We expected but was saddened to receive this cryptic message:
"The family of Wu Yee Sun sadly announces his death on Wednesday, May 11, 2005 at the Hong Kong Sanatorium Hospital. He was born in Shunde City, became a successful banker at an early age, and dedicated his life to promoting the art of Penjing to the Western world. In commemorating his passion for Penjing, the website www.manlungpenjing.org will continue to promote and advance the art around the world."
Yee-sun Wu passed away at the age of 100; and while we grieve at his passing, we gratefully memorialize a remarkable outstanding patron and teacher of international artistic pot plants. No person has ever created a comparable list of accomplishments:
· In 1968, at his own expense, he published and distributed 10,000 copies of his hard cover book Man Lung Garden Artistic Pot Plants to bonsai organizations. Yee-sun Wu exposed the world to the historical roots of artistic pot plants in ancient China, and the spirit and philosophy of the Chinese aristocratic culture that produced the art of penjing. He shared the Chinese application of building, reduction and assembly techniques and created specimens of man and nature in harmony!
· In 1976, to celebrate his retirement as chairman of Wing Lung Bank, he published an enlarged edition with 100 additional photos and donated 10,000 copies to Hong Kong Baptist College who handled the distribution and earned all proceeds for their educational work.
· In 1981, he began to disperse his collection and portions eventually ended up in the National Penjing & Bonsai Museum in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. A very generous family monetary gift allowed the construction of the Yee-sun Wu Chinese Penjing Pavilion. In addition, Yee-sun Wu presented many of his creations to other institutions for public exhibit 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 (China), the Hong Kong Baptist College, and the Former Governor House of the Hong Kong Government.
· In 2002, his family issued a beautiful hard cover and cased Man Lung Penjing edition with color photos which was made available through Sowers Action, a Hong Kong volunteer charitable organization developing educational programs in China. The group handled distribution and earned all proceeds for their charitable work.
I never had the privilege of personally meeting him. Our flight to meet up with the Dorothy & Luther Young's 1981 China Bonsai Tour had to return to Honolulu due to engine problems and the delay caused me to miss the group's visit to his residence. Expecting me to be with the group, Yee-sun Wu had graciously prepared a written offer to donate a portion of his collection for exhibit in Hawaii. I immediately cabled the offer to the leadership of the Hawaii Bonsai Association.
Upon our return to Hong Kong, Myrtle and I were given a private tour of his gardens. While it was not possible to obtain agricultural quarantine approvals to bring the collection to Hawaii, we recommended and supported the donation instead to the U.S. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which is now a reality. It is wonderful that last year on May 22, 2004, Yee-sun Wu was honored at the U.S. National Arboretum.
In 1990 Yee-sun Wu was amongst the initial six international honorees in the Fuku-Bonsai Center International Honor Role announced at the International Bonsai Congress in Hawaii co-sponsored by Bonsai Clubs International and the Hawaii Bonsai Association. Others that were honored included Japan's Saburo Kato and Akiji Kataoka, California's John Naka, and Hawaii's Haruo Kaneshiro and Ted Tsukiyama. These individuals played pivotal roles to create the international bonsai.
Unlike the 1960's, today we enjoy all forms of artistic pot plants and Yee-sun Wu introduced many historical, societal, horticultural and philosophical concepts. He always stressed "Man Lung" or the "scholar-farmer" art aspect of Chinese penjing. This individualistic artistic and academic approach was a sharing and celebration of friendship, rather than bonsai as a competition or business. His technical and horticultural contributions are especially applicable in the training non-evergreen and tropical trees. His dramatic rock and tray landscapes established new aesthetic standards.
On behalf of my family and those associated with Fuku-Bonsai and the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation, I mourn the passing of international bonsai's special friend and patron and send deepest sympathy and condolences to his family.
- ~~~David W. Fukumoto
- Kurtistown, Hawaii
- May 12, 2005
The following article attempts to define and explain Man Lung Penjing and contrasts it to the more known traditional Japanese bonsai. It was re-edited from an April 15, 2002 submittal to THE BONSAI ENTHUSIAST - ONLINE JOURNAL that was published. Reproduced under reserved author rights.
There are outstanding upscale Chinese nurseries in Hong Kong that can and do supply high quality plants to those willing and able to pay a reasonable price. It's from these nurseries that those who grow "Man Lung Penjing" obtain their plant stock. They are able to choose very healthy plants that have been collected, carefully root pruned, and well established and growing strongly in containers.
