top of page
© Mo

(Boh Chit Hee Held the first bonsai exhibition in Singapore in 1977 & founded the Singapore Bonsai Society in 1978)

Boh Chit Hee
(1935 - 2009)

Bonsai art - the gem of Chinese horticulture; the marriage of art and Mother Nature. Akin to painting and poetry; but instead of thought and emotion outpoured as ink onto paper, it is a reflection of the artist’s contemplation and appreciation.

Drawing inspiration from Mother Nature, bonsai creation uses pots as paper, trees as the brush. It fuses objective scenery with personal affections; and when combined with meticulous cultivation and artist’s touch, it becomes one with nature - a miniature of nature in itself. Despite its small scale, this exquisite art-form consistently transports the viewer into a state of reverie and wonderment.

As our city develops, skyscrapers spring up and trees are cut down - natural landscapes are gradually disappearing. Yet an ornate bonsai allows us to revel in the beauty of mountains and forests, experiencing nature within the confines of our urban spaces; thus enriching our spiritual and cultural being. Such is the wonder of bonsai art!

From a young age, Boh Chit Hee roamed the hills and the forests, casting nets at sea to fish alongside his father. A harsh life in the countryside nurtured his love for nature, which naturally became a source of creative inspiration - igniting his imagination and translating it into these vibrant, dynamic works of bonsai art.

Among Boh Chit Hee’s most notable works is a cascading style Wrightia religiosa bonsai which evokes a plunging waterfall surging forth like ten thousand galloping horses. There are no cliffs to be seen, nor can one hear surging water; yet the tremendous momentum of “Raging Torrents Plummeting Three Thousand Feet” can be acutely felt in this artistic conception of the waterfall. How can one be unmoved by such allure?

The Crushing Waves of Golden Sand River Warm the Cloud-high Cliffs

Another notable piece is titled “The Crushing Waves of Golden Sand River Warm the Cloud-high Cliffs”. Drawing inspiration from the scenery of the Three Gorges, he positioned two trunks on each side - as cliffs and precipices - pruning the branches and leaves to evoke tiny trees. The pot was then filled with water - representing the river - thus recreating a natural setting surrounded by mountains and rivers. It was initially named “From Both Banks, the Constant Howling of Gibbons Fills the Air”. Later, it was felt that the verse “The Crushing Waves of Golden Sand River Warm the Cloud-high Cliffs” would bestow a deeper meaning; so it was renamed. Work on this bonsai spanned two decades, reflecting the relentless thought and pursuit Boh Chit Hee devoted to his art.

Bonsai goes beyond the maker’s artistic acumen and creative vision; it also entails the biological maintenance of the plant. Every bonsai artist must possess botanical knowledge and a specific set of skills, as well as a strong grasp of a plant’s characteristics and growing patterns. A slip of the hand could send decades of hard work down the drain.

Boh Chit Hee began cultivating Wrightia religiosa in 1953. Through the years, he not only grasped the nature of the species, but also mastered its flowering cycles. Along the way, he even worked with Prof. Hew Choy Sin to formulate a defoliant for the species, which replaced the onerous task of removing each leaf manually. He also succeeded in instigating the Wrightia religiosa to blossom at regular periods.

In 1977, encouraged by his friends, Boh Chit Hee held his first bonsai exhibition. The exhibition garnered immense positive response, and people finally started paying attention to bonsai art, hitherto considered a niche branch of horticulture. For the first time, the Wrightia religiosa also became recognised as a medium for bonsai art.

After that exhibition, Boh Chit Hee began a life-long career as a bonsai artist and advocate. He conducted classes, held seminars, founded the Singapore Bonsai Society and turned his home into a meeting place and public garden, through which people would stream throughout the day to visit and seek advice. There were even Malaysian bonsai enthusiasts who would cross the Straits just to obtain bonsai cultivation techniques from Boh Chit Hee. Within a few short years, bonsai art began to flourish in Singapore and Malaysia.

In the mid-90s, Boh Chit Hee developed severe pneumonia contracted from soil bacteria, and his health gradually deteriorated. Faced with the bonsai he had devoted half a century to, it was difficult not to feel helpless and despondent. In August 2001, he travelled to Shanghai to seek medical treatment; and in the following year, donated many of his works to the Shanghai Botanical Garden. To commemorate the gesture, some of his artworks were immortalised in the Garden’s 30th anniversary special collection.

For more than half a century, Boh Chit Hee toiled tirelessly in the world of bonsai, earning regard as a pioneer of the art form in Singapore and Malaysia. His work sings nature’s praises; using captivating poetry to encapsulate his expressions of nature, and injecting life’s most unique facets into his art, creating a body of spirit, thought, of vivid work.


Although bonsai art, unlike mainstream art and literature, has yet to cement its place in Singapore’s art scene, it remains a horticultural skill combining craft and creativity. It weathers nature’s formation and refinement, retaining extraordinary beauty and value. Through Boh Chit Hee’s tireless efforts, the Wrightia religiosa bonsai has become a mainstay of bonsai art across Singapore and Malaysia, and been showcased in international bonsai exhibitions.


In 1959, Mr. Chen Yi, one of China’s founding marshals, was invited to attend a Chengdu bonsai exhibition titled “Elevating Art, Beautifying Nature”. This was the highest compliment to bonsai art; and was also what Boh Chit Hee aspired to in dedicating his whole life to the art of bonsai!

bottom of page