Penjing is the Chinese art of creating a miniature scene from nature in a container or on a stone slab. The word consists of pen, meaning "pot" or "container", and jing, meaning "scenery". Chinese Penjing uses trees, other plant material, stone, soil and sand to create a natural scene that is realistic and pleasing to the eye. The various forms of Penjing are closely related to Japanese art forms of bonsai, saikai, and suiseki.
Although there are many variations of Penjing, the Chinese currently recognize three categories:
- Tree Penjing (shumu penjing)
- Mountain and Water Penjing or Landscape Penjing (shanshui penjing)
- Water and Land Penjing (shuihan penjing)
Tree Penjing is the forerunner of Japanese Bonsai. According to historical records the art of maintaining dwarfed trees in containers has been practiced in China since the Song (or Sung) Dynasty (960-1279). In this art one or more trees are used. They are the dominant element of the composition. There may be a single tree, a group of three or five, or a forest of many trees.
Very small Tree Penjing are known as "Weixing Penjing".
There are two distinct regional variations of Tree Penjing:
- Southern style. The Southern style is also called the "Lingnan style. It is found in Guangdong, Fujian, and Guangxi Provinces and mostly uses broadleaf species of trees. This style relies on pruning or "Grow and Clip" techniques to create natural features of trees found in Southern climates.
- Northern style. The Northern style is found in Shanghai, Suzhou, Yanghou, and other areas along the Yangtze River. Most of the tree species used are conifers. One of the distinguishing features of trees trained in the Northern style is that the foliage is arranged in clusters.
Mountain and Water Penjing or Landscape Penjing
Although "Landscape Penjing" is the preferred term, I would rather use the more accurately descriptive term of "Mountain and Water Penjing". These are the images most commonly brought to mind when one thinks of the term "penjing". In this art form vertical rocks are the dominant element of the composition. They are usually placed in a low basin filled with water or on a marble slab where the space itself depicts water.
Water and Land Penjing
Water and Land Penjing is most often known in the West as the Japanese art of Saikei. In this art form trees, rocks, soil and water are all used to create the final composition. This form uses all of these natural elements to create a scene that may have a stream running through it, depict a cliff over-looking the ocean, or any other natural wonder.