Chinese Stone Catalogs 中国石谱


Many stone catalogs (shipu  石谱) have been published in China over the last 900 years. Some of these have been major works that have significant impact on the development of a stone appreciation culture in China and aboard; many other minor ones served to promote and help educate artistic talents in drawing and painting. While there has never been a complete compilation of all the published stone catalogs, some of the more important ones have been the subject of scholarly studies. None of these catalogs has been fully translated and published in English, thus limiting the knowledge of these works in many western countries. This article will serve as a general introduction to the shipu catalogs and, hopefully, set the stage for more detailed articles about some of the major books in the future.

Shipu publications can be first divided into two broad categories. The most prevalent ones are those that serve primarily as training manuals to help people learn how to draw various types of stones,boulders, rock formations and even mountains. These were for aspiring artists but also for those seeking positions in the Imperial bureaucracy who needed to develop skills in calligraphy, poetry, and painting along with a knowledge of  the major philosophies (Taoism, Buddhism, and the teaching of Confucius). The other categories of shipu books focus more on the aesthetics of stones and the appreciation of unusual stones. Natural stone formations in mountains or lakes or individual stones, natural or altered, that were brought into courtyard gardens and indoors to view and contemplate.

The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) produced one of the greatest guides, Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, of its time. This work compiled by Hu Zhengyan is still a major influence in painting and drawing today. There were sixteen volumes in the original work divided equally among eight topics: orchid, bamboo, rock, plum, ink blossom, birds, fruit, and calligraphy and painting. The section on stones is of greatest interest to stone connoisseurs. Additional important shipu books were published in the following Qing (1644-1911) dynasty. The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting by Li Yu is a product of the early Qing. It consist of thirteen books arranged in three parts. One of the books is devoted to rocks. This work has been reproduced many times and is readily available in western countries. The late Qing dynasty witnessed the publication of Shipu by Zhou Tang who introduced color in his stone paintings and is considered by some to be one of the greatest stone painters of this period. Another significant publication is Ye Mei Shipu by Wang Yanhui at the end of the Qing. Actually, this work was first published in Osaka, Japan, and later published in Shanghai.

One of the earliest and important stone catalogs, Stone Catalogue of Cloudy Forest (Yun Lin Shipu) by Du Wan falls into the second category of books that are not primarily training manuals. This late Song Dynasty (960-1279) publication is the first book about stones appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. Yun Lin Shipu is an unillustrated account of 114 different types of stones, many of which are still recognizable today. The first illustrated book of stones produced primarily for their aesthetic qualities was The Stone Compendium of Plain Garden (Su Yuan Shipu) by Lin Youling and published in 1613. This four volume compendium illustrates 102 different stones. This work has been reproduced many times and has influenced stone appreciation culture in Japan as well as in China. This work has been partially translated by Kemin Hu in her book Scholar’s Rocks in Ancient China (2002).

Another Qing dynasty stone catalog describing stones for their contemplative features is Register of Pines and Stones at Yellow Mountain (Huangshan Song Shipu) by Min Linsi, published in 1697. This text-only publication contains descriptions of 44 in situ stone formations in the Yellow Mountains that represent something greater than just the stones themselves. An example of this is the “pestle and mortar stone” or “hiding boat stone.”  Stones that illicit feelings and serve as objects of meditation or contemplation are the main subject of this book.

The publication of modern stone catalogs has continued to the present. One of the finest examples and most comprehensive of these is the recently published China Shipu (2016). See the featured book review for more information about this valuable reference.


Copyright  2017 VSANA, Viewing Stone Association of North America. All rights reserved.        |   Terms of Use    |   Contact us   |