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seven junipers by thomas christensen after wen zhengming

Short version:

Seven Junipers is a site about art and culture throughout Asia, from ancient times to the present.

And now the long version:

At Zhidao Guan, a Taoist temple in the city of Changshu in China’s Yangzi delta, stand seven gnarled and twisted junipers. The trees were planted in the year 500 by a Taoist priest named Chang (four were replaced in 1044). They soon became one of the city’s landmarks, attracting many visitors. Countless poems were written in their honor, and many paintings were made of them.

The greatest painting dedicated to the trees was The Seven Junipers (The Seven Stars) by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559). Wen painted the junipers in 1532, when he was sixty-two years old. His painting is now in the collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts. “In the painting, the junipers writhe across the surface of the paper, the trunks and branches interlocked,” writes Stephen Little in Taoism and the Arts of China. “The brushwork is dry and and scrumbled, with occasional passages of wet ink wash and dense dotting.” A section of this painting served as the model for my drawing above.

A long poem is inscribed at the end of Wen’s painting. The poem makes clear that the seven trees were regarded as an earthly form of the seven stars of the Northern Dipper, which in turn were associated with seven Taoist deities. At one time it was believed that the life of each person is governed by one of these deities. The poem states that the trees are “arranged like an immortal’s altar,”and it associates them with a quality of endurance

The cedar of Szechuan was once deemed worthy to be a symbol of Han, the Taishan pine represented a gentleman of Qin. Laozi’s ox has vanished, the Confucian cypress has shriveled and collapsed. Yet the seven junipers still stand, magic witnesses of past times. Who knows what is to come?

The seven junipers embody some of the themes of this website devoted to Asian art and culture. They represent the relation between human culture and the natural world, and between the earthly and the spiritual. They represent the endurance of the past and the force of tradition. They show that all things are intertwined and connected. As Laozi wrote (tr. Red Pine)

the codependence of high and low
the correspondence of note and noise
the coordination of first and last
is endless

This website has a broad focus. For its purposes, the junipers also represent seven large cultural regions of Asia (South Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, Himalayas, China, Korea, and Japan). My particular interests are Asian art and literature, but these cannot be separated from larger cultural themes.

For the latest additions to the website, see the blog. Most content is tagged by region, era, and medium as an aid for those with specific interests. A search function is also available. I welcome feedback.

7Junipers is published under a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved. 


Comment from Ramana Rajgopaul
Time: November 27, 2007, 2:57 am

I am unable to figure out if this is myth or true. If the seven trees still exist, surely a photograph should be possible? What would be the seven deities of Taoism?

Comment from xensen
Time: November 27, 2007, 8:08 am

According to Taoism and the Arts of China, the seven trees are representatives of the stars of the Northern Dipper, known as the “seven primes” (qi yuan). I have not yet been able to identify them each by name. There are quite a large number of deities and immortals in popular Taoist belief.