If you’ve ever been to a home or garden center, you’ve probably stumbled across a bonsai. These tiny trees in pots are a regular sight around the world, often adding a splash of greenery to living rooms or office desks. You might even have one yourself, sitting on your windowsill right now, soaking up the sunlight.

Photo: Unsplash

The Origin

The term ‘bonsai’ may sound Japanese – and it is – but the concept behind it actually originates from China. The art of growing miniature landscapes in pots, known as ‘Penjing‘ in Chinese, was a favorite pastime of the ancient literati, who saw it as a way to express their inner selves, or as symbols of their spiritual world.

Picture of Secluded Pavilion and Elegant Trees, by Hong Ren (1610-1664)
Beauty in Chinese

The beauty of being carefree and unrestrained, of roaming freely with a graceful ease. It’s not just an idea, but an ethos, a testament to the unchained beauty of living life on your own terms.

The Bonsai Domains

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “A tree in a pot. Got it. Simple.” But hold your horses, my friend. There’s more to bonsai than meets the eye. For starters, bonsai isn’t just about trees. You heard me right. In the broader sense, bonsai could also include other elements like dry wood or even stones arranged in a pot.

A rock bonsai – Spring Tide Surges, by Han Qi

This isn’t just a potted plant. It’s a vivid, three-dimensional poem celebrating the grandeur of nature in a single, compact display.

The Essence

What makes bonsai truly fascinating is the reverence for old, withered, and odd-looking elements, etc. I know, it sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? In the West, we often associate these traits with negativity. But here’s the kicker. In the world of bonsai, these characteristics are not just accepted, they’re actively sought after. There’s a deep cultural and historical context behind that.

Tao – follow the law of nature, by Fang Quji
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