In ancient China, a gentleman referred to a man of great virtue. In the world of flowers, plum blossom, orchids, bamboo and chrysanthemum are known as the Four Gentlemen, also called the four Noble Ones or Four Friends. It was believed that their natural characters had something in common with human virtues. Therefore, they have always been featured in ancient paintings and works to express the virtues of loftiness, righteousness, modesty and purity.
As early as the Song Dynasty (960–1279), they were used in the Chinese painting. Later, they were also adopted by the artists in Japan, Korea, etc. As they bloom in different seasons (the plum blossom blooms in spring, the orchid in summer, the chrysanthemum in autumn, and the bamboo in winter), they are also used to depict the unfolding of the seasons through the year.