As an art form, Penjing has been around for over a thousand years. The earliest historical records of a scene created in a tray container using stones and plants date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Penjing artists draw their inspiration from nature and other arts associated with nature such as painting and poetry. By the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the art of Penjing had become very popular and the first manuals appeared. With this increasing popularity, however, more commercial, folkloristic and regionally defined strands of penjing sprang up alongside the more sophisticated, artistic forms. In addition to aesthetically refined penjing, one could find trees whose trunks had been coiled to represent dragons, or whose canopies were designed to depict cloud layers, or trees shaped to resemble the strokes of fortuitous characters. The variations were endless.
During the latter part of the Qing dynasty and much of the 20th century, China was besieged with wars, foreign occupation, civil war, and the "cultural revolution". These events very naturally lead to a decline in all forms of art, including penjing. Many of the oldest trees, rocks and compositions were lost forever. The art and its history suffered a severe blow during this period that is only now recovering. Penjing has only begun to re-emerge in China during the last three decades.