The Verdant Mist Scholar’s Society was established in March 2010 under the auspices of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Its mission is to gather people of diverse backgrounds together to further the understanding and appreciation for the philosophies of ancient Chinese scholastic tradition.
Throughout Chinese history, every scholar learns and strives to excel in four art forms: music, board game, calligraphy and painting. Fine points of these arts are taught as part of a scholar’s formal education. The Four Arts (四藝, siyi), or the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, is a term used to describe four main accomplishments required of the Chinese scholar gentleman. They are qin (琴 qin, music), qi (棋 qi, board game), shu (書 calligraphy) and hua (畫 painting). Skills in these arts are diligently honed throughout a scholar’s life. The photo above left is a painting titled Listening to Music. The man under the tree is playing zither. The photo above right shows a scholar doing calligraphy.
For a little under three and a quarter centuries under the rule of the Song Dyansty (AD960-1279), China enjoyed a period of economic growth coupled with great artistic and intellectual achievements.
It has been said that the Song Dynasty was referred as the Renaissance of China which compared to Europe’s Renaissance. It is a great period in China’s history.
Song Dynasty scholars’ daily ritual includes:
The image of a painting on the left shows a scholar practicing his daily rituals. The painting is behind the scholar. A servant is serving tea, flower arrangement is in the forefront center and insence is burning in the lower left corner.
On May 6, 2012, The Verdant Mist Scholar’s Society hosted a hands-on workshop, “Be a Scholar for a Day” at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California, USA. There were three sessions of 20 participants each. Rosa Zee, an educator well versed in Chinese culture and a certified master of Chinese flower arrangement led the workshop. Rosa gave a brief overview of the practices nurtured in a scholar’s daily rituals.
Participants did calligraphy following Rosa’s demonstration. They learned to write six characters in Chinese using a brush and black ink, on a piece of rice paper. They learned how to hold a brush properly. Next, they were given a small lotus shaped dish, a pin frog, one branch of greenery and one flower. Rosa explained that there is a front and back to a greenery and flower. Make sure the front faces the viewer. Cut the stems to be a reasonable height in relation to the width and height of the lotus dish. The two plants should look like they come from one and be in a pleasing position, typically leaning slightly toward the back, left or right. Using only one branch of leaves and one flower is the simplest technique of Chinese flower arrangement. To be a master takes five to seven years of formal classroom training and a life time of practice.
The last part of the workshop was tea ceremony. The audience was held in rapt attention as Rosa went through the ritual of brewing and serving tea.
Photo on the left shows participants with their flower arrangements in front of them while watching Rosa Zee performing tea ceremony.
Participants took home an appreciation of how a Chinese scholar went about his daily ritual. They were rewarded with taking home the lotus dish and pin frog. We hope they will practice flower arrangement frequently at home or in the office.