The history of bonsai shows that master artists were thought to possess supernatural powers!
Yep, thats right! The history of Bonsai shows it's masters were considered powerful, almost omnipotent. Pity that hasn't carried over into modern day society!
The history of Bonsai is long and incredibly interesting, but before we read on lets clear up one common misconception….
Bonsai is Chinese, not Japanese!
The Japanese have had such a large influence on the art that most westerners believe it to be a Japanese tradition.
In Western society we have only enjoyed a short experience of the art of tree dwarfing, mainly spiking following the U.S. occupation of Japan in World War 2.
Servicemen would bring back trees to America and eventually the interest began to take hold.
It is impossible to date Bonsai's origin, but history shows that the art may have begun around the Jin Dynasty (3rd Century), where 'artistic' pot plants were grown.
In regards to 'Bonsai' though, records show that Bonsai trees were 'in vogue' during the Tang dynasty (7th Century) and early paintings show that Bonsai trees had pride of place in the homes of nobility.
By the Sung Dynasty (10th Century), the art was embedded in societal tradition and was something of a national practice.
Can you see the little Bonsai fruit tree in the background?
In early Chinese society, it was thought that Bonsai trees possessed supernatural powers. Taoist priests believed that the process of tree miniaturisation slowed sap flow, prolonging life span, much like practices of slowing one's heartbeat.
To the general public bonsai trees were supernatural, the mystique reflected in their wise masters. Monks and sages spent time developing techniques for dwarfing that we still practice today!
Through the study of the history of Bonsai we have retained many techniques used throughout history, including two methods of miniaturisation - pruning and shaping. Not too supernatural huh?
It still can be....
If you stand in front of a good specimen, you can't help but feel its mystique and understand why they were considered so magical......Buddhist practices also related to Bonsai, based around zen principles.
Two Ancient Methods
The history of Bonsai shows there to be 2 methods within the art, Pen-Jing and Pun-Choi.
Pen-jing involves the creation of entire landscapes within a tray.
Great emperors of China replicated prominent areas of their kingdom in large trays, complete with whole forests, artificial hills and other features.
Pen-Jing then, means 'potted tray landscapes'.
Pun-Choi artists chose to focus on single tree subjects as opposed to forests. This involved the dwarfing of trees in containers over time.
Thats right, the art of Bonsai as we know it today is based on this approach!
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