On a stroll through a Chinese garden or park, the visitor often finds himself walking on footpaths of colored pebbles arranged in patterns– a feature of Chinese landscape gardening.
These patterned paths are not designed by architects, but made by artisans from beginning to end. The paving of pebbles is a complicated job calling for skill and experience. First, lime mortar is spread out as the foundation layer, and then the designs are outlined by means of plain and roofing tiles set in the mortar. On this is spread a special putty made of lime, wheat flour and tung oil, on which again are fixed the pebbles of various natural colors—green ones for plant leaves, black one for animals’ eyes, and so on. And the designs include all the usual subjects of traditional Chinese painting: landscapes, figures, flowers, and birds, historical and popular legends.
The best of patterned footpaths in China are found in the Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The colored pebbles there make up pictures under such familiar titles as “Magpie Announcing the spring,” “Dragon and Phoenix,” “Cranes in Clouds,” “Guan Gong* Felling an Enemy,” Two Gray beards Watching a Game of Chess,” which symbolize good luck, victory, longevity and the like.
On the whole, patterned paths are found more often in parks and private gardens in the southern provinces than in the north. Prominent in this respect, are the gardens in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, where the designs on Pebbled paths display a wide range of subjects. Some are just geometric patterns, for example a square inside a circle like an ancient copper coin, signifying the ancient belief that “Heaven is round and the Earth square.” Others are in the forms of bats and cranes, Chinese symbols for good fortune and long life. Still others are patterned after fishing net, expressing the general wish for affluent abundance.
Lake Tai Stones
Taihu rocks are boulders found on the edge of the Taihu Lake, near Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, highly prized by builders of rock gardens for their convolutions caused by weathering.
The use of Taihu Lake stones in gardens in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In the late Song Dynasty (960-1279), Emperor Huizong, an outstanding painter, calligrapher and gardener, ordered a large imperial garden to be built named Gen Yue in his capital Bianliang(former name for Kaifeng in Henan Province). He used a great deal of Lake Tai stones in the garden and after that the stones became more popular in Chinese gardens and the first *Guan Yu (Lord Guan also revered as Guan Gong)(died 220) a warrior in the Three Kingdoms period( 220-265), was widely worshipped by the Chinese as the God of Loyalty and War. He was General of the Shu Han State. Guan Yu’s conspicuous courage, dignity, unswerving sense of justice and goodness to Liu Bei (161-223, ruled 221-223) won the Chinese people’s admiration and love through the centuries.
Despite his military abilities, Guan Gong was killed in battle. He was almost immediately revered as an Immortal, and throughout many centuries people continued to believe Guan Gong was a god in Heaven. Guan Gong is typically depicted as a tall man with a long black beard. As a statue at the temple, he is either standing or seated at a desk. His countenance is always stern and his face is red. Those concerned venerate Guan Gong with loyalty, military affairs, and commerce, giving birth to sons and exorcizing spirits. People can easily find in a lot of shops and restaurants in China, the statue of Guan Gong placed with candles burning in the front, surrounded with fruit as offerings. Guan Gong is highly respected by business people because of his extraordinary character. First of all, he was true to his promise, cheating neither the old nor the young. Today, such a merit is badly needed in the business community. Furthermore, he was steadfast in the performance of his duty. Even in the contemporary business culture, dedication to duty is cherished as one of the most important ethics. For those reasons, businesspeople from both home and abroad flock to the Xiezhou Temple of Emperor Guan Gong every year to pay tribute, in the hope of securing peace of mind and a flourishing business choice of Chinese gardeners, especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Lake Tai stones are also popular in the imperial gardens in North China. The using of the stone has two main functions. The first is in construction. They are usually used to block soil and protect slopes. The stones used in these places do not have to be beautifully shaped and their size can also vary. But they should be place and piled irregularly with twists and turns and rises and falls. The stones are also placed at the edges of flowerbeds, narrow paths with flowers on both sides and on lawns. The second function of the stone is to create beautiful scenes in gardens. That means the stone becomes the focus of such scenes. There are various ways of using the stones to create scenes, which are great treasures of china’s classical garden art. A main feature in gardens made of Lake Tai stones is rockery hills. Hills made of the stones are richer in shape than other kinds of stones. The four principal aesthetic criteria of the Lake Tai stones thinness, openness, perforations, and wrinkling—has been identified for judging scholar’s rocks as well as the larger examples featured in gardens.
The scholars’ rocks were associated with human virtues, like strength and resilience, and a stone could suggest nobility, patience, stability and the virtuous contemplation of nature. Even in modern days, scholars’ rocks still hold continuing appeal for many stone lovers. Not only are Chinese learning to appreciate the beauty of stones, but also connoisseurs abroad have begun to collect rare Chinese stones.
Traditionally, there are several types of scholars’ rocks most admired by Chinese collectors: grayish green limestone mined from the Lingbi caves of East China’s Anhui Province; deeply perforated stones gathered from Lake Tai in East china’s Jiangsu Province; waxy soapstone collected in the riverbeds in Lanzhou of northwest China’s Gansu Province. In the past few years, however, rare stones of northwest China Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have gained increasing popularity among Chinese rock connoisseurs.