Three Friends of Winter

Last updated

Three Friends of Winter
Three Friends of Winter by Zhao Mengjian.jpg
The Three Friends of Winter by the painter Zhao Mengjian, Song dynasty
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 歲寒三友
Simplified Chinese 岁寒三友
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese Tuế hàn tam hữu
Korean name
Hangul 세한삼우
Hanja 歲寒三友
Japanese name
Kanji 歳寒三友
Hiragana さいかんさんゆう

The Three Friends of Winter is an art motif that comprises the pine, bamboo, and plum. [1] The Chinese celebrated the pine, bamboo and plum together, as they observed that these plants do not wither as the cold days deepen into the winter season unlike many other plants. [2] Known by the Chinese as the Three Friends of Winter, they later entered the conventions of East Asian culture. [3] [4] Together they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience. [5] They are highly regarded in Confucianism and as such represent the scholar-gentleman's ideal. [1] [6]



The Three Friends of Winter are common in works of art from Chinese culture [7] and those cultures influenced by it. The three are first recorded as appearing together in a ninth-century poem by the poet Zhu Qingyu (朱慶餘) of the Tang dynasty. [6] The Southern Song dynasty artist Zhao Mengjian (趙孟堅, c. 1199–1264), among others of the time, made this grouping popular in painting. [6]

The actual term "Three Friends of Winter" can be traced back to the earliest known mention in literature, the Record of the Five-cloud Plum Cottage (五雲梅舍記) from The Clear Mountain Collection (霽山集) by the Song dynasty writer Lin Jingxi (林景熙, 1242–1310): [2] [8]

For his residence, earth was piled to form a hill and a hundred plum trees, which along with lofty pines and tall bamboo comprise the friends of winter, were planted. [2]

即其居累土為山,種梅百本,與喬松,脩篁為歲寒友。 [8]

Cultural symbolism

Three Friends and a Hundred Birds by Bian Wenjin, Ming dynasty Bian Wenjin, Three Friends and a Hundred Birds.jpg
Three Friends and a Hundred Birds by Bian Wenjin, Ming dynasty

Culturally, the Three Friends of Winterpine, bamboo, and plum—are grouped together in the context of winter because they all flourish at that season. [1] For this reason they are commonly known as the Three Friends of Winter. [1] They are also referred to simply by their linked names: Song Zhu Mei (松竹梅) in Chinese, transliterated as Sho Chiku Bai in Japanese (literally "pine, bamboo, plum") [9] or Song Jug Mae (송죽매) in Korean.

In a Korean poem by Kim Yuki (1580–1658), the three friends are brought together in order to underline the paradoxical contrast:

Peach and plum of springtime, don't flaunt your pretty blossoms;
Consider rather the old pine and green bamboo at year's end.
What can change these noble stems and their flourishing evergreen? [10]

In Japan, they are particularly associated with the start of the New Year, appearing on greeting cards and as a design stamped into seasonal sweets. [11] Shōchikubai (松竹梅) is sometimes also used as a three-tier ranking system. In this context, the pine (matsu, ) usually is the highest rank, followed by bamboo (take, ) as the middle rank, and plum (ume, ) as the lowest. [12]

In Vietnam, the three along with chrysanthemum create a combination of four trees and flowers usually seen in pictures and decorative items. The four also appear in works but mostly separately with the same symbolic significance. [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

Bamboo Subfamily of flowering plants in the grass family Poaceae

Bamboos are evergreen perennial flowering plants in the subfamily Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae. The word "bamboo" comes from the Dutch or Portuguese languages, which probably borrowed it from Malay.

<i>Prunus mume</i> species of plant

Prunus mume is an East Asian tree species classified in the Armeniaca section of the genus Prunus subgenus Prunus. Its common names include Chinese plum,Japanese plum, Japanese apricot, and Korean green plum. The flower, long a beloved subject in the traditional painting and poetry of East Asia, is usually called plum blossom. This distinct tree species is related to both the plum and apricot trees. Although generally referred to as a plum in English, it is more closely related to the apricot. In Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cooking, the fruit of the tree is used in juices, as a flavouring for alcohol, as a pickle and in sauces. It is also used in traditional medicine.

Nanao, Ishikawa City in Chūbu, Japan

Nanao is a city located in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. As of 31 January 2018, the city had an estimated population of 53,819 in 22212 households, and a population density of 170 persons per km². The total area of the city was 318.32 square kilometres (122.90 sq mi). Nanao is the fifth largest city by population in Ishikawa, behind Kanazawa, Hakusan, Komatsu, and Kaga.

Motif (visual arts) in the visual arts, individual design element, alone or combined to produce a pattern

In art and iconography, a motif is an element of an image. A motif may be repeated in a pattern or design, often many times, or may just occur once in a work.

Shoyeido is one of the oldest traditional Japanese incense companies, established more than 300 years ago, producing high quality, natural incense. The company is based in Kyoto.

Tang Yin Ming dynasty painter

Tang Yin, courtesy name Tang Bohu (唐伯虎), was a Chinese painter, calligrapher, and poet of the Ming dynasty period whose life story has become a part of popular lore. Even though he was born during the Ming dynasty, many of his paintings, especially those of people, were illustrated with elements from Pre-Tang to Song dynasty art.

The history of the Guqin, an ancient Chinese musical instrument, is a long one that spans 3,000 years. Although similar, it should not be confused with another Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, which has bridges.

In Chinese art, the Four Gentlemen or Four Noble Ones, literally meaning "Four Junzi", is a collective term referring to four plants: the plum blossom, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum. The term compares the four plants to Confucian junzi, or "gentlemen". They are most typically depicted in traditional ink and wash painting and they belong to the category of bird-and-flower painting in Chinese art. In line with the wide use of nature as imagery in literary and artistic creation, the Four Gentlemen are a recurring theme for their symbolism of uprightness, purity, humility, perseverance against harsh conditions, among other virtues valued in the Chinese traditions.

