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Dream, Memory, and Reflection: Transfigurations of Su Shi’s Qiuchi Rock in Song Poetry

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities
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  • 1 Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, USA
Open Access

Abstract

The present study traces the changing meanings of Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock in Song poetry. As an aesthetic artifact, the rock may be gifted and exchanged through literati social interactions. At a more personal level, the rock reminds Su of a mysterious dream and symbolizes a place of retreat, described as his homeland in Shu, a Daoist grotto heaven, and a utopia that is superior to Peach Blossom Spring. The rock also serves as Su’s most faithful companion in the dark days of his exile to the far south. In the poems of Southern Song poets, who experienced the trauma of the fall of northern China to the Jurchens, the rock turns into a nostalgic object but also prompts acute reflections on petrophilia as a morally and philosophically problematic passion.

Abstract

The present study traces the changing meanings of Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock in Song poetry. As an aesthetic artifact, the rock may be gifted and exchanged through literati social interactions. At a more personal level, the rock reminds Su of a mysterious dream and symbolizes a place of retreat, described as his homeland in Shu, a Daoist grotto heaven, and a utopia that is superior to Peach Blossom Spring. The rock also serves as Su’s most faithful companion in the dark days of his exile to the far south. In the poems of Southern Song poets, who experienced the trauma of the fall of northern China to the Jurchens, the rock turns into a nostalgic object but also prompts acute reflections on petrophilia as a morally and philosophically problematic passion.

1 The Rock and Su Shi’s Dream of Qiuchi

In 1092, while Su Shi 蘇軾 [1037–1101] was serving as prefect of Yangzhou 揚州, his cousin Cheng Zhiyuan 程之元 [fl. 1095] brought him a gift of two rocks from Yingzhou 英州.1 The gift is featured in Su’s “Twin Rocks, with a Preface [Shuangshi bing xu 雙石並敍]”:

After I arrived in Yangzhou, I acquired a pair of rocks. One of them, green in color, had a long range of mountain peaks, with a cave extending from front to back. The other is so immaculately white that it reflects like a mirror. I soaked them with water in a basin and set them up on a stand. All of a sudden, I recalled that when I was in Yǐngzhou,2 I once dreamed that someone asked me to reside at a government office, whose plaque read “Qiuchi.” Upon waking up, I recited from Du Fu’s poem: “Ageless is the cave of Qiuchi, / That connects underground to the Lesser Heaven.” So, I playfully wrote this little poem to give my colleagues and friends a laugh.

至揚州,獲二石,其一綠色,岡巒迤邐,有穴達於背;其一正白可鑑。漬以盆水,置几案間。忽憶在潁州日,夢人請住一官府,榜曰仇池。覺而誦杜子美詩曰: 萬古仇池穴,潛通小有天。乃戲作小詩,爲僚友一笑。

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Citation: Journal of Chinese Humanities 7, 3 (2021) ; 10.1163/23521341-12340119

Du Fu’s 杜甫 [712–770] couplet cited in Su Shi’s preface is from the fourteenth poem in the Miscellaneous Poems from Qinzhou [Qinzhou zashi 秦州雜詩]:

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Citation: Journal of Chinese Humanities 7, 3 (2021) ; 10.1163/23521341-12340119

Located southwest of Xihe 西和 County in present-day Gansu, Mount Qiuchi 仇池 derived its name from a lake [chi ] on its summit. During his short stay in Qinzhou 秦州 in 759, Du Fu never visited Qiuchi, which was located about two hundred li southwest. According to Qiu Zhao’ao 仇兆鳌 [1638–1717], the first six lines of Du’s poem are paraphrases of various accounts [ji ] of Qiuchi.5 However, no record is found before Du about the cave of Qiuchi connecting to the Lesser Heaven, also known as the Lesser Heaven of Pure Vacuity [Xiaoyou qingxu zhitian 小有清虛之天] in Daoist mythology.6 Later sources only reference Du as the authority on this connection,7 in addition to the designation of Qiuchi as a Blessed Site.8 Nonetheless, Du’s poem established two major themes that predominate in Su Shi’s writings. The first is that Qiuchi is a Daoist transcendent realm, and the second is that it is a place to which to retreat in old age.

