The Landscape Guide

Selection of Stones in Chinese garden design

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One must know where the stones come from, whether from a distance or from sites in the vicinity. The stones in the mountains have no value price; this they acquire through the work put into them by man. They must be sought out in the course of long wanderings on difficult paths in the mountains. The cheapest way is to take them up out of the water; then the distance does not play any role worth mentioning. The day-work is counted only in terms of the manual labor. When the distance is not too great, the stones may be borne on the shoulder (i.e., with the help of a pole).
If one wishes to produce something beautiful, one must not content oneself with the merely ornamental; the finished work must also be simple and all of a piece. If you want something lasting, you should use strong, old stones, which should be set up in layers. But first you must pay attention to the nature and shape of the stones. If you cannot find a stone with suitable furrows, be patient; for they should be set up with due respect to their furrows. If they are too deeply furrowed, they may fall apart. If they have big hollows, it is best to place them high up.
In former times the most beautiful old stones came from T’ai-hu, and the connoisseurs appreciated only the so-called flower-stones. Nowadays, ordinary people who do not know Huang Shan arrange their minor stones ac cording to Yün-lin (Ni Tsan), and the larger ones according to Tzu-chiu (Huang Kung-wang). Even if the stones are clumsy, they may be piled up in layers, and one can find good stones even in the wildest mountains. Stones are not like grass and trees; once they have been taken out they are not replaced by a second crop. Human beings look for profit and reputation, and overlook the importance of creating something for a remote future.

T’ai-hu Stones for garden design in China

The island of Tung-ting is situated in the Suzhou district. On its shores are found stones in the water—the best in the Hsiao-hsia Bay. They are solid and shiny. Some have deep hollows, others are riddled with holes, others again are curving or curiously carved. Some are white, others bluish black, while others have a fainter blue-black hue. Their substance is apparent in horizontal and vertical furrows, which stand out and disappear as in basketwork. The surface is full of hollows that have arisen through the hammering of the waves; these are called bullet holes. If one strikes these stones they give forth a faint sound. The stonecutters who collect them are equipped with hammer and irons and wade in the deep Water. They choose the most remarkable and beautiful specimens, knock them loose and fasten them to strong ropes. The stones are then dragged out with the help of big boats.
Among these stones, the biggest are most highly valued. Such large stones should be set up in front of big halls. They may be placed under a stately pine or be combined with wonderful flowers. They may be used as mountains set up in a big pavilion out in the garden, where they will produce a magnificent effect. They have been collected since time immemorial, and are now very rare.
K’un-shan Stones. These are dug out of the Ma-an (Horse-saddle) Mountain, but as they are coated with a layer of red earth, they must be scraped and washed after being extracted. They are of very uneven material, full of holes, like hollowed-out rocks, but they are not tall and peaky. If one strikes them, they do not give forth any sound. The color is clear white. In their strange hollows one may plant dwarf trees and irises. They may be placed in bowls and used in miniature landscapes; they are not suitable for larger gardens.
I-hsing Stones  for garden design in China
These stones are found in the mountains in the vicinity of the Shüan-chan Temple near the Chan kung Grotto in the I-hsing district. They are suitable for the decoration of bamboo groves where the water flows out. Some are very solid, riddled with holes and curiously formed, like T’ai-hu stones; others have a dark color and are of coarse material, yellow inside; others again are white and soft. These cannot be used as overhanging stones in piled mountains; they are not sufficiently solid for this.
Lung-tan Stones. Lung-tan is situated more than seventy ii from Nanking. These stones occur in different variants within a region extending from Chi-hsing-kuan on the
Yangtze River to the vicinity of Ts’ang-t’ou. Many of the stones are found lying on the surface of the ground, others are half buried in the earth. Some of them are bluish and hard, furrowed and riddled with holes like the T’ai-hu stones; others have a lighter bluish hue and are somewhat clumsier. These may be used as foundation stones for the mountains (in water?). Others are much worn and fur rowed, but not riddled with holes; others again are, as it were, shriveled and wrinkled like walnut shells. If they are set up in such a way that the folds (striations) harmonize, they remind one of wonderful paintings.

