From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Three Friends of Winter by Zhao Mengjian.jpg
The Three Friends of Winter by the Song Dynasty painter Zhao Mengjian
Traditional Chinese 歲寒三友
Simplified Chinese 岁寒三友

The Three Friends of Winter, also known as Suihan Sanyou, are the pine, bamboo, and Prunus mume.[1] The pine, bamboo and Prunus mume do not wither as the cold days deepen into the winter season unlike many other plants[2] Known by them as the Three Friends of Winter, they entered the conventions of East Asian culture.[3][4] They symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience together.[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 Chinese art[7] and those cultures are influenced by it.

The three are first recorded as appearing together in a ninth-century poem by the Tang Dynasty poet Zhu Qingyu (朱慶餘).[6] The 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."

It will depend on the artifact involved exactly how the three plants are represented artistically. In many cases sprigs are superimposed to form a unified design. In others the plants are divided among artifacts displayed close together, as on separate scrolls; on wooden panels within buildings; and on contiguous screens, as in the example by Yamamoto Baiitsu below. In the representations on Imari porcelain from Japan only portions of the plants are unified on the medallion in dishes but can be treated more fully round the side of taller vessels.[10][better source needed]

The motif was later used by those in the West influenced by Eastern culture. Among these was Helen Hyde in her Japanese style woodblock print of 1913. Titled Three friends of winter, it depicts a young Japanese girl carrying a potted bonsai garden.[11][better source needed]

Introduction of ”three friends“[edit]

Pines are one of a kind conifer trees which could tolerate extremely cold or extremely hot condition (from -60℃ to 50℃). They are also filled with vital force. They could live in different condition such as mineral soil, sand, volcanic ash, calcareous soil and limestone soil. Hostile environment could not strike them down. This are the main reasons why pines are chosen to three friends of winter.

Bamboos,are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, with reported growth rates of 250 cm (98 in) in 24 hours[12] Their lifetime are long as well,usually up to 15 years. Just like pines, bamboos can survive temperatures as low as −29 °C (−20 °F)[13]

Prunus mume also known as Japanese apricot, Korean plum, Chinese Plum and Mei.[14] One of the common features of "three friends" is that they could survive in cold weather,especially prunus mume which starts to flower in mid-winter (around January). [15] Winter is prunus mume's favorite season so that it show its prettiest part--flowers to us. As the simple summary of "three friend", all of them could survive in the extremely cold situation while other plants withered in the early fall. They are the typical cases so that we gather them together as a group.

Cultural symbolism[edit]

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").[16]

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?[17]

In Japan the three plants are known as 'the three auspicious friends'[not in citation given] and are particularly associated with the start of the (lunar) New Year, appearing on greeting cards and as a design stamped into seasonal sweets.[18]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Chinese symbols" (PDF). British Museum. p. 1. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "The Three Friends of Winter: Paintings of Pine, Plum, and Bamboo from the Museum Collection (Introduction)". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  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 (Bier, Carol; Foresman, Helen ed.). New York: Hudson Hills Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-55595-238-9. 
  6. ^ a b c 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. ^ "歲寒三友". National Palace Museum. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  9. ^ Lin, Jingxi. 霁山集. 
  10. ^ See the various slides of the Dutch imitation of an octagonal bottle in the Ashmolean Museum
  11. ^ There are copies in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago
  12. ^ Farrelly, David (1984). The Book of Bamboo. ISBN 0-87156-825-X. 
  13. ^ "Bamboo". 
  14. ^ "Prunus mume:Chinese Plums and Japanese Apricots". 
  15. ^ "Prunus mume". 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ The Bamboo Grove, ed. and trans. Richard Rutt, University of California Press 1971, poem 18
  18. ^ Bamboo in Japan Nancy Moore Bess and Bibi Wein, Kodansha International 2001, p.170
  19. ^ Harvard Fine Arts Library

Category:Chinese painting Category:Chinese culture Category:Symbols Category:National symbols of China Category:East Asian culture