Su Shi’s poem starts with a play between opposites, namely, dreaming [meng ] versus awakening [jue ], and reality [shi ] versus falsehood [fei ]. In making devotional objects out of the rocks, he simultaneously mocks and flaunts his “foolishness” [chi ]. The second couplet is adapted from one of Li Bai’s 李白 [701–762] in “The Road to Shu Is Hard [Shudao nan 蜀道難]”: “To the west, over Mount Taibai, there is a bird route, / Whereby one can cut across to the summit of Mount Emei.”9 Su’s adaptation adds depth and complexity. First, in terms of colors, Emei (Moth Brows – a cliché metaphor for women’s eyebrows painted in dark green) matches the green rock presented to him by Cheng Zhiyuan, while Taibai [Supreme White] finds its counterpart in the white rock. Second, Emei and Taibai are both prominent Daoist mountains. Their juxtaposition in Su’s poem reinforces the motif already introduced in Du Fu’s couplet. Finally, the two mountains hold special personal significance for Su. Taibai is located in Fengxiang 鳳翔 (in present-day Shaanxi), where Su started his official career in the twelfth month of 1061. Emei, however, represents his native land of Shu, to which he constantly expressed his desire to return. Although Su was from Meishan 眉山 and never visited the nearby Emei, he frequently referred to Emei as his home.10 Thus, Taibai and Emei may have respectively represented service to the government and retreat to private life. Of the two rocks, Su clearly preferred the green one. The last couplet of the poem focuses on the cave, which appears to represent a Daoist grotto heaven such as Qiuchi. It was in this rock that Su found the embodiment or emblem of what Qiuchi meant in his dream. Indeed, it was this rock that Su named Qiuchi.11

In the preface to “Twin Rocks,” Su Shi presented the dream interpretation as a purely private experience. Upon waking, he immediately comprehended the dream’s significance. A different account is found in Su’s note in “Matching Tao’s ‘Reading The Classic of Mountains and Seas’ [He Tao Du Shanhai jing 和陶讀《山海經》],”12 written in 1095, during his exile to Huizhou 惠州. According to that account, he was at first puzzled by the dream: Qiuchi was the ancient site of Wudu 武都 of the Di people, under the protection of Yang Nandang 楊難當.13 “How could I live there?” Su wondered. The next day, when he asked his guests about the dream, Zhao Lingzhi 趙令畤 [1061–1134], notary of the administrative assistant [qianpan 簽判] of Yǐngzhou 潁州 at the time, told him about Qiuchi being a blessed site and quoted from Du Fu’s poem. In other words, it was Zhao who connected Su’s dream to Du Fu’s description of Qiuchi. As we shall see, at least one more person contributed to the interpretation of Su’s dream. Su continued to obsess over his dream and repeatedly refers to it in his writings.14

2 The Journey of the Rock from the Capital to the Far South

It is generally assumed that Su Shi wrote “Twin Rocks” in Yangzhou. There are, however, two reasons for believing that it might have been composed after he returned to the capital in the ninth month of 1092. First, the poem makes no mention of Cheng Zhiyuan. This oversight would have been perceived as rude if Cheng had been around when Su composed the poem. Second, and more important, it appears that the “colleagues and friends” whom Su meant to amuse were those in the capital, rather than those in Yangzhou, as evidenced in his “Upon Being Presented with the Poems Matching ‘Qiuchi’ [Jian he Qiuchi 見和仇池],” one of the “Four Poems Matching the Rhyme Words of the Poems by Qian Mufu, Jiang Yingshu, and Wang Zhongzhi [Ciyun fenghe Qian Mufu, Jiang Yingshu, Wang Zhongzhi shi sishou 次韻奉和錢穆父、蔣穎叔、王仲至詩四首].”15 As the poem uses the same rhyme words as “Twin Rocks,” it may be inferred that the poems by Qian Xie 錢協 (zi Mufu, 1043–1097), Jiang Zhiqi 蔣之奇 (zi Yingshu, 1031–1104), and Wang Qinchen 王欽臣 (zi Zhongzhi, 1034–1101) used the same format in response to “Twin Rocks.”16

During Su Shi’s one-year stay in the capital, he frequently socialized with Qian Xie, Jiang Zhiqi, and Wang Qinchen. They were known as the Four Friends of Yuanyou [yuanyou siyou 元祐四友]. Su showed them some, if not all, of the poems he had composed in Yangzhou. He also told them about his dream. In response, Wang Qinchen mentioned his personal experience with Qiuchi during an official mission: “There one can escape the world, just like in Peach Blossom Spring.”17 As we shall see, the idea of Qiuchi as a utopia figures prominently in Su’s poems to Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 [ca. 365–427] after he was exiled to Huizhou.