Ch’ing-lung-shan Stones for garden design in China.

Ch’ing-lung-shan stones are found near Nanking. They have large, round hollows. The stonecutters shape them with chisels to give them the form of peaks. They are beautiful in front, and are commonly set up as central peaks on a mountain of T’ai-hu stones. ‘Flower stones’ hua shih, in contradistinction to the
-foundation or so-called foot stones, may be set up as in cense burners. If one places a blue top-stone on this, the whole will resemble ‘rocks of knives and woods of swords.’ T They may be placed under bamboos, but they must not be made tall.
Ling-pi Stones. These occur on Ch’ing-shan in Ling-pi hsien, near Suzhou (Anhui), and are found buried in the earth under layers tens of feet in thickness. The reddish clay is stuck so fast that they must be scraped with metal knives. Not until after three scrapings does the color of the stones appear, and after this they must be polished and ground with brushes of steel wire or bamboo and pulverized porcelain. If one strikes them, they give forth a metallic sound. On the under side the earth has penetrated so deeply that it cannot be removed. These stones remind one of various objects; some of them are like mountain peaks, sharply cut and riddled with holes. But the hollows seldom form a beautiful pattern; they have to be chiseled and polished for their beauty to emerge. Some are one-sided, but there are also those with three and four sides. They should be selected with an eye to their most beautiful parts’ and chiseled flat on the bottom, so that they may be placed on a table. They may also be used for the building up of small landscapes. There is another sort of such stones, which are thin and flat and as if they were of mist. These may be hung up in rooms and used as music stones. They are called vibrating stones from the banks of the Su River.

Chien-shan Stones for garden design in China.

These are found to the south of the town Chen-chiang, near the great Chien Mountain in Kiangsu. The small ones are of the best quality; connecting parts are chiseled out on the big ones. They are very peculiar, yellow in color, glossy and hard. If one strikes them, they give forth a musical sound. One also finds
specimens that are gray and riddled with holes from both sides. They may be used for building mountains.

Hsüan Stones for garden design in China.

Hsüan stones occur in Ning-kuo-hsien in Anhui. They are pure and white, but as a rule spotted with red earth. They have to be washed and brushed for their real quality to appear. Or else they may be placed under a rainspout during the rainy season; the water then washes off the earth colors. The greater their age, the whiter they are; they acquire the appearance of snow-clad mountains. A special sort of these stones is referred to as Ma-ya-hsuan (horse-tooth stones). These may be placed on the table.

Hu.k’ou Stones for garden design in China.

At Hu-k’ou, near Chiang-chou, several kinds of these stones are to be found. Some are taken up from the water. These are blue in color and form peaks and valleys or all sorts of objects. Others are thin and flat, with hollows and holes running right through them. They may have the appearance of boards that have been carved with a sharp knife. The lines are as fine as silk threads. If one strikes them, they give forth a sound. Su Tung-p’o valued them very highly; in his eyes they were one of the world’s nine wonders. {He has praised them in a poem.}

Ying Stones for garden design in China.

These occur in the streams between Han  kuang hsien and Chen-yang hsien in Ying-chou (Anhui). Some have a bluish color and are covered with a net of fine white lines. Another variety is darker; others again are light green, have the form of peaks and are riddled with holes. They are rather glossy, and give forth a sound when struck. They may be placed on the table or in a bowl, and may also be used for small landscapes. There are also white specimens with sharp peaks and jutting parts on all four sides. They are crystalline and shining, like metal mirrors. They do not give forth any sound when struck. The stone collectors wade out to them and knock off the portions they find most beautiful. This variety can be used only on the table.

San-ping Stones for garden design in China.

