The art of dwarfed potted tree culture in Japan is said to have been decisively accelerated by the arrival of Chu Shun-shui (1600-1682) [aka Chu Chih-yü (Zhu Zhi-Yu)].  This noted Chinese Confucian scholar and Ming Dynasty loyalist from Zhejiang province emigrated to Nagasaki to flee the Manchus in 1659.  He brought with him his entire collection of specialist penjing literature, and became naturalized as a Japanese.  It was his knowledge that contributed to the spread of the art in Japan. 1
        His grandfather, father and older brother had all been Ming officials.  Discouraged by the political corruption of the time, Chu showed a disinclination for civil examinations and an official career.  He did continue to pursue his role as a Confucian student.  His knowledge and experience, though, went far beyond the prescribed scope of those studies.  He read widely, both in Chinese and Japanese history.  He had a good knowledge of the ancient ritual institutions, while being fully conversant with matters of government, law and music.  He also knew farming, and was, in his own way, an architect and a craftsman.
        Chu was not invited to join Ming government service until after the fall of Peking in 1644.  He received a total of thirteen offers during the next fifteen years.  His unwillingness to serve under the Ming pretenders in southern China was interpreted by authorities as disrespect, and Chu had to flee.  From Chusan on the coast he sailed to Japan for the first time.  Failing to obtain permission to reside there, he left the next year and went for the first time to Annam (present-day Vietnam).  Returning to Chusan, he worked toward obtaining outside help for the Ming cause.  This is the usual interpretation of the motives for his travels to both Annam (four times) and Japan (seven times). 
        After over four years in Annam (1654-1658), Chu returned to Nagasaki.  During this stay he received letters from a Confucian professor Ando Seian (1622-1701) and another Japanese, both of whom desired to become his disciples.  With some financial help from Ando and a Chinese Buddhist monk, Chu left Nagasaki for Amoy in November.  He had planned to assist in a last-ditch effort to restore the Ming rule, but the lack of discipline and firm command he saw led to the eventual defeat near Nanking, which he had forseen.  At this time he also suffered the sudden loss through sickness of his second son in 1659.
        That winter, Chu returned to Japan and acquired, through the help of Ando Seian, special permission to reside in Nagasaki.  This time he would make Japan his permenant home.  He then was in contact with visiting Chinese traders and with a few Japanese scholars and intellectuals, including some Buddhist monks.  He was obliged to live frugally, sometimes borrowing from friends.
        At Ando Seian's request, Chu wrote a long anti-Manchu tract in 1661, in which he explained in detail the causes of the fall of the Ming.  He went on to offer a plan for the recovery of China from alien hands.  He emphasized the practice of the Confucian virtues of benevolence and righteousness, presumably by those in command.  Two years later his house burned in a fire, and he was obliged to seek temporary shelter in a Buddhist monastery.
        In 1664 Chu was approached by a representative of Tokugawa Mitsukuni, daimyo of Mito, to go to Edo to further Confucian learning.  Answering multiple questions on general geographic knowledge of China, Taiwan, and Cochinchina, Chu expressed his esteem for Japan and the Japanese and made it clear that he desired first a formal offer, made with due propriety.  In the following year Chu received the special invitation, extended by Mitsukuni after he had requested permission of the Shogunal government.  Chu's disciples in Nagasaki encouraged him to accept this.  So in July 1665, he abandoned his plan to buy land for farming and left for Edo in the company of special escorts provided by the governor of Nagasaki.  At the age of sixty-five, he began a new page in his life.  He also gave himself a new name, taken from a river in his native place, Shun-shui.
        Mitsukuni (1628-1700) had begun the great historical work, Dai-Nihon-shi, eight years earlier.  (That history would eventually cover 243 volumes.)  When he heard that Shunshui was in Japan, Mitsukuni called the Chinese scholar to his palace and made him one of his principle co-laborers on this history.  Chu probably did not personally participate in the writing itself, but he could have helped to assure its high quality as a work written in the same genre as many Chinese histories.
        Mitsukuni's researches into national antiquity made him counteract the popular infatuation with things Chinese, and he gave preference to Japanese literature over Chinese classics, protected and propagated Shintoism rather than the foreign-originated Buddhism.
        Chu always emphasized the beneficial effects of Confucianism but never attacked Buddhism directly, and appeared tolerant enough of Shinto beliefs.  His advocacy of the union of literary and classical knowledge and martial spirit and skill must have been especially appealing to the Japanese samurai class.
       Chu cultivated the friendship of various Confucian scholars in Edo.  As Mitsukuni's personal teacher and advisor, Chu was also invited to give public lectures, most likely with the help of Japanese interpreters.  He mentioned with satisfaction the large crowds who came to listen to him.  He also provided all the answers he could to questions asked of him, whether they concerned the meaning of technical terms or information related to weather, geography, human kinship, sicknesses, food and drink, animals and birds, grains and plants, and utensils.  Such information is collected in a treatise, Chuh-shih t'an-chi, which remains today as evidence of Chu's work as an untiring educator.
        Committed to the task of spreading Confucian education in Tokugawa Japan, Chu drew up a detailed plan of a temple and school compound, personally instructed the master carpenter, brought a statue of Confucius over from China, and authored detailed treatises on proper ritual and ceremonials of the Confucian cult.  In 1672 he personally directed the first celebrations at the temple.
        Now, sited for strategic reasons, Edo had few views apart from that of Mount Fuji.  Parks were laid out on the edge of town, the earliest being the sixty-three acre Koraku-en, just north of the shogunal palace.  One of Edo's most celebrated landscape gardens, it was designed in 1626 by the Vice-shogun, Tokugawa Yorifusa (1603-1661, the eleventh son of Ieyasu), patriarch of the Mito family.  The third shogun Iemitsu designed the garden's lake, in which there is an island with a small temple.  The huge garden at the Military Arsenal at Koishikawa was remodelled by Yorifusa's son, Mitsukuni, who was advised on the remodelling by Chu.  Included in the garden is a Full-moon bridge, a Chinese curved bridge of excellent proportions with a beautifully curved rail and a half-moon opening which imparts a truly exotic atmosphere.  When viewed in the water, the bridge's reflection completes the circle, hence its name.  The entrance to the garden is through the Kara-mon or Chinese Gate, on which there is a tablet in the writing of Chu. 

