As an element, rock is classified by the Chinese as “yang" because it is strong, durable, hard and "male"), but the best garden stones also exhibited spareness and delicacy. Top-heavy, rugged stones that seemed to defy gravity and to hang in the air like clouds were the most highly prized.
If a rock appeared porous with many holes penetrating all the way through and had a strangely contorted overall form, it was considered a highly valuable asset to the garden. Lake Tai near Suzhou produced the most prized rocks; the chemical composition of the Great Lake caused the limestone on its bed to erode in an irregular fashion.
Why might a garden designer isolate an individual rock like the one at left in its own pavilion?Lake Tai rock in three-sided pavilion at the Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou
Rocks were placed not only in gardens, but also were treated as art objects, to be put on display inside, perhaps on a scholar’s desk. Certain types of rocks, such as the Lingbi rock, shown to the right, were highly appreciated for their luster, unusual shapes, interesting veining, or the cavities that formed within them. Often these rocks were highly polished and placed on custom-made stands.
Why would holes have given stones greater value?
Lingbi rockSOURCE: Robert D. Mowry, Worlds Within Worlds: The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholars’ Rocks (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 1997), plate 6, p. 163. Black Lingbi limestone, Kangxi period (1662-1722). Richard Rosenblum Collection.
Rocks were also arranged to form the edges of man-made streams and ponds, with great care taken to make small details like this stream appear as they might in nature.
What is naturalistic about the rocks shown in the garden settings on this page? What seems artificial?
Artificial Stream bed, Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou (Jiangsu province)
Grottoes and caves were believed to share in common with the eroded stones from Lake Tai a heightened source of cosmic energy or qi, due to being formed by the concentrated action of water upon stone deep within the earth .
Why would a cave or rock-cut chamber be considered an ideal place to rest?
Rock chamber at Mountain Dwelling of Encircling ExcellenceSOURCE: Pan Guxi, ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji,Jianzhu yishu bian 3: Yuanlin jianzhu (Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe, 1988), p. 118.
This grotto-like entrance leads to the second floor of the library at the Garden of the Master of Nets. It appears large enough to enter, but becomes quite confining after only a few steps.
Why would an entrance like this be used in a garden setting?
Why do you think the entrance to a library was given this kind of external form?
Entrance to second floor of the library,
Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou
These were often placed carefully in the garden compound as focal points of a larger view, or as ideal vantage points themselves.
Why do you think the artificial mountain shown at left was constructed at this particular location?
Artificial mountain in front of Barrier of Clouds Hall, Garden of the Master of Nets
Certain types of stones were collected for the melodious sounds they made when struck.
Others, like the one at right, were recognized as “found” art works, completed by nature itself. They are typically displayed within one of a garden’s many halls or studies.
Marble slab with naturally occurring landscape, Garden of the Artless Official, Suzhou
Move on to Water
Classification(Chinese Viewing Stones)
You will notice that I often use the words “viewing stone” and “scholar rock” interchangeably. The reason for this is simple, the Chinese Scholar’s Rocks are quickly becoming part of American Viewing Stones. Many of us have grown up using “suiseki” as the only term for such stones. Japanese suiseki criteria formed the basis for defining good and bad characteristics of our stones. As interest in the aesthetics of viewing stones increases in the West, many are now looking at scholar rocks as an adjunct to more traditional “suiseki” criteria.
Whichever name you use, one of the key aspects of viewing stones is the suggestability of the stones. True suiseki, scholar’s rocks, penjing, sosuk, or viewing stonesshould “suggest” something to the viewer, not be a precise miniature representation of the object.
Scholar’s Rocks are classified by the place of their origin. Such rocks are either from that specific area or are “similar” to rocks found in that area.
CLASSIFICATION BY PLACE OF ORIGIN
Lingbishi - Lingbi, Anhui province. Black limestone; medium gray limestone highly eroded but without perforations; buff limestone; green limestone with peaks, grottos, stalctites and stalagmites. Many colors and types. Most renowned are dark in color. Some have traces of red clay in bases. Often have resonance. Surfaces are grooved and channeled from erosion of slow-moving water. Original cave rocks are dark gray or black.
Taihushi - Lake Tai, Jiangsu province. White perforated limestone with significant erosion. Also black limestone. Wuxi, Zheijiang province. Swiss cheese appearance with many holes, limstone but lighter in color than Lingbi or Ying Shih.
Yingshi or Yingdeshi - Yingde, Guangdong province. Black limestone perforated with peaks and grottos; dark gray Ying limestone. Ying-shih rocks; dark gray limestone, grooved or channeled and striated. Distinctive surface dimpled and pock-marked.
