Bamboo is depicted in both Tree Friends in Cold Winter and Four Men of Honor, and has many rhetorical implications in Chinese culture. Somewhat similar to pine, the fact that it is evergreen, and its stems are strong and hard make it an apt symbol of integrity, strength and loyalty.
In Chinese, the hollow aerial culms and the nodes of bamboo are homophones for modesty with self-esteem. The worship of bamboo as a form of divine being was recorded in several classical history books, including The Annual of the Huayang Kingdom, which was one of the earliest chronicles of southeast China. It was also mentioned in The History of the Later Han Dynasty.
Chinese history is replete with bamboo aficionados, but three of them are particularly worth discussing.
The first was Wang Huizhi, son of Wang Xizhi, the great master of calligraphy in the Jin Dynasty (265-420). One day Wang Huizhi Heard of a remarkable variety of bamboo growing at the house of a scholar-official. Gong to view it, he became so entranced in its exquisiteness that he did not hear the greetings of the host of the house.
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Another time, he stayed away from home for some days. So much did he miss his beloved bamboo that that he asked to have some planted beside his temporary home. “How could I live without gentleman bamboo ?” he asked rhetorically. Ever since then, bamboo came to be commonly referred to as “gentleman bamboo”.
The great Song Dynasty poet and food connoisseur Su Dongpo once noted that “To live without meat will only make one thinner. But to live without sight of bamboo, this will make one vulgar. ”
Finally, Zheng Banqiao, a prodigiously talented Qing Dynasty artist note for his writing, painting , and calligraphy not only painted bamboo but also wrote poety praising ite qualities. He boasted that not only had he painted bamboo for over 40 years, he also spent a great deal of time reflecting on its virtues and aesthetic value.
Like bamboo, the plum blossom holds a place in both Three Friends in Cold Winter and Four Men of Honor. The graceful blossom can withstand freezing cold that kills other flowers, and also has a delightful scent. Because it is the earliest blossom to bloom after winter, it stands out among its peers. And like bamboo and pine, the plum blossom also had its legion of fans.
Lin Bu, a Song Dynasty hermit who lived at Mt Gushan near the West Lake in Hangzhou was famous for his love of both plum trees and cranes. An idiom, 梅妻鹤子, literally meaning plum as wife and cranes as children, actually was generated from Lin Bu’s way of life, as a metaphor for a lifestyle free of worldly worries.
Lin Bu’s poem on plum was regarded the most classic in praise of the plant, but there were others who also expressed it artistically, including Lu You in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and Wang Mian from the Yuan Dynasty(1206-1368), who both wrote and painted. In poetry, the plum blossom is often praised for its ability to preserve purity and charm, and help lead an honorable life.