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Tiny landscapes mix nature with humanity

Liu Jie ( China Daily )

A Sichuan-style rockery penjing. [ Liu Jie ]

Chinese penjing, or miniature landscapes, are gaining admirers, both in China and the West. With their quiet elegance, they lead the viewer into a world where the human touch and natural beauty are integrated in harmony.

In Chinese, penjing means "natural scenery" (jing), "in a pot" or "on a tray" (pen). According to the Chinese concept, penjing can be divided into two main categories - tree (or stump) penjing and rockery penjing.

Tree penjing could be regarded as similar to or the equivalent of bonsai, consisting of one or more trees or plants. They differ from ordinary potted flowers and trees. They are artistically pruned and shaped by various gardening techniques.

A Chinese tree (or stump) penjing creates a miniature hillside of wild weather-beaten old trees with gnarled limbs and coiled roots.

The different penjing trees produce a variety of effects according to tree trunk shape, the branch and foliage formation and the number of trees and trunks.

Rocks and other things are sometimes put under the trees to create a more picturesque miniature landscape.

There are some established styles in the art of penjing, including single, double or multi-trunks, straight or twisted, withered and slanted, with linked roots, and diverse forest and cascade styles.

Rockery penjing is created with one or more pieces of rock, fantastically shaped through carving and sawing, and then artistically arranged.

Trees and moss are sometimes grown, and a tiny carved wooden or porcelain boat, pavilion or bridge may also enhance the scene.

Traditional patterns for rockery penjing, use peaks, either solitary, double or grouped. The peaks are arranged with overhanging cliffs, deep gorges, or a mountain chain.

The miniaturizing technique displays the natural charms of famous mountain-and-water scenery.

The tiny stream and mountain landscape uses soil and water in the pot to recreate a pond or river bank or beach. Sometimes fine white pebbles are placed in the pot or on the tray to produce a water effect.

Despite the difference in materials, the two types of penjing are created on similar aesthetic principles. They are deeply rooted in the theory of Chinese gardening and painting.

The art of miniature landscapes can be traced back to over a thousand years ago, as depictions on murals, paintings, scrolls and other works of art of very early periods prove China's vast territory gives rise to varied natural conditions and cultural traditions. As a result, distinct penjing styles have evolved to form schools in different areas.

The most established schools, particularly for tree penjing, are found in the south of China, including Yangzhou and Suzhou, in Jiangsu Province, Lingnan - the area south of the Nanling Mountains - including part of Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces with Guangzhou as its centre), Shanghai, Sichuan and Anhui provinces. These areas enjoy the sort of climate that is favourable to the growing of penjing.

In recent years, penjing has also gained popularity in north China. As a result, a penjing garden has been constructed in Tianjin city, only 120 kilometres southeast of Beijing.

The garden covers an area of 12,000 square metres, and is in Shuishang Park, the largest one in the city.

"The garden construction cost over 3 million yuan and a further 0.6 million yuan was spent on penjing, including most of the exhibits," said Guan Delai, a manager of the garden.

The exhibition displays about 500 works of major Penjing schools across the country. With their distinctive styles, these miniature landscapes express the different artistic principles followed by the schools.

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