The Concept of “Linglong” 玲珑 in Chinese Stone Appreciation

For nearly 1,000 years in China, the word linglong has been used in reference to certain stones.  The word has appeared recently in Western literature and on the Internet. It is a beautiful, descriptive word that literally means “delicate or graceful” and was used for something that had exquisite structure. It wasn’t specific to stone appreciation, but was adopted for use in describing certain types of stones. Mowry pointed out that after the Waring States period, linglong was used to represent nimble and shapely, and as a compliment for a woman’s figure. In his book Worlds Within Worlds Mowry stated that this word was occasionally used in stone appreciation culture to characterized attenuated, perforated rocks of superior form. Earlier, Chinese scholar Edward Schafer noted that this word was used in Tu Wan’s Stone Catalogue of Cloudy Forest published sometime between 1126–1130 C.E. Schafer had translated the word as “foraminate” or pierced with many holes. Thus, linglong, was identified with stones that possessed many holes but always with a delicate and exquisite appearance.

Linglong is not a type of stone based upon its chemical composition like a Yellow Wax or a Songhua stones. Instead, linglong stones can be found among many stone types. For example, some of the narrowed, strongly foraminate Taihu stones readily qualify as linglong. Some of the dark limestone rocks (Ying and Mohu) originating in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces also qualify for this designation. Even some narrow pieces of turquoise with numerous holes can be referred to as linglong. Stone collectors should be aware that dealers regularly offer “linglong stones” for sale without indicating the stone type. There are many linglong stones from Guangxi province that have entered the Chinese market place in recent decades; some are identified as Mohu linglong, while for others the stone type is uncertain.

Linglong can refer to delicate stones with numerous holes that were made over thousands of years. It is also used for stones that have been enhanced in a number of ways to add natural-looking holes. Mohu stone are relatively soft limestone and can be easily carved. A skilled stone carver can create a beautiful stone object from a relatively ordinary piece of stone. Kemin Hu used linglong exclusively to refer to enhanced stones in the recent book Spirit Stones, The Ancient Art of the Scholar’s Rock. It is a mistake to conclude that all linglong stones being sold today are enhanced stones. There are natural occurring ones. It is difficult for most stone enthusiasts to identify stones that have been partially worked by skillful stone carvers.

Viewing a delicate stone with numerous holes can be a rewarding experience. There is so much to contemplate about a linglong stone. What does it resemble? What thoughts does it provoke? Does it represent the cosmos in some way or some part of it? Our view is that it doesn’t matter if a linglong stone is completely natural or if someone has enhanced it to make it more appealing.

References: Hu, K. & T. Elias. 2014. Spirit Stones, The Ancient Art of the Scholar’s Rock; Mowry, R. D., 1997. Worlds Within Worlds, The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholar’ Rocks; Schafer, E. 1961. Tu Wan’s Stone Catalogue of Cloudy Forest.


(Text and photographs copyrighted by VSANA).


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