The exchanges among the foursome must have created a stir in the high society of the capital. Wang Shen 王詵 (zi Jinqing 晉卿, ca. 1048–ca. 1103), an imperial in-law and legendary connoisseur of the finer things in life, heard about it and sent a poem asking to borrow the rock for viewing.18 The request resulted in three long response poems by Su Shi.19 The first is titled “The Qiuchi Rock That I Have Kept Is the Rarest Treasure of All Times. In a Short Poem, Wang Jinqing Tried to Borrow It for Viewing. His Intention Is to Seize It from Me. I Would Not Dare to Refuse to Lend Him the Rock, but I Send Him This Poem First [Pu suocang Qiuchi shi xidai zhi bao ye Wang Jinqing yi xiaoshi jieguan yi zaiyu duo pu bugan bujie ran yi cishi xianzhi 僕所藏仇池石希代之寶也王晉卿以小詩借觀,意在於奪。僕不敢不借,然以此詩先之]”:

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Su Shi acutely observes that Wang Shen’s “intention” in “borrowing” the rock was to “seize” it. His suspicion was not unfounded, for Wang was known to be an unscrupulous borrower.29 Su’s acquisition of the rock as the result of voluntary gift giving contrasts with Wang’s violent intention to “seize” it from him. The hyperbole about the rock as “the rarest treasure of all times” foreshadows Su’s reluctance to part with it and sets the stage for the dramatic conflict between two rock fanciers. Su describes himself as the weaker party and reinforces the idea of his weakness by speaking of himself as an “old man” vis-à-vis Wang as a “noble lord.” This apparent imbalance of power seems to foreshadow Su’s eventual acceding to Wang’s request. At the same time, however, the allusion to intrigue between Qin and Zhao hints at a different outcome, with the weaker triumphing over the stronger.

Su Shi presents his quarrel with Wang Shen as a clash of desires. Paradoxically, the legitimacy of his desire is based on his possession of a miniature mountain against Wang’s erstwhile grand, although only visual, possession of Mount Wudang. The reference to Wang’s exile to Junzhou 均州 (where Mount Wudang sits) is somewhat uncanny, for it was his financial, social, artistic, and literary ties with Su that led to Wang’s exile following the Crow Terrace Poetry Trial [Wutai shi’an 烏臺詩案].30 At the end of the poem, Su mentions two phrases related to lending: no further circulation and an expeditious return. This miserly gesture is a far cry from his usual magniloquence about transcending attachment to physical objects. It also significantly differs from the positions and postures he takes in the next two poems.

Su Shi’s poem to Wang Shen was also sent to Qian Xie, Wang Qinchen, and Jiang Zhiqi. Although none of their response poems are extant, the gist of their arguments is recorded in the extremely lengthy title of Su Shi’s second poem, “Wang Jinqing Showed Me His Poem, Intending to Seize My Ocean Rock. Qian Mufu, Wang Zhongzhi, and Jiang Yingshu All Wrote Poems in the Same Rhyme Scheme, Lords Mu and Zhi Thought That I Should Not Agree. Only Yingshu Thought Otherwise. Today Yingshu Paid Me a Visit, and upon Seeing for Himself the Marvel of the Rock, Regretted What He Had Said. But I Thought Jinqing Was Not the Kind of Person Whose Request Could Be Denied for Long. I Would Give the Rock to Him If He Would Exchange for It a Painting of Two Loose Horses by Han Gan. Therefore, I Wrote Another Poem with the Same Rhyme Words as the Previous One [Wang Jinqing shi shi yu duo haishi Qian Mufu Wang Zhongzhi Jiang Yingshu jie ciyun Mu Zhi ergong yiwei bu kexu du Yingshu buran jinri Yingshu jianfang qindu cishi zhimiao suihui qianyu pu yiwei Jinqing qike zhongbi buyuzhe ru neng yi Han Gan er sanma yizhi zhe gai kexu ye fuci qianyun 王晉卿示詩,欲奪海石,錢穆父、王仲至、蔣穎叔皆次韵。穆、至二公以爲不可許,獨穎叔不然。今日穎叔見訪,親睹此石之妙,遂悔前語。僕以爲晉卿豈可終閉不予者,若能以韓幹二散馬易之者,蓋可許也。復次前韵]”:

