Viewing Stones 观赏石 or Gongshi 供)—Part 2

It is not surprising that many different words have been used to describe stones in China because Chinese stone appreciation has developed over a 1,000-year period and that, historically, China has rarely been one united country. Instead, different names came into use in geographically disparate regions. Some of the terms have their origins in historically important classic works of literature while other terms developed regionally, such as “yashi”, a term used in southern China. In the recently published history of Chinese stone appreciation culture, Jia (2010) and his associates noted the first terms used for stones were linked to Chinese legends. Later, people began to name stones after locations where they were discovered (e.g. Taihushi, Lingbishi, Yingshi, and Kunshanshi. This was followed by additional names for stones such as scenery stones, guanshangshi and other newer terms. The great regional diversity that fueled the development of Chinese culture also resulted in the diversity of names used in Chinese stone appreciation.

The use of different words to describe stones for their beauty or unusual features is often confusing for western students of Asian stone appreciation. The different terms also caused some confusion as the modern age of stone appreciation developed in the late 1970s and 1980s. This led to the formation of a panel of experts to recommend one term that can be used to encompass the broad range of stones being used today in Chinese stone appreciation. That term, guanshanshi­—viewing stone—has become the accepted term used in China today. You will also see the term shangshi—another Chinese word for stone appreciation—used frequently in China today. The term “guan” literally means ”to look”, “shan” means to appreciate, and “shi” refers to stones or rocks.

A partial list of words that have been used from historical to modern times in China for Chinese stone appreciation follows:

Shiti ( 石体) or a group of stones. Several to many different size stones used to make a collage such as a mountain and water landscape.

Guanshangshi (观赏石) or viewing stone. A new term used for stones that have an aesthetic beauty and a decorative and economic value. These stones give visual pleasure to people and may be suggestive and inspire profound thoughts. They are divided into two types--natural stones and stone art viewing stones.

Guashi (怪石) or unusual stone. The is an ancient term first used in the geographical work Book of History by Yu Gong and published in the Warring States period  475 BCE to 221 BCE. The book contains a reference to five objects produced by Mt. Tai. One of these references is to unusual stones that were described as strange or alien.

Qishi (奇石) or fantastic stones. This is a term for naturally formed stones with very strange shapes. Their texture, shape, color and pattern are varied so they can meet people’s differing aesthetic needs. These stones have been called by many other names including elegant stones, desk stones, playful stones, ugly stones, interesting stones, and as texture stones. This term is commonly used for stones displayed in China.

Wenshi (纹石) or texture stone. This first use of this term appeared in the ancient work Classic of Mountain and Seas or Shanhaijing that was published between the 3rd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. These are stones with clear and beautiful stripes, patterns or layers. Some of the stones may be abstract while others are graphic. Included here are Yangtze River stones, turtle pattern stones, and chrysanthemum stones.

Caishi (彩石) or colorful stone. This first use of this term appeared in the ancient Classic of Western Mountain or Shanhaijing Xishanjing published between the 3rd century BCE and the second century CE. This term was used for stones with beautiful colors or patterns, but not as hard as crystals.

Meishi (美石) or beautiful stone. This term originated in the work Classic of Eastern Mountain or Shanjaijing Dongshanjing. In this work, it describes many beautiful stones underneath the mountain. The Song dynasty poet Shu Shi also used this term in a poem. He wrote “Now a days near Qi’an River, we often find beautiful stones. They are not very different from jade. They are mostly red, yellow or white. Their patterns are like people’s finger prints--smart and cute.”

Yishi (倚石) or pretty stone. This term has its origin in the Song dynasty, followed by the Tang dynasty. The famous Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi used this term in his writing.

Gongshi (供石) or respect stone. The Song dynasty poet Shu Shi used this term for small stones that were of sufficient quality to be used as a tribute. Later, this term was used for larger stones as well.

Shiyi  (石艺) or stone art. A term used for a variety of worked stones.

Wanshi (玩石) or playful stone. Natural stones and minerals valued for their beauty. This includes crystals, druses, fossils, colorful pattern stones, graphic stones, ink stones, jade, and seal stones.

Yashi (雅石) or graceful stone. This is a term used mainly in southern China and Taiwan.

Suiseki (水石) or water stone. This term is reserved for use of certain Japanese stones that are appreciated for their beauty and suggestive features.

Sousoek (寿石) or longevity stone. This is the term reserved for Korean stones appreciated for their beauty.

Shangshi (赏石). This is a Chinese term used for the act of appreciating stones. This is a commonly encountered word used for stone exhibitions.

Wanshi (玩石) or solid stone. This term is used for very hard stones such as diamonds, jades, certain crystals and other similar stones.

Wenrenshi (文人石) or scholar’s stones. This term has a western origin and is used for stones that can be placed in a study so scholars can enjoy them and express their love for nature. In China, they are also called respect stones.

It is not surprising that the modern stone appreciation community in China wanted to have a single term to describe stones valued for their varied features, especially when so many terms have been used over a long history of stone appreciation. We at VSANA accept the decision reached by the View Stone Association of China and will refer to Chinese stones as viewing stones or guanshangshi. We also think it is an appropriate term to use with comparable stones from western countries.

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