chen zhi jiu

by Cheryl Petty Bonsai Focus 129/152 4/2014 Jul/Aug

Master Chen Zhi Jiu (57) is the proprietor of Foshan Lian Tang Qing Wan Garden, which he founded in 1999.  

Cheryl Petty traveled through China meeting some remarkable bonsai Masters.  Here she talks to Master Chen Zhi Jiu.

Master Chen, from Foshan City in Guangdong Province, explains his simple philosophy, “Washing the tree with fresh water—not too much and not too little—is the most important aspect of care—sunshine, and protection from insects using chemical treatments specific to the tree and infestation.”  We are bumping along his mile long driveway leading to his farmstead in the country in November 2013.  On either side are rows upon rows of podocarpus with fine foliage, destined for a future penjing nursery stock harvest.

I’ve always wanted to know the difference between Penjing and Bonsai, so I ask the Master.  He says, “Penjing refers to trees and rocks in a pot.  Bonsai is what the Japanese refer to plants in a pot.  I think the Japanese is also sharing the same thinking, because this art went to Japan in the Tang dynasty.”

He goes on to explain that it is better to say penjing when referring to Chinese trees or overseas Chinese trees.  Otherwise, it is best to say bonsai.  “That is the result of the Japanese time and effort spent teaching bonsai around the world.  Which is good,” the Master adds.

Jul/Aug Bonsai Focus

Master Chen demonstrates on a Fujian tea tree in a Shi wan pot that has been growing for ten years.  He explains that his trees get a haircut of large cuts one to two times a year.  Three to four times a year, he makes small grooming cuts.  Master CHEN shows me how he cuts the suckers, adventitious branches, to allow desirable ones to grow and also to remove excess foliage.  “Removing strong branches develops the feeling of a natural tree of age,” he says.  In nature, the Fujian tea tree clings to the mountain and grows with roots exposed through disaster and years, giving it a sense of age.  Holding his hands with fingers curled down, he demonstrates tiger claws clinging, a key characteristic of the powerful Lingnan mountain style.

I was wondering how young people in China today find the time for a hobby like penjing.  Master Chen says that normally there are two major penjing exhibitions in May and October in Foshan.  Many young people go and visit and some apply for membership in the China Penjing Artists Association.  Some young people work for a penjing nursery where they can learn more from the masters.  And also, some masters give free lectures, workshops and demonstrations, another opportunity for young people who are interested to learn penjing.

Over hot pot, da bian lu, home or peasant style, quintessentially farm to table, with fresh chicken ji and fish wn yu, from his own yard and pond, peeled and sliced papaya mu guo, the Master explains the gradual emergence of penjing in modern times.

Bonsai Focus cover Jul/Aug

“Firstly,” he says, “along with the opening up policy of Deng Ziaoping, the local people become rich, more people are able to arrange their spare time for some hobby, and bonsai is a good way to relax.  Especially for the factory owners, they have not enough time to create penjing, still they want to have a good tree: it is a market driven industry.  Some local government, in order to promote penjing popularity, improves the development of other local industries which have, in turn, invested heavily in the penjing.  This greatly promotes the development of the industry.  Through bonsai exhibition, comparing tree criteria has become the product of the new capitalist class.  The government advocates it, because it signals the deepening of China’s reform and opening up to the world. 

“As the exchanges between China and the outside world increase, Taiwan bonsai sells very well in the mainland China market.  It is a reason that the penjing creator has to learn from Taiwan how to use aluminum wiring methods in order to expedite bonsai shape.  Taiwan bonsai master Mr. Luo Qiuling also recruits a number of young followers in mainland China, and these followers have now become the backbone to spread Taiwan bonsai style in China.”

In the 1980’s, the Taiwan masters began to visit Foshan as a penjing/bonsai cultural exchange.  Besides Mr. Luo Qiuling, I. C. Su and Amy Liang have visited Foshan City exhibitions.  Japanese masters Kimura and Kobayshi Kunishio have also visited Foshan. 

This article contributed by Cheryl Petty and published in Bonsai Focus 129/152 4/2014 Jul/Aug.  More about travels in China and penjing masters can be found at her blog site.