Is Chinese Bonsai An Art or Tree Torture?

This series of bonsai is by Chinese artist Shen Shaomin, show cased at Frey Norris Gallery. Shen shows them trussed and tugged by the thumbscrew brackets, collars and barricades that engineer their growth. The images and ways of forced growth are disturbing as it looks as though the plants are in pain as they are twisted into a deformity, against what is their natural growth pattern. Shen connects his bonsai sculptures with the Chinese tradition of forcing women to bind their feet from an early age to disfigure them into conformity with a certain ideal of female beauty. I was a little shock when I saw these images. A lot of people think that bonsai technique is cruel. Do you think Chinese Bonsai is tree torture?

Tessa Fraser

11 Responses to Is Chinese Bonsai An Art or Tree Torture?

  1. mol-d November 16, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    interesting article and cool pics. thanks tessa!

  2. Chips November 16, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    How very strange – there’s an amazing sense of tension in all of these. Not quite your average potplant…

  3. tessa November 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    It looks so cruel!! 🙁

  4. Niall November 16, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    but do trees have feelings? or essence? I’m not sure … but it looks cruel alright …

  5. Helen November 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I find it quite disturbing to want to distort a living thing so much.

  6. tessa November 19, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    plants and trees do have feelings!

    watch this clip if you have time 🙂

  7. SonnyGoten October 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    There is as much torture in this, as there is in any form of bonsai. If you don’t like this bonsai, you might as well ban all forms of bonsai; japanse, chinese, korean, etc. etc. This, like any other method (cutting, grafting, etc.) is a form of training the plant. It’s artificial -yes- but most plants in our gardens are artificial these days.
    Personally, I think the artist (because, indeed, bonsai is an art form) is trying to express the image of a tortured soul, through his trees. Don’t worry, the trees themselves are healthy, but it’s the message of pain that the artist is trying to convey to us, and judging by the previous posts, I think it’s working.

  8. Ronald February 3, 2014 at 5:39 am #

    Thanks, Tessa! I’m spreading your clip!

  9. Kes Roberts September 29, 2014 at 5:45 am #

    Are you serious? Trees grow always up. It is not an animal.. It has no nerve endings.. Have you ever read what is a tree? THINK!! It’s sad that humans can’t get simple logic if they just read how a tree works!! Why don’t you spend your time on how to help children who are starving or suffering instead of imagining that a tree is being tortured even though if you guide a branch to go in one direction is concidered tourturing!!!

  10. Matz December 19, 2015 at 2:22 am #

    A Bonsai can live to 800 years old. It may look unusual, but stunting and continously pruning the tree has amazing health benefits. This is another case of people knowing nothing on the subject, projecting human feeling onto something that doesn’t even share our physiology.

  11. Biba June 3, 2018 at 10:42 am #

    Years ago I watched a show about plants / trees / fruits / veggies and how they “crying” painfully when we touch / cut / eat them. Their pain was detected using small sensors used on them, something like this video:
    Bonsai to me is definitely not art but cruelty. As also asian tradition “foot binding”:

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