black 'Lingbi' limestone with perforations and white striations, hongmu stand
Linquan Qishuo, Liuyuan, Suzhou.
The Collection of Sheng Xuanhai.
In Zhangwu zhi (On Superfluous Things), vol. 3, Pin shi (Evaluating Stones), Wen Zhenheng (1585-1645) wrote, "Lingbi stones are the best; Yingde stones are next best. These two types of stones are very expensive, and it is quite difficult to buy them. Big stones are especially difficult to obtain. Those over a few feet tall are rare indeed. Small stones can be placed on a tall stand or table. Those with colour as black as lacquer and with sound like that of jade are the finest. Among stones arranged horizontally, those with waxy texture and sheer inclines are superior." In the chapter "Lingbi" he wrote, "Lingbi stones come from Lingbi County, Suzhou, Fengyangfu, (present day Anhui province.) They are buried deep in the earth. Hence, they have to be excavated to be discovered. They have thin white veins like jade, and they do not produce mountain caves. Fine pieces have all types of unusual shapes, such as that of a resting ox or a coiled dragon, which are truly rare."1
During the Tang and Song dynasties, most Lingbi stones were extracted from the water. Stones of this period had marvelous character, solid and smooth texture, dark and solemn colors, and clear and surpassing sound. By the Ming dynasty, the supply of Lingbi stones produced in the water had been nearly completely exhausted, with the result that land-produced Lingbi stones began to be excavated. Because they were excavated from the red-soil (laterite) layer in Lingbi County, these Lingbi stones had red soil adhering to their surfaces, and this red soil was difficult to remove completely. Traces of red soil adhering to the surface of a Lingbi stone can serve as evidence in determining the producing environment and period of excavation of the stone.
In character, the present piece, 'Summit of the Dancing Clouds' twists and soars, is sheer and spacious. It seems to curl up, and to bend down. It appears about to fly, about to dance. In texture, it is solid, smooth, and fine. Its color is lustrous like lard, and amid such patches are veins as white as jade. When struck, it produces a clear, leisurely sound that resonates afar, like the sound of jade chimes (an ancient Chinese musical instrument). The stone has gullies traversing every which way and holes penetrating its width. All four sides can be displayed. This is truly a model scholar's rock for the study.
'Summit of the Dancing Clouds' was formerly housed in Lingering Garden (Liuyuan) in Suzhou and was displayed in the middle building of the Linquan Qishuo Exhibition Hall. On the opposite side of the hall was the granite stone Guanyunfeng (Cloud-Capped Peak), a stone handed down from the Song dynasty and a legacy of the great Qing dynasty Chinese official and industrialist Sheng Xuanhuai.
Sheng Xuanhuai (1844-1916), zi Xingsun and Xingsheng, hao Yuzhai, was born into a family of government officials from Changzhou in Jiangsu. His grandfather, Sheng Long, a provincial graduate in the imperial civil-service examination system, held the office of department magistrate of Haining in Zhejiang. His father, Sheng Kang, a scholar in the imperial examination system, served as provincial administration commissioner for the Hubei grain tax circuit and the Wuchang salt control circuit. From a young age, Sheng Xuanhuai followed the education prescribed by his father, studying extensively, and placing special emphasis on practical studies. His hope was to rectify the age and save the nation. In 1872 he was recognized by the Li Hongzhang, one of the most prominent leaders in the Qing imperial court. Sheng then began setting up military industries and later switched over to civilian industries. By means of administrative supervision over a private company, he created China's first private enterprise: China Merchants' Steamship Navigation Company. Moreover, he helped establish enterprises in the fields of railroads, mining, telegraphs, textiles, and banking. He also took a keen interest in education, establishing Beiyang University and Nanyang University. In China's development of its modern industrial and commercial sectors, he played an indispensable role.
Liuyuan, (Lingering Garden), is a famous Jiangnan garden located on Liuyuan Road, Lümen Xiatang, Suzhou. On this site Xu Taishi, vice-minister of the Court of Imperial Equipage, first constructed the Eastern Garden in the Jiajing period (1521-1565), and the Stone Screen Mountain in the garden was made by the famous stromatolite (layered rock) specialist Zhou Bingzhong. In the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) of the Qing dynasty, the government official Liu Shu acquired the garden. He frequently made changes and added twelve Lake Tai stones. The garden itself was called the Liu Garden. In the Guangxu period (1875-1908), Sheng Kang, Sheng Xuanhuai's father, acquired the garden and expanded it. Because this garden was the only remaining area after the devastation of the Taiping Rebellion, the name of the garden was changed to Lingering Garden. Later the garden was passed on to Sheng Xuanhuai. Today it is protected as an important cultural property.
Compare two similar upright scholar's rocks, one in the imperial garden of the Forbidden City, illustrated in Yuandai fang taixuo Lingbi shi, Yuyuan shangshi, Beijing, 2000, p. 86, and another, in the form of a seated tiger, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, formerly in the collection of Richard Rosenblum and illustrated in Robert D. Mowry, Worlds within Worlds, Harvard University, 1996, pl.2.
1. Yingyin Wenyuange Sikuquanshu (Photographic Reproduction of the Complete Texts of the Four Divisions Held in the Wenyuan Pavilion of the Forbidden City), Taipei, 1983, vol. 872.
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