in 80 Days!
to Main Page
to Xiamen & Fujian
Copyright 2001-7 by Sue Brown & Dr.
Recreation Links Google
Beauty of Bamboo
Chinese invented practically everything under the sun but they
had an unfair advantage in 4th century B.C. when they came up with deep-well
drilling for natural gas. China had bamboo, which has a higher tensile
strength than steel and is stronger when wet. The West had nothing to
compare with it. (Though we did use bamboo to our our advantage in 550
A.D., when Nestorian monks smuggled silkworms out of China in bamboo tubes).
Centuries ago, Jesuit priests wrote that bamboo was used in over 600 products.
They vary from shirts and shoes to pillows, furniture, dishes, scaffolds,
bridges, piers, houses, pens, hats, rakes, musical instruments, kitchen
utensils and chopsticks, dust pans and brooms, drain pipes, irrigation
pipes and tobacco pipes, back scratchers, (“not call man”
in Chinese), fishing poles and rafts, pig baskets, cradles, toys, fences,
gates, rope, screens, flour mills, hen coops, bird cages, lanterns, knitting
needles, and curtains. Japan’s famous paper umbrellas are adapted
from early Fujian umbrellas made from fine bamboo frames.
Bamboo is as palatable as practical when the shoots are stir-fried or
pickled--or raw, if one happens to be a panda.; (Wuyi
and Ningde have square-bamboo! That would sure
guarantee a square meal for pandas!).
ancient story tells of Meng Zong, whose sick mother wanted bamboo shoots
out of season. As the filial son wept in despair, bamboo shoots suddenly
sprouted before him. Chinese still quote the proverb “Meng Zong
part of the heart and soul of China. As one poet wrote, “Better
to live without meat than without bamboo.” Bamboo is not just practical
and palatable but poetic. Chinese see in this giant grass such traits
as chastity, honesty, gentleness and, most importantly, humility. The
bamboo is strong but hollow and empty, as a “humble man is not filled
with his own importance.”
The ancients inscribed their epic adventures and poems upon strips of
bamboo until someone learned how to pound bamboo pulp into the highly
prized white bamboo paper. While undergoing bamboo papermaking’s
72 steps, reverent workers eat white tofu to insure the paper’s
purity, and fastidiously avoid saying words like ‘black’ or
‘bump,’ lest the paper become spotted or lumpy.
While Fujian has long been famous for tea, bamboo has been
the persistent money maker, but times are changing. In Fuzhou’s
old downtown area I came across the shop of Ms. He, a fourth generation
bamboo craftsman. She was perched on a bamboo stool in the middle of the
sidewalk fashioning a basket from strips her husband had split off a one
of the poles stacked in the shop’s corner.
I could have spent hours watching those strong but deft hands that have
created steamers, bookshelves, and rocking chairs that could charm a dragon
to sleep. But Ms. He complained, “I’m probably the last generation
to do this. It’s hard work, it’s hard on the fingers, and
we don’t make much money at it.”
“But your bamboo products are so beautiful,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Nowadays everyone
wants modern plastic and shiny metal, even though bamboo is natural, more
durable, and costs about the same.”
She had a point. While bamboo articles are still common in the countryside,
the only city people who use bamboo furniture and utensils are those who
can’t yet afford the modern but soulless alternatives. No wonder
it’s getting harder to find craftsmen who take pride in producing
bamboo articles so practical they have changed but little over the past
Bamboo will always be a part of Chinese culture, literature and arts,
but we need to remember that this most versatile gift of nature is as
practical as it is poetic—especially in an age that must emphasize
ecologically sound and renewable resources.
In American tourist attractions like colonial Jamestown and Williamsburg,
tourists watch traditional craftsman at work, and eagerly buy their wares.
Perhaps Chinese cities could also sponsor traditional craftsman in tourist
areas to help preserve China’s valuable but vanishing heritage.
Fujian Sites Fujian
Foto Album Xiamen
Last Updated: May 2007
to Main Page
Back to Top