9 May 2022


Scholar’s Rock –A sense of Calm

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Term Paper

Words: 1416

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The Chinese have a unique appreciation rocks, which goes back to the ancient times. This appreciation can be traced back to the Tang dynasty, which existed from 618 to 907 AD. During this era there four criteria used to classify these rocks namely the Shou which meant thinness, Zhou representing winkles, tou standing for openness and Lou which showed perforations. There was a strong influence of the power of nature. Ever since the Song dynasty, Chinese scholars began collecting unique rocks as long as they resembled mountains. They then set them on studios and used them as a means of connecting with nature, which according to them was the main source of spirituality, and creativity that man needed. The trend of collecting these unique scholar rocks has become a trend in America for the past three decades. It is not surprising therefore that these rocks are found in museums as an art piece. These rocks have a special way through which they bring about a sense of calm.

The interest in the Chinese to collect rocks for religious and beaut purposes is traced back to an ancient period when specialists began using huge stones to decorate their courtyards and gardens. The individual characters of the rocks can be traced back in poems from the Tang dynasty. However, the small, independent stones that have been a favorite among Chinese elite including the artists and educated in society is what is referred to as the scholar’s rocks. The appreciation moved from huge stones to smaller one that were portable which meant that they could be brought into the house to the studios and used for meditation purposes. These stones also known as Gongshi began as a representation of a mythology or stones that resembled famous mountains and sometimes mountain ranges in China. This relation to nature brought people close to nature as they could appreciate its presence all the time. Apart from the resemblance to nature, most of these rocks were appreciated for the emotions they evoked in people. Due to their varieties of colors and simplicity in form, these dramatic rocks were able to bring a sense of joy to the viewers in this case the scholars. This means that they were perfect in achieving a sense of calmness even when the surroundings in the world were disturbing and full of turmoil. A simple look at these rocks could calm the scholars down and make them concentrate on what they had to. The Chinese literati wanted to use the stones form the gardens for motivation and inspiration from nature since they considered them a source of creativity. This is why they ended up looking for smaller stones with similar traits. These stones are said to have remained popular among the learned and court imperial for over 1000 years 1 . 

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As depicted form the name Gongshi, this rock is considered as the spirit rock. One would think that the popular English name would thus be spirit rocks but they are famously known as scholar’s rocks although no known explanation is given for this. The stones are also classified according to their unique characters and qualities. The earliest representation of the rocks were those of fancy paradises like Penglai commonly known as the eastern isle of the immortals. The paradise is believed to be three to four mountains that were separated by the eastern sea. By nature, the three islands that were collectively known as Penglai were inaccessible to mortals because of their natural appearance that involved sharp and inaccessible peaks. However, since the dwellers of the paradise were gods that could fly, they were able to continue their social activities without any hindrance. Ancient paintings depict these gods as flying cranes 2 . No humankind could penetrate the area due to its nature. This area was considered a mystical and wonderful place that was sought by many including humans. From the artistic representations shown through paintings, it was clear that this was a place believed to bring profound peace and joy to those who made it there. It is amazing how simple rocks arrangement could bring about such calmness for believers. 

The mountains have evolved in terms of how they are represented. Most ancient dynasties displayed them as a large pond with four islands rising form the center. This was characteristic of most emperors’ gardens. However, as time went by Daoist scholars displayed the Paradise Mountains as floating in the clouds. Today, the rocks are displayed either as singles or in groups if the goal is to depict a mountain range. The single stones of high quality are given special preference in the garden since they may be representing an important mountain. Most garden rocks are still tall and are either grey or white in color because of having been worn out. Collectors especially loved stones form the Jiangsu Lake in Taihu. Large stones that can still be found today were perforated and possessed numerous holes and indentations. They were also available in imaginative shapes. Looking at these stones confirmed to the viewers of how powerful nature and its forces were to the point of creating such unique and outstanding stones without any human interference. This in a way brought a feeling of calmness as those present could feel that nature would take care of making everything beautiful as it does for all other things.

Scholars rocks as discussed earlier are smaller in size and are picked from fine qualities. The size range from miniature four-inch unique rocks to larger sized rocks that measure up to a height of five feet. Bottom line though is that they can be brought into the studios for different purposes. However, the normal or ordinary size of a scholar’s rock is one that is able to comfortably rest on the desk. The aim of taking these rocks into the studios was to use them for mediation. They served as a link that brought about the peace needed when concentrating and contemplation. In other instances, they were used as objects that had an artistic value in their own right. Rocks that were highly regarded were limestone; the dense kind which when struck would emit a bell like ring. These sounds were considered divine and calming hence the high value associated with them.

Since scholars rocks are an artwork in their own right, they are usually displayed as an artworkon either a stool or desk. Carved wooden stands are also a great display that these rocks are put on. The rocks depict a mythical and symbolic imagery that is unique and detailed. Scholars rocks may have been in china for more than 1000 years but only in the past three decades have they became a subject of interest for the rest of the world 3 . It is this recent interest in the west that makes the scholars rocks a popular display in most museums and gallery collections in the west. The black stones may be the most sought after scholars’ rocks but they are known to vary in color including yellow, white and red. The different colors are known to have been popular during different times in the Chinese tradition. Collectors were interested in collecting colorful stones such as the malachite, turquoise,soapstone and marble during the Ming and Qing periods. To these scholars, the colored rocks were representations of a focus for mediation of religion and other principles of philosophies that required special concentration to write and paint 4 . This means that the rocks were able to bring them peace and a sense of calmness that helped them document and explore their creativity effectively. Most of these rocks may have been a representation of mountains and ranges; some were a reminder of famous specialists, animals and other mythical creatures that existed before. Despite the variety, these early Chinese learners appreciated the rocks for their grand nature that showed forceful profiles and great ages. The overlapping planes and layers imparted depth. The perforations and indentations created harmonious and rhythmic patterns all of which were natural. 

Chinese scholar rocks were displayed vertically or in an upright position. Any display is a representation of a Chinese mountain or a mythical creature. The stones need not have a flat bottom because they are displayed on curved stands that are specially made to hold the stones in an upright position. The rocks come with specific dimensions. The rock is considered two-dimensional when it has no perforations. Different styles are also used when carving the stands. In the end, ancient Daoist believe that an uncarved rock implies that things need to state in their natural state 5 . It is believed that things when left in their own natural and simple state carry their own unique natural power. Unfortunately, this power is lost when people interfere with the simplicity causing change. These changes in turn interfere with the calmness that is found in nature’s simplicity.


1Brown, Claudia, Worlds Within Worlds, The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholars' Rocks

2Mowry, Robert D., Worlds Within Worlds: The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholar's Rocks, Exhibit Catalog, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachucetts, 1997

3Moss, Sydney T., When Men and Mountains Meet: Chinese and Japanese Spirit Rocks, London England, 1995.

4Little, Stephen, Spirit Stones of China: The lan and Susan Wilson Collection of Chinese Stones, Paintings, and Related Scholars' Objects, Exhibit Catalog, The Art Institute of Chicago in assn. with University of California Press, 1999.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). Scholar’s Rock –A sense of Calm.


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