A Chinese tea table carved from tree root. Note the flat "terraces". Each drains tea into a waste reservoir under the table.
Chinese armchair made from roots. Qing dynasty, Qianlong era, 18th century

Root carving is a traditional Chinese art form. It consists of carving and polishing tree roots into various artistic creations.


Carving of roots has been practiced since very early times; like many other artistic crafts, root carvings were originally produced in a primitive manner. The earliest root carvings are “辟邪” and “角形器”, showing up in the Warring States period.

In the Sui and Tang dynasties, root carving works prevailed among the general public and the governing class alike. In the Tang dynasty, people emphasized the natural forms of roots, cleverly taking advantage of the effect of corroded and moth-eaten material.

Root carvings were also common in grottoes and temples during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Roots were used to carve the statues of the Buddha, always comparing favorably with the clay.


A craftsman works on a piece in Haikou City, Hainan Province. His shop is located in an area beside East Lake, part of Haikou People's Park. The area contains dozens of small shops dedicated to producing root carvings.

Root carving is widely said to preserve the natural beauty already present in the roots. Ancient and modern artists alike create lifelike, vivid works with a special technique using expression based on the roots' natural forms.

Root carving is different from engraving, as it combines peculiarity with ingeniousness. Although its aesthetic principles share common ground with engraving, at the same time they are applied uniquely. The common ground is that they share expressive techniques of wood carving, sculpture, stone carving, and so on, overcoming weaknesses by acquiring other's strong points. The difference lies in the natural shape of the roots. During the creative process, root carving mostly maintains the natural form of the root, adding some artificial polishing. In other words, root carving is guided by the inherent qualities of the root, rather than by strictly carving images.[1][2]


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Creative effects achieved from the same material can vary from artist to artist. Within the field, three factors are generally considered of major importance.


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