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Bamboo is a renewable resource that is also highly versatile. While it grows in temperate, tropical, and sub-tropical locations around the world, there's more bamboo in China than any other country worldwide: It ranks first in the amount of land used for bamboo growth, the number of bamboo plants produced, and the amount of wood produced, and around a third of the world's bamboo species grow in this country, largely south of the Yangtze River in the Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, and Sichuan provinces.

Researchers have found archaeological evidence that (bamboo) was used in China as far back as 7,000 years ago. This evidence was unearthed in what is now the province of Zhejiang. During the Shang Dynasty, between the 16th and 11th centuries B.C., people made bows and arrows of bamboo as well as household items. Bamboo was also made into strips for writing on before the invention of paper; it was well-suited to this use because it was abundant and much cheaper than silk as a writing medium. During the Han Dynasty, between 206 B.C. and 220 A.D., bamboo was used in the actual creation of paper, due in part to its low cost. Today, bamboo is still used for this purpose, including in xuan paper, a type of paper made from young bamboo that's used for paintings and calligraphy.

Historically, bamboo has fulfilled many of the daily needs of the Chinese people. During the Song Dynasty, bamboo was used to make articles of clothing such as rain capes, hats, and shoes. It was also used as firewood and to make tiles and rafts. Bamboo was also a source of food, as it still is today: Bamboo shoots have a mild taste that is crunchy and sweet, and they are a source of potassium, protein, antioxidants, fiber, fatty acids, and phytochemicals.

Today, bamboo is found in homes worldwide. It's used to make bedding and pillows or to accessorize windows in the form of shades and curtain rods. In the construction of green homes, its strength and durability make it an ideal building material over other forms of wood. It's also suitable for making cabinets, sheds, fencing, furniture, and utensils such as spoons and chopsticks. Floor tiles, rugs, and mats are also made with bamboo.

Arts and crafts made of woven bamboo are also popular today. In China, the practice of bamboo weaving dates back more than 2,000 years, and it is still common in the provinces of Guangdong, Hunan, Anhui, Fujian, Sichuan, and Zhejiang. Items commonly made of woven bamboo include screens, toys, baskets, tea boxes, and lanterns.

Medicine is another area where bamboo is used. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used in the treatment of problems such as asthma, coughs, and disorders of the gallbladder. It is also thought to help fight infection, aid digestion, and help with the treatment of stomach problems such as diarrhea.

The beauty of bamboo's graceful, tall stalks makes it desirable for home décor, and it's also fairly easy to grow: Bamboo can thrive in poor soil, and it fares well in both hot and cold weather. It also grows back after being cut. However, these properties can make it difficult to control. Before planting bamboo, it's important to select the right variety, such as clumping bamboo, to minimize its invasive tendencies.

Bamboo's abundance, endurance, utility, and elegant appearance have inspired painters, poets, and other artists throughout history, including the Chinese writer, calligrapher, and painter Su Dongpo. It's a staple of Chinese culture that has become appreciated all over the world.

Article written by Lexi Westingate
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