"Penjing" describes all Chinese bonsai. It is similar to Japanese bonsai, in that both are artistic potted plants. Horticultural principles of the plant variety determine care requirements and Black Pine cultural requirements are the same when grown toward either Japanese or Chinese aesthetics. All container plants eventually become root-bound and bonsai repotting techniques allow the plant to be rejuvenated and returned to the same pot. There are many similarities, but significant differences.
Training techniques are also the same, although Japanese use wiring extensively, Chinese favor pruning. Japanese wire and bend long supple trunks and branches to create an attractive profile when seen from a distance. Chinese begin with older starter stock, study the tree to determine the essence, reduce to that essence, then build out branches to enhance the plant's theme.
REDUCTION-BUILDING TRAINING TECHNIQUES
Japanese tend to use reduction-building training techniques primarily with their "mame bonsai" (literally translates to "bean-size bonsai") which are small bonsai less than 5" or 6". At these small sizes, Trident Maples and Azaleas can be drastically reduced to just the lowest branch. That branch can then be further reduced. This multiple reduction immediately produces a short tree with a proportionally large trunk.
If the tree sprouts from old wood, the entire top of the tree is removed and a new crown is trained from one or more new shoots. After a while, most of the new crown is removed and this may be repeated many times. If the reduction is extremely severe, it is very possible to create very short trees with proportionally HUGE grotesques trunks.
Success by Japanese or Chinese is largely determined by being able to obtain a tree that has the desired characteristics to exploit. Plants are often reduced drastically. The Japanese generally don't use this technique on larger bonsai because it will require too many years to reach the next stage of training. Both Japanese and Chinese employ detailed pruning extensively in refinement training and in maintaining aged mature bonsai.
In southern China and in Hawaii where tropical trees grow very quickly, pruning techniques are used extensively and effectively. Since different plant varieties are favored, there are minor variations in how the techniques are used. We utilize wiring too, but only when necessary. Because wire can quickly bit into expanding bark, we check wiring often, or utilize a modified wiring method which uses significantly thicker wire with the wire only in contact with specific point of the trunk or branches where a bend must be made. While unsightly, the wire can be left on for as long as necessary to establish the change in direction.
DIFFERENCES IN CULTURAL OBJECTIVES
Japanese and Chinese tend to train bonsai for different reasons. In both cultures, many grow bonsai commercially. Business demands that large quantities of trees be trained in a similar manner to reduce unit costs to make the plants affordable to as many people as possible. Quality is limited only by the amounts potential customers are willing to pay.
In Japan, commercial bonsai have become an alternate crop for former rural farmers who cannot compete against cheap California rice. They grow bonsai like vegetables in orderly rows to the specifications of bonsai instructors that are generally in urban areas. The instructors know and pass on the rules and much of Japanese bonsai are a cultural craft for those who believe in the legendary Japanese virtues of discipline, and conservatively following rules and tradition. The complete system addresses the general interest in the bonsai art. A huge volume of bonsai stock and many earn their living from the system.
This is a system that some American bonsai professionals want to emulate. But Americans often lack discipline, don't like to follow rules, don't understand or accept Japanese traditions, and are often attracted to bonsai because of artistic freedom and innovation. This is the segment that Fuku-Bonsai attracts. Our way follows the path created by the aristocrat Chinese penjing masters and the most known is Hong Kong's Yee-sun Wu.
In the communal nurseries in the People's Republic of China, the emphasis in on growing quirky twisted trees very cheaply and to export these in great volume to ignorant Americans who will pay high prices to support the extensive middlemen and high transportation and labor costs. Labor costs are high because plant quarantine regulations require all soil to be removed and the roots thoroughly washed. It is necessary for the importers to re-establish them in containers. That takes a lot of time and skill and many importers don't have either. Is it any wonder that Americans believe that Chinese bonsai are cheap sickly plants that quickly die?
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 was an outstanding generous patron who shared and advanced the concept of international artistic pot plants.
Although different plant materials are used, 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 from his book is by written permission.
*** Go to initial article: YEE-SUN WU; THE SPIRIT OF MAN LUNG PENJING!
*** BIBA 25th ANNIVERSARY SHOW HONORS YEE-SUN WU
*** Go to A JABOTICABA LECTURE-DEMONSTRATION IN HONOR OF THE LATE YEE-SUN WU