Perennial evergreen, illustration of life

Updated: 2013-05-20 07:22

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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 Perennial evergreen, illustration of life

The Bamboo Sea is a perfect place for residents and tourists to relax.

The largest bamboo park in East China, known as the "Bamboo Sea" at about 700 hectares, is a mere drop in the ocean of bamboo trees that traverse Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces.

Not far from its entrance, on the way up a hill, is a small lake through which water flows into Taihu Lake, also known as Lake Tai.

I've always known that bamboo grows better in humidity, but I never knew that bamboo had an aversion to the sun.

The sunny side of the hill has bamboo leaves that are sallow while those in the shade look emerald green.

Ancient literati in this part of China had an obsession with this perennial evergreen plant, but maybe they did not know it is a member of the grass family.

In cultural references, bamboo is also a favorite metaphor.

Its stems do not bend, but rather break. But a thin bamboo shoot easily bends but does not break.

That unique combination of elasticity or lack of it has sometimes been associated with men being unpretentious on the outside, but resilient on the inside.

More specifically, it can be a symbol of men who are not at all masculine yet by no means weak.

Even the hollowness of the stem is used to embody human virtue to epitomize an open heart, therefore someone humble and receptive to voices around him.

In real life, the hollow stems and vascular bundles make cracking sounds during the growing season, especially at night when all around is quiet.

My tour guide said: "Birds are unable to make a nest because bamboo tops swing wildly in the wind."

That may also have given rise to folk tales of fox spirits haunting the forest.

Bamboo groves with eerie sounds and little sunshine are prone to the creation of ghost stories. And a sea of bamboo trees has been the inspiration for many.

In this park, about an hour to the east of downtown Wuxi, you'll have to buy a ticket to see bamboo making waves and hear them rustle in the wind.

But bamboo's economic value lies mostly in its edible shoots, according to my guide.

The shoots are good moneymakers, she adds, especially winter shoots, because "if you dig them out in winter, they won't grow the next spring".

However, you don't need to have qualms about cutting down grown trees.

Bamboo grows so fast there is never a fear of ecological breakdown. Every four years, on average, bamboo trees here die out and have to be cut down anyway. Bamboo can be used for many things, but their days as scaffolding are long gone.

The peak in the park, which is also the highest elevation in southern Jiangsu, is only 612 meters.

It, too, is covered with bamboo. If only someone could have spliced them together to reach the highest spot.

(China Daily 05/20/2013 page6)