Penjing and Bonsai: Are they related?

By October 10, 2017 No Comments


‘Penjing’, another word in a foreign language, that sounds like Chinese.  Yes you are right, Penjing is a chinese word.  And since this blog is all about bonsai, this word might arouse a question?

Is Penjing related to art form of bonsai?  The short answer is yes and no.  Here is why I am saying that these two words are related and in the same instant they are not.

Back in the early days, Pen-Jing started the art of what today is called bonsai.  It is a Chinese name for ‘Miniature Trees in Pots’.  Eventually this changed it’s name to ‘Pen-Sai and later, when this art form was introduced to Japan, it took a Japanese name: ‘Bon-Sai’, and later was known throughout the world as ‘Bonsai’.  All these words refers to the original idea: A miniature tree in a pot.  So one can say that here is the releation between Penjing and Bonsai.

While refining the art of Bonsai, the Japanese, excluded the inclusion of rocks that mimics landscapes.  They kept it to it’s pure name: A tree in a pot.  On the other hand, the Chinese kept to their tradition by creating miniature trees in a landscape form, and by doing so, they kept the original name of: Penjing.  And here is why in my previous words, these two words are not related.  A Bonsai is a Bonsai tree and a Penjing is a tree in a miniature landscape.

Today’s Penjing

Similar to Bonsai, Penjing has changes through the years, turning it to a new art form, which is well embraced by many professionals and enthusiasts.  Although today’s Bonsai and Penjing art forms are derived from one origin, they are moving into two different paths, each evolving into a different form from the other.


It is very rare to find a professional Bonsai garden to hold both art forms, it is more normal that they will train and specialise in Bonsai while others in Penjing.  The Japanese are actually known today as the Bonsai Masters, while Penjing is more related to China.

This does not mean that these art forms does not exist in other countries.  In other asian countries, one can find Bonsai specialised gardens and also Penjing specialised gardens.

Types of Penjing

Professional Penjing artists have created Penjing in three different categories:


  • Shùmù Penjing – Depicting one or more trees and other different plants in the same container.

  • Shānshuǐ Penjing – Depicting a miniature landscape, by including different shapes of rocks and small plants.  This type of penjing also incorporates water.

  • Shuǐhàn Penjing – Depicting a landscape which includes an watery area.  Miniature structures and figurines are also included in this Penjing.



What is needed?

To start a Penjing, one needs to prepare at hand the material used:

  1. A shallow pot
  2. Some rocks
  3. Small trees
  4. Moss
  5. Chinese figurines

Patience is also important.  I am planing another blog in the coming future were we will build a Penjing together.  I will keep in touch.

Link to featured image 
Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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