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Books: Chinese Culture

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Home Chinese Culture Bamboo and Chinese Culture

Bamboo and Chinese Culture

Bamboo and Chinese / Chinese Culture:

chinese traditional painting: bamboo

China is known as the Kingdom of Bamboo because it has the most bamboo of any country in the world. More than 400 species of bamboo, one third of all known species in the world, grow in China. China leads the world in the amount of area planted with bamboo, the number of bamboo trees and the amount of bamboo wood produced every year. The area that produce the most bamboo are south of Changjiang (Yangtze) River, and the biggest producers are Sichuan, Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Jiangsu provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The oldest archaeological finds of bamboo articles in China were unearthed from the remains of a primitive society that existed some 7.000 years ago in what is now Hemudu, Yuyao County, Zhejiang Province. As early as the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century B.C), Chinese people used the bamboo for making household articles and weapons, such as bows and arrows. Before paper was invented, strips of bamboo were the most important writing medium, more widely used than silk, for example, because they were cheaper, resistant to corrosion, and more abundant. Bamboo has thus played an important part in the spread and development of traditional Chinese culture.

Bamboo strips used as "paper" in ancient China

Bamboo was closely connected with the daily lives of people in ancient China. Su Dongpo(1037-1101), a literary giant of the Song Dynasty(960-1279), said that people could not live without bamboo, and people of the time used bamboo as firewood and to make tiles, paper, rafts, hats, rain capes, and shoes. At that time, as today, bamboo shoots were eaten as a popular dish because of their crispness and fresh, sweet taste. Bamboo shoots also contain vitamins, sugar, fat, and protein.

In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. A.D 220) bamboo was used for papermaking because it produced high-quality paper and was inexpensive: three tons of bamboo could yield one ton of paper pulp. And bamboo is till an important raw material for papermaking today. Some 1.600 years ago, people wrote with brushes on xuan paper made from young bamboo, and xuan paper is still popular for Chinese calligraphy and paintings.

Today, bamboo is widely used for household articles such as mats, beds, pillows, benches, Chairs, cabinets, buckets, chopsticks, spoons, baskets, and handheld fans. It is also used to make traditional Chinese musical instruments such as the sheng, a reed instrument; the di, a flute; and the xiao, a flute held vertically.

chinese bamboo flute play chinese bamboo flute

Bamboo Flute (Dizi)

Woven bamboo arts and craft come in a wide variety, including toy animals, lanterns, flower baskets, trays, tea boxes, screens, and curtains. Bamboo weaving is popular in the provinces of Guangdong, Fuijian, Hunan, Sichuan, and Anhui as well as Zhejiang which has a history of bamboo weaving going back more than 2.000 years.

chinese bamboo furniture
Bamboo Furniture

Bamboo is also used in Chinese medicine. The leaves eliminate heat and phlegm; the juice cures stroke, insanity, and a kind of asthma caused by excessive phlegm; and the root can stimulate the vital forces, quench thirst, and promote lactation.

Bamboo's resistance to stretching and its ability to support weight are at least double those of other kinds of wood, making bamboo an ideal material for houses, scaffolding, supporting pillars, and work sheds.

Tall and graceful with luxuriant foliage, bamboo is an ideal plant for household courtyards and parks. It tolerates the heat of summer and the cold of winter, it grows on unfertile land, and it regenerates after being cut.

Throughout the centuries, bamboo has inspired the imagination of artists, while men of letters have written poetry and prose to express their admiration for the purity and elegance of bamboo. They compared the qualities of bamboo to those of man, and Su Dongpo attributed his literary inspiration to bamboo. Bamboo was also a favorite subject of noted Chinese painters of past dynasties.

Bamboo, a material for arts and crafts and a symbol of integrity, has enriched the traditional Chinese culture, and become an everlasting subject for scholars and artists.

(Source: Pictorial China, New Star Publisher)


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Pictures of Artists' Bamboo Paintings

chinese traditional painting: bamboo by zheng banqiao
By Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765) - the most famous artist for bamboo painting.

By Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765)

chinese traditional painting: bamboo

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