an imaginative mind and the plant training skills to grow healthy trees. Dwarfing or training techniques are not as important as horticultural knowledge and literary taste. The trainer must be familiar with the special qualities of each tree. The strength and character of an aged pine cannot be applied to the delicate beauty of an orchid or bamboo. An artist can make penjing more beautiful than natural trees. Tray landscapes can surpass the natural scene that inspired it. Retain and emphasize good points while discarding or playing down bad points.
"Clip-and-Grow" training techniques are simply tools and a variation of basic pruning. It has greater application in warmer climates because trees grow faster. But it's necessary to understand horticultural principles to control plant growth and to utilize the technique effectively. By reducing a tree to its essential features and by creating accelerated growth, it's possible to quickly develop good trunk or branch taper. By focusing initially only on the outstanding characteristic and emphasizing and repeating that characteristic, the tree becomes a unique individual.
In Japanese bonsai, long branches are repositioned by wiring. In contrast, in Man Lung Penjing, trunk and branches are shortened in proportion to relative thickness. A thick branch may be longer while a thin branch is shorter. Longest branches are not necessarily at the bottom and the overall shape is not necessarily an irregular triangle. Each branch has distinctive ramification and character. Man Lung Penjing is greatly influenced by the availability of outstanding rocks for rock plantings and landscapes.
China is a densely populated country and unlike Japan or the United States, it's almost impossible to find a scene that does not include human presence. So it's comfortable for the Chinese to include ornaments or figurines in their penjing. If the figurine is of a famous poet, it may bring to mind the beauty, tranquility or emotion of that person's poems. Severe initial reduction produces a stout base and as each new trunk and branch section is added, an interesting undulating taper develops. A trainer's pruning skill shows in the diversity and the liveliness of the branch patterns.
The Man Lung Penjing of Hong Kong is very different from the penjing grown in other parts of China. I've come to realize that some of the exhibitors I had earlier met at the Hong Kong Urban Council Exhibition had fled the communist revolution and settled in Hong Kong. As surviving members of the aristocratic society they are the repository of the original aristocratic penjing.
Celtis sinensis (Chinese Hackberry)
The finest Chinese penjing is an art of skilled sophisticated pruning. Starting with a collected stump, trunk and branch sections are added in a highly disciplined manner. Note that the trunk and branches have exceptional taper and each branch is prune-trained to have lively patterns.
Chinese penjing places great value on the structural part of the tree and they are often exhibited with little or no leaves.
MAN LUNG PENJING PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Unfortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture absolutely required bare-rooting even though the Japanese Bi-Centennial bonsai gift had entered under special quarantine a few years earlier in 1975. We urged Yee-sun Wu's donation offer be redirected to the United States National Arboretum which was close to the highly respected USDA Beltsville, Maryland Quarantine Facility. Eventually penjing donated by Yee-sun Wu and Shu-ying Lui became a part of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC with the Wu family making a generous donation towards building the Yee-sun Wu Chinese Garden Pavilion.
In addition, Yee Sun Wu has presented many of his creations to other institutions including the Seventh University of Paris (France), Montreal Botanical Garden (Canada), the Sun Yat Sen Park in Vancouver (Canada), the Botanical Park of the Nanjing Institute of the Chinese Academy of Science, the Hong Kong Baptist College, and the Former Governor House of the Hong Kong Government. All of these penjing exhibitions are open to the public.
INTRODUCING THE NEW MAN LUNG PENJING BOOK
Born in 1904, Yee Sun Wu has reached an advanced age and his health has declined. He remains in the hospital where he receives constant medical care. He can no longer enjoy the retired life of a scholar-farmer working with his penjing in his garden each day. He has instructed his son Po Man Wu and children to take color photographs and publish a hardcover volume as a souvenir for friends who share the same interest and who have loved and supported him. It serves as a commemorative album celebrating over seventy years of study and as a record of his creative style.
