Phil Than


student bio

Phil Than is an undergraduate majoring in Art History. He will be graduating in December 2017.

thesis description

Contemplating Nature: The Impact of Chinese Painting Theory and Culture on Bonsai Display

Abstract: Along with Buddhist sutras, Chinese garden culture also made it way to Japan through religious exchange between the two countries in the late seventh through ninth centuries. Before then, Chinese literature served as the main vehicle for the transmission of Chinese culture to Japan..

One of the Chinese art forms to have reached Japan is the ancient art of penjing (“tray landscapes”). The Japanese took the art form and transformed it into their own in a process of “self-colonization.” Thus, penjing developed into the Japanese art of bonsai (“potted trees”) with its own array of specific rules and methods, not unlike the classifications and theories of Chinese painting codified in China centuries before.

The interactions between Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks and scholars of landscape painting have closely informed the formal display of bonsai trees and their related arts. By establishing the relationship between penjing and bonsai, and by considering the link between Chinese texts on painting and existing bonsai philosophy, this project sheds new light on the art of bonsai.