On Bamboo


Last week, this writer discoursed on reeds. This week, we will talk about the bamboo. Many Chinese literati, wordsmiths, philosophers and sophisticates like to cultivate, admire, poeticize and paint the bamboo. They not only appreciate the bamboo’s form and poise, but are also enamored of its character and bearing.


The bamboo belongs to the Poaceae family of plants. It grows mostly in sub-tropical and temperate regions, and has over 1,000 species. The stem is hollow and straight, flexible but not easily broken. It is an evergreen that is tolerant of the summer heat and winter chill. It readily re-grows after cutting and has the characteristic of resilience against drought. Bamboo can grow in poor soil or rocky terrain. Both roots and rhizomes spread horizontally underground. The rhizomes also have sectional nodes, and the roots radiate in whip-like tendrils that anchor firmly to soil and rock. Bamboo is the fastest growing of plants because both its stems and rhizomes are noded. Leaves can sprout from stem nodes while culms spring from rhizome nodes to form shoots. Bamboo was widely utilized in ancient China as a necessity of everyday life. There is an old saying, “Rather feast without fish than dwell without bamboo.” We see then the importance of bamboo to the lives of the ancients.


The Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi compared bamboo to a junzi (noble one). He considered a morally superior, honourable person of sterling character to be similar to bamboo in the following ways: stout center, straight fiber, hollow disposition, and virtuous node. The Qing Dynasty scholar Jing Banqiao was famous for painting and composing poems about bamboo. His “Poem of Bamboo and Boulder” described the unbending moral character of bamboo:


“Grapple the green hills and not let go. Midst broken boulders roots firmly grow. Unyielding though beset by a thousand strikes. What matters which way the winds blow?”


God created the bamboo, giving it its pleasing form and bestowing it with a firm, upright bearing. This writer feels that bamboo and Christians have much in common. Borrowing the lines from the above poem, I will employ the bamboo to illustrate some characteristics Christians should have when living in the world.


“Midst broken boulders roots firmly grow.” Christians are firmly rooted in Jesus Christ. This rock that has been stricken by God has become our strong and reliable Saviour. (Psalm 31:2-3). “He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:6-7) If we are rooted in this spiritual rock, we can drink from the water that flows from it to quench our spiritual thirst. (1 Corinthians 10:4, John 7:37-38) Christians who hear the Word and put it into practice are like bamboo which take root and grow amongst boulders, becoming sturdy and wise. (Matthew 7:24) “Grapple the green hills and not let go.” When we resolve to know and obey the word of God and not let go of our pursuit, our spiritual lives will be deeply rooted. The root of the righteous will not be shaken, for it is planted in Christ, and God makes us grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7) “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us.” (2 Corinthians 1:21)


“Unyielding though beset by a thousand strikes.” The spiritual life of a Christian who fears God and obeys the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things will always grow vigorously and steadfastly like the bamboo. He will be upright in his endeavours and have a noble character, standing as tall and straight as the bamboo. He will resolve to be selfless and loyal in his dealings, maintaining integrity just as the bamboo is hollow within and contains nodes for structural integrity. He is gentle to others yet firm to Satan, not enticed by profit or cowed by malevolence. He is as supple yet resilient as the bamboo that would rather break than bend. “What matters which way the winds blow?” A Christian must be steadfast through the Lord. Even though he may be beset by the deviations of his circumstances, he will endure to the end, just as the bamboo is able to withstand both heat and cold. No matter if he suffers the strikes of myriad human follies, he will be like the bamboo swaying in the wind, erect and not succumbing.


Thank God! Everything that He has created is suffused with His bountiful wisdom and knowledge. Through the allegory of the bamboo, this writer was able to share a few thoughts with you.


By: Daniel To