National Flower of the Republic of China

The National Flower of Taiwan was officially designated as the plum blossom by the Executive Yuan of the [Taiwan] on July 21, 1964. The plum blossom, known as the meihua, is a symbol for resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity, because plum blossoms often bloom most vibrantly even amidst the harsh winter snow. As the plum tree can usually grow for a long time, ancient trees are found throughout China. Huangmei county in Hubei features a 1,600-year-old plum tree from the Jin Dynasty which is still flowering. The three stamens represents Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People, while the five petals symbolize the five branches of the government: Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Examination Yuan and Control Yuan. The flower has also been proposed to be one of the national flowers for the People's Republic of China.

<i>Chiwen</i> one of the 9 sons of the dragon

Chiwen is a Chinese dragon, and in Chinese mythology is one of the 9 sons of the dragon. He is depicted in imperial roof decorations and other ornamental motifs in traditional Chinese architecture and art.


Fukusa, are a type of Japanese textile used for gift-wrapping or for purifying equipment during a Japanese tea ceremony. Fukusa are square or almost square pieces of lined fabric ranging in size from about 9 inches to 36 inches on a side. Their use has mostly died out, lingering mainly in certain ritual exchanges of gifts during weddings in a few regions of Japan.

Jietai Temple building in Mentougou District, China

Jietai Temple is a Buddhist temple in Mentougou District in western Beijing. It was constructed during the Tang dynasty, with major modifications made during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Chinese Garden, Zürich

The Chinese Garden is a chinese garden in the Swiss city of Zürich. It is a gift from Zürich's Chinese partner town Kunming, dedicated to the Three Friends of Winter.

Sun Rui (dancer) Chinese dancer

Sun Rui is a Chinese classical dancer. He was born on November 9, 1984 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. He is now a classical dancer of Beijing Dance Academy Youth Troupe and a performer of Beijing Contemporary Dance Theatre.

Bamboo painting

Works of bamboo painting, usually in ink, are a recognized motif or subgenre of East Asian painting. In a work of bamboo painting in ink, a skilled artist and calligrapher will paint a bamboo stalk or group of stalks with leaves. The contrast between the foreground and background, and between the varying textures represented by the stalks and the leaves, gave scope to the painter to demonstrate his or her mastery with an inkpot and a brush.


A meiping is a type of vase in Chinese ceramics. It is traditionally used to display branches of plum blossoms. The meiping was first made of stoneware during the Tang dynasty (618–907). It was originally used as a wine vessel, but since the Song dynasty (960–1279) it also became popular as a plum vase and got its name "meiping". It is tall, with a narrow base spreading gracefully into a wide body, followed by a sharply-rounded shoulder, a short and narrow neck, and a small opening.

<i>Vase with carved peony scrolls</i>

Vase with carved peony scrolls is a Cizhou-type stoneware vase of the Northern Song dynasty, made about 1100 and now in the Asian collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where it is currently on display in the Richard M. Fairbanks Gallery.

Bambooworking is the activity or skill of making items from bamboo, and includes architecture, carpentry, furniture and cabinetry, carving, joinery, and weaving. Its historical roots in Asia span cultures, civilizations, and millennia.

Sakaki Hyakusen, originally Shin'en (Japanese: 彭城 百川; was a Japanese painter in the nanga style. His other art names included Hōshū, Senkan and Hassendō.

Trees in Chinese mythology and cultural symbology

Trees in Chinese mythology and culture tend to range from more-or-less mythological such as the Fusang tree and the Peaches of Immortality cultivated by Xi Wangmu to mythological attributions to such well-known trees, such as the pine, the cypress, the plum and other types of prunus, the jujube, the cassia, and certain as yet unidentified trees. Mythological ideas about trees also extends to various types of fungi which lived or were thought to live underneath certain of these trees, collecting their mysterious essences.(de Groot 1910:296-306)


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Chinese symbols" (PDF). British Museum. p. 1. Retrieved 11 August 2011. Archived 5 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine .
  2. 1 2 3 "The Three Friends of Winter: Paintings of Pine, Plum, and Bamboo from the Museum Collection". National Palace Museum. January 2003. Retrieved 10 August 2011. Archived 12 February 2003 at the Wayback Machine .
  3. "Three Friends of Winter". Colby College. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  4. "Cultivating Virtue: Botanical Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art". Harvard Art Museums. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  5. Dusenbury, Mary (2004). Flowers, dragons and pine trees: Asian textiles in the Spencer Museum of Art. New York: Hudson Hills Press. p. 248. ISBN   978-1-55595-238-9.
  6. 1 2 3 Welch, Patricia Bjaaland (2008). Chinese art: A guide to motifs and visual imagery . North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing. p.  37. ISBN   978-0-8048-3864-1.
  7. Welch, Patricia Bjaaland (2008). Chinese art: a guide to motifs and visual imagery . North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing. pp.  20–21. ISBN   978-0-8048-3864-1.
  8. 1 2 "歲寒三友". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 13 August 2011. Archived 26 January 2003 at the Wayback Machine .
  9. Qiu, Peipei (2005). Basho and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the transformation of Haikai. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 214. ISBN   978-0-8248-2845-5.
  10. The Bamboo Grove, ed. and trans. Richard Rutt, University of California Press 1971, poem 18
  11. Bamboo in Japan Nancy Moore Bess and Bibi Wein, Kodansha International 2001, p.170
  12. "松竹梅 at".
  13. Văn hóa dân gian. Viện văn hóa dân gian, ̉Uy ban khoa học xã hội Việt Nam. 2005. p. 30.