Yee Sun Wu continues to support and promote the art of penjing. Man Lung Garden, which opened in 1967, was forced to close in 1978 when the land was required for a railway station. A new Man Lung Garden was opened at Hong Kong Baptist University in year 2000 and penjing lovers can gather to discuss and exhibit and the public can enjoy beautiful miniature trees. A website (http://www.manlungpenjing.org) has begun to put online his fine works, as well as those of other individuals with the objective of continuing the tradition of discussion and exchange of information.
THERE ARE ONLY A LIMITED NUMBER OF COPIES OF MAN LUNG PENJING AVAILABLE! All proceeds will be donated to Sowers Action except for mailing expenses. Sowers Action is a charitable volunteer organization in Hong Kong developing educational programs in China. Their website is at http://www.sowers.org.hk
SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR OBTAINING A COPY
MAN LUNG PENJING is not available on a standard "for sale" basis. Please make a donation of no less than US$25 per copy (US $17 for book + US $8 for mailing) payable to "Sowers Action." Please send a Certified Bank Check to SOWERS ACTION (PO Box 23302, Wanchai Post Office, Hong Kong). Be sure to put your name on the back of the check and attach a separate slip of paper with your name and mailing address.
Non US Dollar checks should be made to the equivalent amount in your local currency: Australian dollar 52.00 per copy, Singapore dollar 49.00 per copy, Euro 30.00 per copy, British pound 18.00 per copy, Canadian dollar 42.00 per copy, and Taiwan dollar 900.00 per copy
- MAN LUNG PENJING by Yee-sun Wu
- 26.7 x 19.0 cm.; 240 pages hard cover, including 180 pages in color
- Chinese and English text
It's been over 30 years since I first learned of Yee-sun Wu and I've admired his skills and generosity. Almost single-handedly he introduced Chinese penjing at a time when almost everyone thought bonsai began in Japan. He shared the Lingnam training techniques that is popular in Southern China and is a major alternative training method with very wide variations and applications. My grandfather also came from Guangdong so I have some understanding of the aristocratic Chinese society values and philosophy to appreciate Yee-sun Wu.
Our Fuku-Bonsai Reduction-Building is a tropical adaptation his Lingnam techniques. Japanese mame bonsai (less than 6" tall miniature bonsai) techniques are very similar. The original editions are no longer available, but anyone who can obtain one will enjoy comparing how the same tree has developed. The book is highly recommended.
Yee-Sun Wu is a member of a unique generation that created the international world of bonsai we are currently enjoying. In 1990, he was honored with a Fuku-Bonsai International Honor Roll award. Others who have received this award include Japan's Saburo Kato, Japan's Akiji Kataoka, California's John Naka, Hawaii's Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro, and Hawaii's Ted Tsukiyama.
Since 1969, Yee-sun Wu has generously shared his knowledge and resources to help preserve and promote Chinese penjing. In establishing the website and in publishing this new book, Yee-Sun Wu hopes to attract talented young people to participate, to further development, and to carry on the promotion of penjing. Yee-sun Wu has made another exceptional contribution in the Spirit of Man Lung Penjing!
~~~David W. Fukumoto
Yee-sun Wu passed away on May 11, 2005 at the age of 100.
*** Go to YEE-SUN WU MEMORIAL TRIBUTE
The late Yee-sun Wu was honored in July 2006. *** Go to BIG ISLAND BONSAI ASSOCIATION'S 25TH ANNIVERSARY BONSAI SHOW
The late Yee-sun Wu was honored at a TROPICAL PENJING LECTURE-DEMONSTRATION HONORING YEE-SUN WU
Fuku-Bonsai's techniques are most closely related to those of Yee-sun Wu's. We also use exceptional rocks and mostly training by pruning. For more insight go to the section titled: Aristocratic Chinese Penjing.
Reproduction of Mr. Wu's photo and the penjing from his book are by written permission.
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