Bamboos are woody perennial evergreen flowering plants in the grass family. Some of the members are giants.
In bamboo, as in other grasses, the internodal regions of the stem are usually hollow. Bamboos include some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome dependent system. Certain species of bamboo can grow to about 1 metre within a day. Bamboo even grows faster at night. The bamboo is not only rapid in growth and reproduction, but of strong vitality. For example, those in the Yellow River valley have to withstand cold and drought.
Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw material. Bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick and concrete, and a tensile strength that rivals steel.
Bamboo varies in beauty. Since ancient times, it has been used as an integral part in landscape gardening for its ornamental value. Bamboo together with rock works is used to beautify corridors and pavilions.
Bamboo does not wither in winter and is also modest and upright, so it enjoys great favour among the literati (文人). Bamboo has joints (節) which is the same Chinese character Jie (節). In the eyes of the literati, the bamboo is a symbol of righteousness and a noble spirit. It is regarded as an emblem for people of high integrity.
Life Without Bamboo is Vulgar
Su Shi (蘇軾) (1037-1101), the great poet in the Northern Song Dynasty, once wrote, ‘I can eat without meat, yet I can’t live without bamboo. The former only makes me slim; but the latter renders me vulgar. A thin person can be fat again, but a vulgar man is really beyond cure.’ (寧可食無肉，不可居無竹。無肉令人瘦，無竹令人俗。人瘦尚可肥，士俗不可醫。) .
Famous Chinese Paintings of the Bamboo
Wen Tong is famous for his bamboo paintings. He was one of the model artists of ‘scholar’s painting’ (文人畫), which idealised spontaneity and painting without financial reward.
Wen observed appearance and the growth of the bamboo plant very carefully for a long period of time. He memorised the morphology and the elegance of the bamboo. He could draw the bamboo from memory. Wen hold two brushes in one hand, one with dark ink and the other in pale ink. He can swap his brushes quickly from time to time to paint the bamboo with good contrast. One Chinese idiom that was attributed to him goes ‘there are whole bamboos in his heart’ (胸有成竹), meaning that one has a well-thought-out plan in one’s mind. The following link shows a very interesting video on this idiom.
Bamboo stems and leaves are actually green in colour. However, artists use black ink to paint bamboo leaves (墨竹). By the same token, bamboo can also be painted in vermilion (朱磦). The red colour contrasts well with the rock painted in black and grey.
Zheng Xie (鄭夑) also known as Zheng Banqiao (鄭板橋) is famous for his paintings of bamboo and orchid. The bamboo stems that Zheng executed are strong, upright, concise and elegant.
In the above artwork, there is a poem composed and written by Zheng: 衙齋臥聽蕭蕭竹， 疑是民間疾苦聲。些小吾曹州縣吏，一枝一葉總關情。(I quietly listen to the bamboo sound in the wind and believe that is painful complaint from general people. All words and deeds of our low-ranking officials are involved with the people’s livelihood.)
Tutorials on Bamboo Painting by Lu Yangfei (陸抑非) (1908 – 1997)
Drawing of the Bamboo by Gongbi painting method (工筆畫法)
The bamboo branches and leaves can be drawn with fine outline to represent the likenesses of the objects. Colours are then added to the painting so as to approach the perfection of exquisiteness. This is called Gongbi painting method (工筆畫法).
Wang Jing (王靜) (2014) Plum Blossom, Orchid, Bamboo and Chrysanthemum 梅蘭竹菊 Time Publishing and Media Co. Ltd (Apitime)(時代出版), ISBN: 978-7-5461-4505-1
張光賓 (1981) 中國書畫 3 花竹畫 光復書局
Li Yun-Ho (1974) Painting and Calligraphy of Li Yen-Shan, Oriental Culture Publishers, H.K.
Mai-mai Sze (1978) The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, Princeton University Press
陳相鋒 陳姿娟 (2012) 画室必備 – 中國画技法圖典 蔬果篇 湖北美術出版社
户辅圣 (2003) 中国画历代名家技法图典 花鳥编(上) 上海華书画出版社
(明) 胡正言 (2014) 十竹齋書畫譜 上海書畫出版社 ISBN 978-7-5479-0838-9