Chinese scholar's rocks

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

Chinese scholars' rocks (Chinese: 贡石; pinyin: gōngshí), also known as scholar stones or viewing stones, are naturally occurring or shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars.[1]

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 either hundreds of pounds or less than one pound.[2] The term also identifies stones which are placed in traditional Chinese gardens.

History[edit]

In the Tang dynasty, a set of four important qualities for the rocks were recognized. They are: thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou), and wrinkling (zhou).[1]

Chinese scholar's rocks influenced the development of Korean suseok and Japanese suiseki.[3]

Sources[edit]

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]

Formation[edit]

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.

Aesthetics[edit]

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

Scholar's rock illustration, 11th century

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]

References[edit]

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