        Chu was a "transitional" figure, representing the seventeenth century in both China and Japan, and transmitting certain philosophical views of the Song and Ming thinkers while signalizing the emergence of a new generation of more pragmatically oriented scholars in both countries.  He could not help certain Japanese scholars in their quest for a genuine and clear understanding of early Confucian texts or detailed historical knowledge.  But his example for the Japanese was one which helped to orient Japanese Confucianism to the real, the human, the objective, and the practical, which for them were stepping stones toward the encounter with Western science and technology. 2
        What specialist writings did Chu bring with him, and what specific teachings on the art did he impart?  The answer to these questions may lie in the various collected letters and essays of Chu and his disciples, such writings currently available only in Chinese and Japanese.


1.    Lesniewicz, Paul Bonsai: The Complete Guide to Art & Technique (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; 1984), pg. 13, who says Chu came to Japan "around 1644";

Lesniewicz, Paul and Hideo Kato  Practical Bonsai, Their Care, Cultivation and Training (London: W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd; 1991), pg. 10;

cf. Samson, pg. 8: "During the Yuan dynasty (1276-1368) [sic] , an official is said to have fled the rule of the Mongols and gone to live in Japan with some p'en-tsai together with a number of texts elucidating the art, and this is how, so the story goes, they were introduced to Japan.";

cf. Chen, Lifang and Yu Sianglin  The Garden Art of China (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1986), pg. 2: "This contributing influence [of Chinese techniques of gardening and drawing  passing into Japan] reached its high point at the end of the Ming Dynasty in the seventeenth century when a gardening expert, Chu Shun Shui, went to Japan to build the famous Hou Lu Yuan Garden in Tokyo.  This garden made a deep impression on the Japanese and their garden style."; 

cf. Wu, Yee-Sun   Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants (Hong Kong: Wing-Lung Bank Ltd.; 1969, 1974.  Second edition), pg. 64 (and echoed in Koreshoff, Deborah R.  Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy (Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Publications; 1984), pg. 7): "Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, a government official called Chu Shun-sui [sic] , unwilling to serve under the Manchu rulers of the Ching Dynasty, fled to Japan, taking with him Chinese literature and culture as well as the art of pot plants.  This marked the beginning [sic] of bonsai culture in Japan."; 

2.    Ching, Julia  "The Practical Learning of Chu Shun-shui (1600-1682)," in Principle and Practicality, Essays in Neo-Confucianism and Practical Learning, edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom (NY: Columbia University Press; 1979), pp. 189-229, picture from pg. 203.  This is apparently the most detailed biography of Chu available in English.;

Papinot, E. Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.; 1972.  Reprint of original 1910 work.), pp. 16, 55, 595, 680-681, which states that Yorifusa was the ninth son of Ieyasu;

Newsom, Samuel Japanese Garden Construction (Tokyo: Domoto, Kumagawa and Perkins, 1939.  1988 reprint by Apollo Book, Poughkeepsie, NY), pp. 64, 277;

Jellicoe, Sir Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe (consult. eds.) and Patrick Goode and Michael Lancaster (exec. eds.) The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford University Press, 1986), pg. 296;

Japan, The Official Guide (Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways; 1933, 1941), pg. 270, pg. 488, which says that the Dai-Nihon-shi was completed in 1906 with 397 volumes, and pg. 490, which notes that Chu ("Syu Syunsui") is buried in the Chinese-style cemetery of the House of Mito along with its thirteen Lords.;

Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (Tokyo: Kodansha International, Ltd.; 1983), Vol. 7, pg. 191.

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