{Here follows a legendary explanation of the origin of this place-name.} The spot is situated to the south of Chao-lu (Anhui). The stones occur in differ ent sizes and very varied shapes, and lie strewn about on the ground. They are hard and dark blue; some of them re mind one of the T’ai-hu stones; they have coarse veins old and shriveled. The inhabitants of the district collect and sell them. The amateurs in Yang-chou (Wei-yang) buy only this sort of stones. The biggest, most beautiful, and most hollowed-out are quite as good as T’ai-hu stones.  Better stones than these have never been found.

Huang Stones for garden design in China.

Huang {yellow} stones are found in many places. They are so hard that no ax or chisel has any effect upon them. Their veins are old and shriveled. They occur on Huang-shan near Ch’ang-chou, on Yao p fêng-shan near Suzhou, on T’uan-shan near Chen-chiang and along the Yangtze River as far as Ts’ai-shih-chi. Ordinary people are only struck by their curious shapes, and do not understand their wonderful beauty.

Old Stones for garden design in China.

Amateurs make great efforts to acquire old stones. When they hear talk of an old garden in which there is a conical stone with an inscription by some famous man from an earlier period, e.g., a real T’ai-hu stone in a ruined garden whose owner is willing to sell the stone, they offer considerable sums for it. This may be reasonable if the stone is an historical antique, but there are those who pay a high price for a stone simply because it is old. T’ai-hu stones have, certainly, been collected by amateurs since time immemorial; they are becoming increasingly rare. But it may perhaps be possible to find similar stones on hitherto unexploited mountains. If one chooses those which are riddled with holes and are of bluish color and hard quality, they will be found to be not inferior to the T’ai-hu stones. If, moreover, they have been exposed to weather and wind for a long time, then there is no longer any difference between old and new. The price depends simply upon the work required for the transport of the stones. What can it be worth to convey them to the gar den? I have heard talk of a stone that was called ‘the peak of one hundred measures of rice,’ and when I enquired concerning the reason, I was told that the name derived from the fact that the costs had amounted to as much as 100 measures of rice for the laborers. Its price is thus 100 measures of rice; and as the transport had cost just as much, the stone may now be called ‘the peak of 200 measures of rice.’—Stones which are exposed to weather and wind become old, but those which are taken up out of the earth seem new. They are covered with earth, but if this is washed away by rain and the stones are exposed to the air, then they, too, will assume an appearance of age.

Chin-ch’uan Stones for garden design in China.

(Stream-patterned stones.) Stones of this kind should be old. They are either five-colored or quite green. They are furrowed like the bark of pines. The most valuable specimens measure over ten feet in height and one foot in breadth, but the majority are smaller. Nowadays one finds such stones near I-hsing, but their grain is not continuous and the coloring is not beautiful. They have furrows and holes running right through them, their substance is clear and glossy. They may be set up among flowers or under trees. If one builds up a mountain formation they may be used as jagged peaks.


Hua-kang Stones.

The Hua-kang stones of the Sung period are found everywhere on the border between Honan and Shantung. They have been left there since the Sung period. The majority are wonderfully formed, but as it is a matter of great difficulty to transport them overland, amateurs use only small fragments of these stones for their gardens.
Liu-ho Shingle for garden design in China.
One finds cornelian stones (ma nao) in the sand and in the stream beds at Ling-chü in Liu-ho hsien (Kiangsu); they are very small. Others, as large as one’s fist, are black and white with lines in five colors; others again are multicolored. They are very beautiful, glossy and semitransparent. One should collect the most colorful and use them for brocade-like mosaics in the ground. If one places them in a boisterous mountain stream or in other running water, their natural sheen appears.
There are amateurs everywhere, and stones that may be used for the building up of artificial mountains in gar dens; but one does not find the right man. If you ask where the stones are to be found, the answer is that they occur everywhere in the mountains. If you cannot find the most wonderful stones, then you may use simpler ones, as long as they are provided with beautiful furrows (or striae). I have studied Tu Kuan’s Shill P’u (Book of Stones) from the Sung period, according to which stones are to be found everywhere. In my youth I visited the places with stone finds, concerning which I have made notes in the foregoing; the others I have not mentioned.