The Four Noble Ones (Part 1 of 4) The Cultural Significance of Bamboo

Bamboo, the plum blossom, the orchid, and chrysanthemum, are known as the Four Noble Ones in Chinese culture, with bamboo representing Summer. Here we’ll expound a little on the virtues of bamboo, emphasising its significance in Chinese culture.

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing and most versatile plants in the world, and it can grow almost anywhere. Due to bamboo’s ability to persevere through the harshness of winter, it is therefore also referred to as one of the “Three Friends of Winter”, along with the pine tree and plum blossom.

Renowned painter Zheng Banqiao from the Qing Dynasty wrote a poem on one of his paintings called “Bamboo and Rock”.

“Bamboo roots on green mountain and rock cling deeply. Facing wind from all directions, it still firmly stands.” 

Zheng Banqiao loved painting bamboo his whole life. He expressed a special spirit in his bamboo paintings. This spirit is noble and pure, not vulgar, modest but not yielding. Isn’t living to be an upright human being also like this?

In traditional thought, bamboo symbolises integrity and inner strength. Bamboo grows straight upwards, such as how a child should develop to become a righteous and dignified person. And just like how a bamboo’s inter-nodes (between growth joints) is hollow, a person should have an open heart, never being arrogant nor cunning.

Inner strength is also related to one’s ability to forebear, and therefore bamboo’s incredible ability to bend in harsh winds is used as an example to represent forbearance.

Whether admiring a singular bamboo plant’s simple appearance with stalk and leaves, or a lush, green bamboo forest, bamboo’s simplicity is used as an example to represent humbleness and simplicity.

By learning from the characteristics of bamboo, one can feel closer to nature and be more at peace with the world.

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