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Chinese Scholars Rocks

Telepathic Stones: The Ancient Art of the Scholar’s Rocks


These scholars’ stones, which condense “the vital energy of heaven and earth”, have been collected in China since the year 619.

What is in rocks that makes them so absolute? Like trees, they insinuate and undeniable reality, but additionally they can also take the shape of everything that exists in the world. They are leviathans and demons, human faces, rivers, seas and mountains… but, above all, they are statues of our unconscious.

For thousands of years, these specimens have been treasured in the Chinese tradition. The “Scholars’ Rocks”, or gongshi—also known as sculptural stones—are rocks that have been shaped naturally or artificially (sometimes we can see a basin or a man-made path) which, since the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and until our days have been gathered as philosopher stones or metaphors of nature. Photographer Jonathan M. Singer published a book entitled Spirit Stones: The Ancient Art of the Scholar’s Rock, where he captures 140 gongshi from Kemin Hu’s magnificent collection, a prominent figure in the world of this art form.

In his book, he shows how, according to Hu, scholar’s stones are really “condensations of the vital essence and energy of heaven and earth.” Hu wrote an introduction about the history and the aesthetics of these stones. He explains, for instance, the traditional terms used to appraise these rocks: shou (thin), zhou (wrinkled), luo (furrowed) and tou (full of holes).

Each one of these stones is the motif of poems and paintings, appreciated specifically for the elements that make it different from the others.  According to Orientals, scholars’ stones “share a telepathic connection with human souls”. If we consider that every time we set eyes on these stones we can see whatever our mind is projecting at the time, while we can also see, for instance, the perfect metaphor for the wind, then a telepathic connection is indeed taking place and materializing as an insoluble mineral form. By treasuring and treating them as works of art, the Chinese remind us of the spiritual qualities of still objects; one of the greatest pleasures of life exquisitely alluded to in this book.

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