Bonsai tree has long and ancienthistory. As with most of the oriental arts, bonsai originated in China and then spread eastwards to Japan via Korea. The knowledge was spread by Buddhist monks. From ancient manuscripts and paintings, we know that artistic pot plants were begin cultivated by the Chinese around 600AD, but some scholars think that bonsai, or at least potted plants, were being grown in China as far back as 500 or even 1,000BC. Bonsai tree first appeared in Japan during the 12thcentury.
There are a number of reasons whybonsai tree originated in china. As a race, the Chinese have always lovedflowers and plants, and the country is naturally endowed with a rich diversity of flora. Infect, most of the cultivated plants that are grown in the West today have their origins in China’s “Middle Kingdom”. The Chinese also had a passion for gardens, and in some of their gardens they recreated scenery that they had seen in the mountains. Many of these gardens were on miniature scale and included numbers of miniature shrubs and trees, planted to reinforce the scale and balance of their landscapes. But the Chinese were also interested in miniaturization as a science in its own right. They believed that miniature objects had concentrated within them certain mystical and magical powers.
Finally, the development of Chinese ceramics must have played a major part in the development of bonsai as we know it today. Without the beautiful Chinese pots, bonsai trees would not have been admired as much as they have been. After all, a bonsai literally means “a tree in a pot”. The two together must form a single entity. Even to this day, the most highly sought after containers for the finest bonsai in Japan are very often antique Chinese pots.
Over the centuries, though, bonsai has developed along quite different lines in china and Japan. Chinese bonsai is still very much in the ancient mould – the shapes and styles are traditional and may appear even crude to Western eyes. The Japanese style of bonsai is much more naturalistic and pleasing. Japanese trees are also much more refined and better groomed. Ti would be wrong to say that one style of bonsai is better than the other. It is simply that the two are so very different. Both, of course, have their won very definite and particular charm.
Much of the bonsai that has been seen in the West since the early 1950s is Japanese in origin. The social and political changes in China between the ’50s and late ’70s were not conductive to the promotion of bonsai as an art form. Of course, this is not say that the Chinese peasantry and ordinary Chinese people did not continue to grow bonsai for their won enjoyment. Even during the years of the Cultural Revolution the art of bonsai was being practiced, although the authorities would not have viewed it as a productive or economic activity. Today, the situation is quite different. China has a thriving and vigorous bonsai export industry that is making significant inroads into Western markets. The monopoly that Japan has enjoyed until now is coming to be shared with a number of other countries, though the quality of Japanese trees continues to be of the vary highest order
We owe a great debt to the Chinese and Japanese for developing this fascinating art, and, what is more, for keeping the art alive for almost 2,500 years. Without their enthusiasm and artistic guidance, we would not be enjoying bonsai tree as we know it today. It is not simply the horticultural tradition for which we are indebted, but the philosophy and mental attitudes that accompany this art. The aesthetic sensibilities of bonsai, which have their roots in the Zen tradition, contribute vary significantly to the total experience of bonsai tree – which in essence is about beauty, peace and tranquility.