Known for its durability and resilience through all the seasons, bamboo, zhú (竹), which never loses its leaves, is a symbol for longevity and for courage in the midst of adversity. In ancient times, it was described as 'not stiff, not soft, not grass, and not wood.’ Bamboo, pine, and plum form a group known as 'the three friends' (歲寒三友), since the pine and bamboo flourish year-round and the plum tree blossoms in winter. From the Song dynasty (960-1279) onward, the 'three friends' motif has been commonly used on ceramics. Because bamboo has a hollow center, and 'hollow’, kōng xū (空虛), sounds like 'modesty’, qiān xū (謙虛), bamboo is also said to embody the value of modesty.


Vivien Sung, Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness and Wealth, pp. 116-117, Chronicle Books, 2002