Learning Jueju through Chinese Painting: A Branch of Bamboo

View this object on our collections website.
Grade Levels: High School
Object Types: Album, Painting
Time Needed: 85 minutes
Contributed by: Yuanyuan Gao, DC International School, Washington, DC


Students will analyze the painting A Branch of Bamboo along with the poetry printed on it. Then, students will create their own Chinese quatrain, a jueju.

Essential Questions

  • What's unique about Ni Zan's painting?
  • What does bamboo symbolize?
  • What are the features of jueju?
  • How do poems and paintings complement each other in Chinese art?


Ni Zan (Chinese: 倪瓚; 1301–1374) was a Chinese painter during the Yuan and early Ming dynasties. Along with Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, and Wang Meng, he is one of the Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty.

Bamboo has been depicted in Chinese painting for more than a thousand years. Along with the pine and the plum, bamboo is a member of the Three Friends of Winter due to its ability to bear the harshest of winters. It is also one of the Four Gentlemen (the other three being the plum, the orchid, and the chrysanthemum) due to the moral virtues it represents. The hollowness of the bamboo stalk symbolizes tolerance and open-mindedness, and its flexibility and strength signify the human values of cultivation and integrity: one yields but does not break. All of these virtues make bamboo a very popular subject in Chinese painting, especially among scholar–artists.

The poet Qian Weishan (act. 1341–ca. 1379) added a few brief lines of poetry in the upper left corner of the painting to honor Ni Zan after his death:

My old friend knew how to sketch bamboo,
And patterned his approach upon Wen Tong [eleventh-century painter]. Calmly he looked out the western window,
And the cool wind filled his page with fall.

—Translation by Stephen D. Allee

This type of poem, called jueju or Chinese quatrain, is a type of jintishi (“modern form poetry”) that grew popular among Chinese poets in the Tang dynasty (618–907), although it is traceable to earlier origins. Jueju poems are always quatrains—or, more specifically, they are always a matched pair of couplets, with each line consisting of either five or seven syllables.


竹子 zhúzi: bamboo

诗人 shīrén: poet

画家 huàjiā: painter

书法家 shūfaˇjiā: calligrapher

山水画 shānshuaˇhuà: landscape painting

水墨画 shuˇımòhuà: ink painting

绝句 juéjù: Chinese quatrain

五言 wuˇyán: five Chinese characters in a verse

七言 qīyán: seven Chinese characters in a verse

押韵 yāyùn: rhyme


  1. Review the vocabulary terms as a class.
  2. Students will observe the painting and write down answers to the Describe questions.
  3. Reading comprehension. Students will read the background information and answer questions on the worksheet.
  4. Read the poem out loud. Students will be divided into four groups and each group will receive one verse of the poem. Within groups, students will read and analyze the meaning of the poem and then discuss the connection between the poem and the painting using the Inquire questions.
  5. Divide students into pairs. Ask students to write down what they have noticed about the form of jueju. Students will use the Analyze and Interpret questions to guide their pair discussions. Then, the teacher will introduce the basic rules of creating a jueju in Chinese.
  6. Students work in groups of four. With the theme of animals and nature, each group will write a verse of a five-syllable poem. If students’ language proficiency is high level, they are also required to make the poem rhyme. Students will post their work on Padlet so other groups can read it.
  7. Each student will create their own jueju (either five-syllable or seven-syllable) and present it to the class.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you see?
  • What does this work of art make you think about?
  • What does this work of art make you wonder?
  • What is jueju?
  • How is jueju different from the other poetry you have read?
  • Why do you think the Chinese literati loved painting bamboo?
  • Who wrote this poem? Why did they write it?
  • How does this poem connect to the painting?
  • What meaning does this poem express?
  • How do poems and paintings complement each other in Chinese Art?
  • In what ways does the branch look like bamboo? In what ways is the bamboo simplified or less realistic?
  • What is the overall feeling of this painting? What emotions does it elicit?
  • What plants that grow in your environment would you use to symbolize flexibility and strength?


Visual Arts
  • Students discuss the Inquire questions to explore and explain the meaning of bamboo in the painting. Then, they will draw their own symbol of flexibility and strength.
  • After students create their own jueju, ask them to use a paint brush, ink, and rice paper to illustrate their poem with a complementary painting.
English Language Arts
  • Ask students to research and select one quatrain in English that they like. Students need to compare and contrast the English quatrain and Ni Zan's jueju and give a presentation about their findings regarding form, structure, and the meaning of the poem.