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Gongshi (Scholar's rock) in Wenmiao temple, Shanghai

Gongshi (Chinese: 供石), also known as scholar's rocks or viewing stones, are naturally occurring or shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars.[1] The term is related to the Korean suseok (수석) and the Japanese suiseki (水石).

Scholars' rocks can be any color, and contrasting colors are not uncommon. The size of the stone can also be quite varied: scholars' rocks can weigh hundreds of pounds or less than one pound.[2] The term also identifies stones which are placed in traditional Chinese gardens.


In the Tang dynasty, a set of four important qualities for the rocks were recognized. They are: thinness (瘦 shòu), openness (透 tòu), perforations (漏 lòu), and wrinkling (皺 zhòu).[1]

Gongshi influenced the development of Korean suseok and Japanese suiseki.[3]


Lingbi stone from Anhui. Ming Dynasty, 15th century

There are three main Chinese sources for these stones.

The geological conditions needed for the formation of stones are also present at some other sites.[7][8]


Scholar's stones are generally karstic limestone. Limestone is water-soluble under some conditions.[9] Dissolution pitting dissolves hollows in the limestone. On a larger scale, this causes speleogenesis (when caves dissolve in limestone bedrock). On a still larger scale, the dissolved caves collapse, gradually creating karst topography, such as the famous landscapes of Guilin in the South China Karst.

As rocks are broadly fractal (geology journals require a scale to be included in images of rocks), the small rocks can resemble the larger landscape.


Emperor Huizong of Song painted Auspicious Dragon Rock (祥龍石圖), depicting a water-eroded Taihu rock that was likened to a dragon

The aesthetics of a scholar's rock is based on subtleties of color, shape, markings, surface, and sound. Prized qualities include:

The stone may be displayed on a rosewood pedestal that has been carved specifically for the stone. The stones are a traditional subject of Chinese paintings.[12]


See also[edit]

  • Geode – Hollow formation inside a rock
  • Penjing – Chinese miniature trees and landscapes


  1. ^ a b c Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The World of Scholars' Rocks Gardens, Studios, and Paintings"; retrieved 2012-12-20.
  2. ^ Harvard Shanghai Center, "Scholar Stone"; retrieved 2012-12-20.
  3. ^ Brokaw, Charles. (2011). The Temple Mount Code, p. 73.
  4. ^ a b Cousins, Craig. (2006). Bonsai Master Class, p. 246.
  5. ^ Lingbi Stone and Asian Art Collection Archived 2019-01-25 at the Wayback Machine. (2014)
  6. ^ Cousins, p. 247.
  7. ^ Hereford, Richard; Thompson, Kathryn S.; Burke, Kelly J. (1998). "Numerical Ages of Holocene Tributary Debris Fans Inferred from Dissolution Pitting on Carbonate Boulders in the Grand Canyon of Arizona". Quaternary Research. 50 (2): 139–147. Bibcode:1998QuRes..50..139H. doi:10.1006/qres.1998.1987.
  8. ^ "Underwater dissolutional pitting on dolostones, Lake Huron-Georgian bay, Ontario". Archived from the original on 2017-09-10.
  9. ^ National Park Service, "CAVE GEOLOGY: Dissolution and decoration" (PDF), Carlsbad Caverns, U.S. Department of the Interior, archived from the original (PDF) on 2023-01-23
  10. ^ a b c d e Mendelson, John. "Chinese scholars' rocks simultaneously original and simulacrum" at ArtNet.com, 1996; retrieved 2012-12-20>
  11. ^ Smith, Roberta (1996-05-31). "ART REVIEW;Old Chinese Rocks: Rorschach Blots In 3 Dimensions". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  12. ^ Harvard Museums, "Scholar's rock", 1993 painting; Linrothe, Robert N. (2004). Paradise and Plumage: Chinese Connections in Tibetan Arhat Painting, p. 24; retrieved 2012-12-20.

Further reading[edit]

  • Little, Stephen, Spirit stones of China, the Ian and Susan Wilson collection of Chinese stones, paintings, and related scholars' objects, Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, 1999, ISBN 0-86559-173-3

External links[edit]

Media related to Scholar's rocks at Wikimedia Commons