The three friends of winter refer to the pine (松), bamboo (竹), and plum (梅). The origin of this term is found as early as the Record of the Five-cloud Plum Cottage (五雲梅舍記) from The Clear Mountain Collection (霽山集) of literary writings by Lin Jingxi (林景熙, 1241-1310, a Song dynasty loyalist), “For his residence, earth was piled to form a hill and a hundred plum trees, which along with lofty pines and tall bamboo comprise the friends of winter, were planted (即其居累土為山，種梅百本，與喬松、脩篁為歲寒友).”
Every year, as the season progresses from autumn to winter, the days become progressively colder. While many plants and trees begin to wither away or shed their leaves, the pine, bamboo, and plum seem to do just the opposite with their surprising display of vitality. Indeed, this unique quality drew much attention of the ancient Chinese.
The praise that the Chinese have for the pine, bamboo, and plum derives from the natural ability of these plants to withstand and even flourish in harsh environments. They became symbols that encouraged people to persevere in adversity, providing inspiration through consolation and determination. Consequently, these three became common subjects through the ages in Chinese painting and calligraphy. Because artists bring different experiences and feelings to these subjects, their works show a variety of forms, expressions, and sentiments.