Art of Chinese Flower Arrangement

 

As an art form, Chinese flower arrangement began during the Northern and Southern Dynasties when Buddhism spread into China, bringing its custom of offering flowers at temple altars.  By the Five Dynasties (907-960 A.D.) Emperor Li Hou Tsu had made the floral art an imperial affair by holding an annual flower arrangement exhibition at his palace.  This event was to mark the rise of court flower arrangement.

The Sung Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), with its literati paintings, was the flourish of literati flower arrangement.  By the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), the art was practiced widely amongst the populace, used in homes and during special festive occasions.  A burgeoning number of Chinese floral arrangers had perfected techniques placing equal weight on beauty, structure, and meaning, laying the foundations of an Oriental art form which would spread to Japan, Korea, and even Europe and the Americas.

Naturalism continued to play the main role in Chinese flower arrangement, however. One of the great exponents of the art, Yuan Hung-Tao, once wrote, “As for balance, do not arrange the blossoms too chaotically, not too prosaically.  At most two or three varieties in one composition-all short, sparse, and thick, but not to extremes. Avoid symmetry, straight columns, and lines, and above all, don’t tie up the flowers with knots.  Follow botanical principles; the appearance should be natural like...an essay that flows without constructions and rigid conclusions.  If branches are parallel and colors but red and white, is the arrangement not like the trees before the magistrate’s court or the inscriptions on grave stones?”

The most important element in Chinese floral art nevertheless remained to be the line.  Unlike the prevailing Western artistic maxim of “mass over line,” Chinese flower arrangements stressed the linear and calligraphic.  Consequently, as the arrangement of followers in the vase conformed to design of a well-executed Chinese painting, so the twigs and branches followed the balanced order of major and subordinate lines.  The flower itself, its stalk and leaves, not only contributed to the linear character of the work, but also added meaning to the attitudes of the twigs employed.

 

All flower arrangements were created by Taini Hsu and exhibited in the Chinese Festival at Wilmington Delaware Chinese American Community Center, June 2008.

Description on this page is provided by the Chinese Floral Arts Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.

 

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