Qilianshi - Mount Qilian, Gansu province. Black limestone.
Zhauqingshi - Zhauqing, Guangdong province. Off-white limestone with multiple perforations.
Shoushanshi - Shoushan, Fujian province. Mottled yellow soapstone or golden silica in the form of quartz. Shoushan stones are divided into three catagories according to presumed source; field, water, or maountain deposits. They are often further divided based on color and internal markings.
Changhuashi - Changhua, Zheijiang province. Soapstone.
Huanglashi - Guangdong or Guangxi province. Yellow wax stone with surface that almost appears to be partially melted, or with naturally polished surface resembling wax. Collected in riverbeds. Possibly jasper.
Hongheshi - Guangxi province. Quartz stones found in the Red River, Guanxi province
Muhuashi - Zhejiang province. Petrified wood found in many locations. It is very hard and often retains the appearance of the original wood.
Juhuashi - Yung river, Hunan province. Chrysanthemum stones.
OTHER ROCKS ADMIRED AND COLLECTED BY CHINESE SCHOLARS
Laoshan Lushi - Laoshan green stones.
Kongqushi - Malachite.
Lusongshi - Turquoise.
Duanshi - duan stones.
Shoushanshi - Soapstones.
Dalishi - Marble.
Qixiashi - Qixia stones.
Xuanshi - Xuan stones.
Chinese scholars’ rocks or Gongshi (Chinese: 供石; pinyin: gōngshí), also known as scholar stones or viewing stones, are small shaped or naturally occurring rocks appreciated by Chinese scholars from the Song dynasty onwards, and quite frequently found in traditional Chinese gardens.
The most highly regarded stones are lingbi rocks (Chinese: 灵璧; pinyin: língbì) from Lingbi County of Anhui Province, with the finest examples dating from the Ming dynasty and Song dynasty. Taihu rocks are also prized, and are commonly used as garden stones. They influenced the development of Korean suseok and Japanese suiseki aesthetics and styles and were an important part of Confucian art.
Natural stone and rock formations, with no artificial carvings, are preferred. Rocks would sometimes be carved and then thrown back into a lake so that any markings could be washed away. Scholars rocks can be any color, and contrasting colors are not uncommon. Sometimes they feature painted patterns, which can be of any subject, either natural or abstract. The size of the stone can also be quite varied: scholars rocks can weigh either hundreds of pounds or less than one pound. Subtlety of color, shape, and markings is also desired, as is beauty of texture and shape. Scholars stones are usually reminiscent of someone or something, or it may convey a spiritual nature that moves viewers in some way. They are usually set upon a stable surface, such as a rosewood pedestal that has been carved specifically for the stone.
This exhibition, featuring Kemin Hu’s rock collection and mountain paintings by Hai Tao and C.C. Wang, was held this year from February to April at Baruch College’s Sidney Mishkin Galleryin New York City. The exhibition was well received by many. For some, it was their first timelearning about Scholars’ Rocks and seeing them up close. The exhibition especially the 17 Scholars’ Rocks had “held the attention” of major newspapers and Asian art magazine:
“Rock, Paper, Sculpture” Wall Street Journal, by Mr. Lance Esplund, March 5, 2011
Arts of Asia magazine, by Dr. Robert C. Morgan, May 2011 issue.
34 in x 24 in x 12 in
Lingbi rocks are found in Lingbi county of Anhui province. They are fine-grained, delicately textured limestone and lie deep in the red mud of the Qingshi mountains. Naturally shaped, they need no cutting or carving. Depleted after generations of mining, high quality Lingbi are now quite rare. They are hard and an ordinary knife cannot cut them. Their mineral composition is such that they produce a metallic, resonant sound when tapped. Hence they are also called “resonant rocks”(bayinshi). They were sometimes used for making chimes and are thus also known as “chime rocks”. During the Hongwu era of the Ming dynasty, the emperor had rock chimes produced for donation to Buddhist temples throughout the country.
Lingbi rocks are beautiful and clear-cut, with a frame of soft lines. Combining masculine beauty with antique simplicity, they have been admired by connoisseurs for centuries. In the Northern Song dynasty, Emperor Huizong wrote this inscription on one Lingbi in this collection: “The mountain is high while the moon looks small, the water ebbs and the rock juts forth.”
Historically, because this type was so difficult to find, people sometimes dyed others rocks to pass them off as Lingbi. Most true Lingbi rocks are dark gray and black although some possess undercurrents of white, red, brown or are multi-colored (wucai).