Taihu stone

Gongshi also known as ‘scholar’s rocks,’ are naturally occurring or shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars. 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.

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. The term also identifies stones which are placed in traditional Chinese gardens. Chinese scholar’s rocks influenced the development of Korean suseok (viewing stones) and Japanese suiseki.

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). The stone may be displayed on a rosewood pedestal that has been carved specifically for the stone. Scholar’s stones are a traditional subject of Chinese paintings.

Scholar’s stones are generally karstic limestone. Limestone is water-soluble under some conditions. 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 (eroded limestone) topography, such as the famous landscapes of Guilin in the South China Karst.

The aesthetics of a scholar’s rock is based on subtleties of color, shape, markings, surface, and sound. Prized qualities include: awkward or overhanging asymmetry; resonance or ringing when struck; representation or resemblance to mountainous landscapes, particularly these believed to be inhabited by immortal beings; and moistness or glossy surface.

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