Qian Gu 钱榖,. Painting of Wang’s Garden. National Palace Museum, Tapei Taiwan.
In Dreams of Red Chambers the guests of the house whilst taking a tour of the gardens are amazed at the large bamboo forest. They are at a loss of words while walking through the mystical and beautiful winding path through the thicket of bamboo.
Where it is produced
Bamboo originated in China and can grow in almost any condition. It grows in different altitudes and under various climate conditions, however, it prefers tropical climate. Specifically, in China it tends to grow in central and southern China due to its warmer climate and large amounts of rain. Bamboo is, “mainly confined to river basins and hilly land with fertile soil and a humid climate in the tropical and subtropical regions.” (Wenyue) which includes the Huang He (Yellow River) and Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) valleys. It also requires land that drains easily and is not prone to flooding.
Bamboo has been used in everyday life, “the use of bamboo in China goes back almost 5,000 years.” (Wenyue). It is a very profitable crop for farmers in China. It is often used in building materials such as; scaffolding, ladders, houses, and carts. In fact, “bamboo has traditionally been used in all parts of house construction, except for chimneys and fireplaces.” (Lobovikov). It is also used in the making of furniture such as blinds and chairs. Originally “The first scripts were written in China on strips of bamboo more than 6,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Bamboo pens, brushes and musical instruments were invented 3 000 years ago. The first paper was produced from bamboo in China in the ninth century.” (Lobovikov). Bamboo has been the main ingredient for paper making. It became such a large industry papermaking companies began to hire guards to protect their crops of bamboo. Bamboo has been used to heat houses with charcoal especially amongst the poor. It is also an important part of many people’s diet, “Bamboo shoots are considered a nutritional vegetable. They come either from intensive plantations or from natural stands and are sold fresh, dry, pickled or canned mostly for domestic consumption.” (Lobovikov).
Currently bamboo is used for many daily products as an eco-friendly alternative to plastics and other varieties of hardwood. It is often cheaper and easier to come by than other materials. It is used commonly for; chopsticks, decorations, fabrics, clothing, flooring, kitchen products (cutting boards, spoons etc.), toothbrushes, exfoliating skincare products, powdered cosmetics, bath towels, bath mats, washcloths, combs, bath brushes, hair brushes, and many more products. It is often used in beauty products due to its antibacterial, antifungal, deodorizing and hypoallergenic properties. It is also occasionally still used to make some instruments and weapons as a lightweight alternative to modern materials.
Heyde, Manfred. A Bamboo Grove.
In addition to the usefulness of bamboo, it is often painted amongst other flowering plants or simply by itself. It is also used in many paintings for the rich, “Standing tall, noble yet reverential, the bamboo symbolizes the gentlemanly virtues of humility and uprightness.” (Fong). Bamboo is often featured in winter paintings, “three friends of the wintery season: the early blooming plum, harbinger of spring: the bamboo, which bends but does not break; and the pine.” (Fong). Due to its simple shape it, “was especially favored by scholar-amateur painters.”. Bamboo follows many of the same uses in paintings as it did in gardens. It served as a simple background and was used in thousands of paintings.
Bamboo in China grows in gardens and in forests. It serves as habitat and as a food source for many different species of wildlife including birds, insects, pandas, and other organisms. It also helps to prevent erosion, “Bamboos are valuable plants for wind-breaks and soil conservation because of their heavy evergreen foliage and extensive root system. They are often planted along river banks, lake shores and hilly slopes to prevent soil erosion. In rural areas farmers always plant small bamboo groves around their homesteads.” (Wenyue). As another added benefit bamboo, “helps filter out toxins of water before it enters streams.” (Wenyue). This keeps the streams and rivers cleaner and keeps the ecosystem healthy. Additionally bamboo helps prevent erosion and naturally cleans water and human wastes.
Even though bamboo has many environmental benefits in China it can be devastating to other plants and organisms in other ecosystems. Bamboo is native to China where it helps the environment. When moved to another country it can become devastating. When bamboo was added to Japan the results killed off many native plants, “Moso bamboo invaded Japan and took away the sun from the forests.” (Tsing) without sunlight hitting the forest floors no other native plants can grow. Bamboo was originally brought for gardens and for commercial value in some cases, “But as peasant forests and fields have been neglected, the bamboo has become and aggressive invader, taking over the forest, he showed me how it was suffocating the remaining pines, cloaking them in the deep shade that made them vulnerable to pine wilt” (Tsing). Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that will force out and kill surrounding plants. If not checked it will continue to grow and cause more native species loss.
1.What do you think bamboo can be used for in your daily life?
2. Do the benefits of growing Bamboo outweigh the detriments to the surrounding ecosystem?
3.Why is bamboo so important to China and its economy?
- Clunas, Craig. Fruitful sites: garden culture in Ming dynasty China. Reaktion Books, 2013.
- Eyferth, Jan Jacob Karl. Eating rice from bamboo roots: the social history of a community of handicraft papermakers in rural Sichuan, 1920-2000. Vol. 314. Harvard Univ Council on East Asian, 2009.
- Fong, Wen C. Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 8th-14th Century. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992.
- Hsiung, Wenyue. “Prospects for bamboo development in the world.” Journal de La American Bamboo Society 8, no. 1-2 (1988): 168.
- Hsü, Ginger Cheng-chi. A Bushel of Pearls: Painting for Sale in Eighteenth-Century Yangchow. Stanford University Press, 2001.
- Lee, Sherman E., and Naomi Noble Richard. A history of Far Eastern art. Thames and Hudson, 1964.
- Lobovikov, Maxim, Lynn Ball, María Guardia, and Laura Russo. World bamboo resources: a thematic study prepared in the framework of the global forest resources assessment 2005. No. 18. Food & Agriculture Org., 2007.
- Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Princeton University Press, 2015.