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Confucius Institute

The “Four Gentlemen” in Chinese painting

29 March 2017

“The Four Gentlemen” (四君子 junzi) in Chinese brush painting refer to four plants: plum (梅 mei), orchid (兰 lan), bamboo (竹 zhu), and chrysanthemum (菊 ju). Those four plants have become the basis of Chinese art because of their beauty and characters.

Image of Bamboo

The plum blossoms are cold-resistant flowers that bloom in the coldest time of the year. It is delicate yet hardy, as it blooms through ice to herald the spring.  It serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humble display under adverse conditions.

The orchids, though fragile in form, are highly valued for their delicate fragrance and always associated with elegance.

The bamboo is tough and upright.  It is the symbol of strength, both physical and mental, as it will bend and sway in the severest of gales but does not break.  Its hollow trunk means humility.

The chrysanthemum is beautiful and colourful, while it often blooms in autumn when other flowers are fading away, which symbolizes the virtue to withstand all adversities. It is tranquil and harmonious with others, but also dignified and indomitable.

In Chinese Arts, the plum, the orchid, the bamboo and the chrysanthemum either appear individually or as a set. When they are displayed together they symbolize the four seasons, the plum blossom for winter, the orchid for spring, the bamboo for summer and the chrysanthemum for autumn and you find them quite often in people’s living rooms, offices and hotel lobbies.

The Four Gentlemen have been used in Chinese brush painting since the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) and they were later also used by artists in Korea, Japan, Vietnam and some other Asian countries.

If you are interested in Chinese flower and bird brush painting and the philosophy behind it, join our Chinese Brush Painting class, which is a great opportunity to meet new friends and find out more about Chinese culture!

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