Is Chinese Bonsai An Art of a Tree Torture?

I never thought about Chinese Bonsai as a tree torture and I was very surprised to see a series of bonsai by Chinese artist Shen Shaomin presented at Frey Norris Gallery. Shen shows them trussed and tugged by the thumbscrew brackets, collars and barricades that engineer their growth.

Chinese Bonsai Tree Chinese Bonsai Tree

Shen connects his bonsai sculptures with the Chinese tradition of forcing women to bind their feet from an early age to disfigure them into conformity with a certain ideal of female beauty. But the disquiet that this show provokes has a more immediate source.

Chinese Bonsai Tree Chinese Bonsai Tree

It arises from the bad faith of us who have watched silently while the U.S. government sanctioned torture as a tactic in its project of reshaping societies half a world away.

Here is Frey Norris Gallery site

Chinese Bonsai Tree

Chinese Bonsai Tree

I was a little shock when I saw these images. A lot of people think that bonsai technique is cruel. Do you think Chinese Bonsai is about tree torture?

Susan Brian


  1. Tree torture…are you kidding me? Plants grow when and where they can, and adapt to all sorts of obstacles. Are they tortured by older trees that may shade them from the sun or take more water from the soil with their older and more established root systems? No, they adapt and overcome.

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