How large do you think this penjing is? Scroll to bottom to find out!
The day after the successful WBFF World Convention I was flown to Guangdong and then took another two hour car ride to Zhongshan City for the First 2013 China (Guzhen) National Penjing Exhibition. It is quite warm here and the airport roads were lined with stately Royal palm trees with colorful red poinsettias used as bedding plants. Penjing from the entire country were gathered for this premier exhibition which was held in a huge new exhibition building. It needed to be large because of the great size of nearly every penjing.
Just over 100 large penjing, and you can’t appreciate their size unless you see them in person. I had to stand in several of the trees for proportion. The layout was unique and each tree was displayed in a special area with spotlights aimed to present dramatic effects. The trees looked like living sculptures, but were quite difficult to photograph with the lighting. The trees were not crowded, and in fact, there was plenty of space so you can fully appreciate their beauty. There was even enough room to drive a trunk into the exhibit area, and after thinking about it a while, a forklift is necessary to move nearly every tree. There is no way even four men could move most of the penjing. There was only one lonely shohin penjing displayed in box stand, all Junipers. A couple of “regular” size penjing were scattered throughout the exhibition.
Additionally there was a display of viewing stones and antique containers. Many were displayed in clear plastic boxes. Each stone and container also had individual lighting. Across from this display area was another good size display of penjing from the Chinese Artists Penjing Association. These trees varied in size, but most were much smaller than those in the China National Penjing Exhibition, but probably in greater number. They were simply displayed on long tables, similar to Japan and were not crowded, nor did they include companion plantings. A great number of exotic species, at least for me, were displayed in nearly every style, except shohin bonsai.
I was thinking why the Chinese favor such large sizes of trees and perhaps it’s because the country of China is so large. Also, Chinese history does not include sitting on the floor on tatami mats viewing trees in a tokonoma alcoves, as is traditionally practiced in Japan. But rather, Chinese penjing are displayed outdoors in large gardens or indoors in large rooms so big trees are proportionally necessary.
Although all beautiful and well refined, most of the penjing displayed have been trained for shorter time than Japanese bonsai. Many of the species are tropical and sub tropical and can grow all year, which means penjing can be more quickly developed and refined. It is much easier to develop fine twigging on larger trees rather than those of smaller sizes. Although I have seen large Ficus defoliated for display in China and Taiwan before, I’ve never seen all the foliage and fine twigs removed from Dwarf Kumquat literati bonsai before and other species as well. Several of the deciduous species had new growth extending which was attractive.
Near the exit of the exhibition a small sales area was arranged and offered trees and containers, mostly large of course. Many people attended the opening ceremony and visited the exhibition afterwards, but there were several guards checking to make certain each visitor had an entrance ticket, even Mr. Sudo, Mr. Kobayashi and Mr. Morimae were first detained because they were not wearing their entrance tags. After entering and being overwhelmed with the size of each penjing one could appreciate their beauty. Photographs were allowed and I noticed several people moving the name cards to get better shots. Perhaps they did not replace the name cards with the right penjing, because many were mislabeled. But this not distract from appreciating the trees, it only bothered plant nerds who want to know the name of each species.
On the evening of the opening day a rather elaborate “China Penjing Night” banquet was held at the hotel we stayed at where they presented many awards and announced the name of the winner who received over US$13,000 for his penjing. Afterwards there was singing, dancing, a laser light show with music, beautiful women holding penjing and magazines parading around and more. Kunio Kobayashi loves to dance. To me the event was similar to a Vegas Show, rather than a bonsai award banquet, and I’ve been to quite a few.
The following morning we returned to the exhibit to see the trees again, as one walk through was not enough to properly study their beauty and see their training techniques. Later in the morning two demonstrations, on the same stage, both using large, of course, Japanese black pines by two teams of artists. One of the artists, Mr. Fan is a third generation penjing artist who is regarded a the “Chinese Kimura.” He quickly worked and trimmed the tree while others wired and then returned to shape the branches. The trunk was well over ten inches in diameter and would be too difficult to reshape on stage.
I was told this was the highest class exhibition of penjing, ever held in China. The trees displayed here were nothing similar to the mass produced imported trees from China sold in grocery stores in the United States. I now have a new appreciation for Chinese penjing, and feel fortunate to have been invited to the event. If this is the first China Penjing Exhibition, I can’t wait to see future shows and watch the quick development of penjing in China. Another well done event in China.
Additional photos and information will be in a future issue of International BONSAI magazine.