What is bonsai, what is penjing, why do Japanese call it bonsai and Chinese call it penjing, and why do people end up getting confused?

What Is Bonsai and Penjing? Bonsai, known as bonsai (盆栽) in Japanese, is the art of cultivating and training miniature trees in containers. It originated from the traditional Chinese art form of penjing (盆景), which shares some similarities but also significant differences with bonsai. While both arts involve cultivating miniature trees, penjing tends to depict more "wild" and naturalistic scenes, often featuring landscapes with elements like water, rocks, and figurines. In contrast, bonsai typically focuses on individual trees or groups of trees of the same species, resulting in a simplified, concentrated representation. During the Tang dynasty of Cina, when penjing was at its height, the art was first
introduced in Japan(Heian period).

The term "bonsai" has been adopted as a broad umbrella term in English and is sometimes applied to various forms of potted plants, as well as other living and non-living objects. However, in its strictest sense, "bonsai" refers to the meticulous practice of cultivating trees in shallow containers, following specific pruning and training techniques to create miniature replicas of full-grown trees in nature.

The purposes of bonsai are twofold: they provide contemplative enjoyment for the viewer and serve as a satisfying creative pursuit for the grower. Unlike other forms of plant cultivation, bonsai are not grown for food production or medicinal purposes.

The art of bonsai begins with selecting source material, which can be a cutting, seedling, wild tree (known as Yamadori), or a small tree suitable for bonsai development. Bonsai can be created from various perennial woody-stemmed tree or shrub species that produce true branches and can be trained to remain small through techniques like crown and root pruning. As the tree matures, it is placed in a display pot, specially designed for bonsai presentation, and its growth is restricted by the pot's environment. Throughout the year, the bonsai is carefully shaped, limiting growth, redirecting foliage vigor, and adhering to the artist's design.

It's important to note that the practice of bonsai should not be confused withdwarfing, which typically involves genetic modification to create permanent, miniature versions of existing plant species. Bonsai relies on cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, pot confinement, defoliation, and grafting to achieve the desired miniature tree forms while preserving the genetic integrity of the tree species.