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The poem starts with an allusion to the story of Sima Xiangru 司馬相如 [179–118 BCE] and his wife Zhuo Wenjun 卓文君 [175–121 BCE]: “Wenjun had a delicate appearance. The color of her brows was like that of mountains viewed from afar.”34 After the couple eloped, they were in such dire straits that “they had nothing in their house but bare walls on all four sides.”35 As the images of rock, mountain, and belle become mutually referential, a homology emerges: the rock is to Su Shi what Zhuo Wenjun was to Sima Xiangru. However, the husband-wife metaphor soon turns out to be faulty. Despite his forceful declaration to “keep intact my impeccable jade,” Su proves himself only too ready to deal, as he makes a more practical counteroffer of exchanging the rock for a painting.

It is possible that Su Shi was making a genuine exchange proposition as the exchange of aesthetic artifacts was common in the collecting culture of the Northern Song [960–1127]. Trading such artifacts was a more acceptable and elegant form of transaction than buying them with, or selling them for, money. Wang Shen had once exchanged a horse painting by Han Gan 韓幹 [706–783] for a piece of calligraphy in Mi Fu’s 米芾 [1051–1107] collection.36 Su’s counterproposal could also have been a tactic to frustrate Wang, an avid collector of paintings. In his seemingly reasonable proposition of a painting-rock exchange, Su was furtively giving Wang a dose of his own medicine. His message is subtle but clear: Do not take from me what you would not give away yourself. Interestingly enough, in a commemorative essay about Wang’s collection of paintings and calligraphies, written some sixteen years earlier, in 1077, Su made one of his best-known statements about the dangers associated with the possessiveness of the collector and the need to cultivate the ability to enjoy aesthetic objects without being engrossed in or obsessed with them.37 In the present situation, however, both Su and Wang seem to be mired in the sin of possessiveness against which Su had so eloquently warned.

Su Shi’s proposal of trading his rock for a horse painting by Han Gan may have unwittingly brought up the traumatic memory of Wang Shen’s exile to Wudang, already indirectly mentioned in Su’s first poem. In 1069, during a brief visit to the capital, Su was invited by Wang to a meeting (their first one) outside the city. (The fact that the meeting took place outside the capital reflects the politically charged atmosphere at the time.) The next day, Wang sent Su a painting of twelve horses by Han Gan (in six scrolls) and asked him to write a colophon. During the Crow Terrace Poetry Trial, Su’s verse colophon was cited as evidence of his flaunting his talent and attacking those in power for ignoring it.38

If Su Shi’s counteroffer was meant as a ploy, then the ruse certainly worked. The proposition was flatly rejected by Wang Shen, as clearly indicated in the title of Su’s third poem, “I Wanted to Exchange My Rock for a Painting. Jinqing Blamed Me for That. Mufu Wanted to Take Both the Rock and the Painting. Yingshu Wanted to Burn the Painting and Break the Rock. Therefore, I Wrote a Poem with the Same Rhyme Words to Explain the Meaning of My Previous Two Poems [Shi yu yi shi yi hua Jinqing nanzhi Mufu yu jianqu erwu Yingshu yu fenhua suishi nai fuci qianyun bing jie ershi zhi yi 軾欲以石易畫晉卿難之穆父欲兼取二物穎叔欲焚畫碎石乃復次前韻並解二詩之意]”:

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In this third and final poem, Su Shi retreats as a participant in the ongoing wrangling and metamorphoses into an outside commentator, as his attitude toward or, rather, rhetoric about the rock waxes eminently philosophical. In the first poem, he shows the typical mindset of a collector as he defines the rock as the object of his intense desire. Unwilling to part with his treasure and anxious about its safe and timely return, he carefully negotiates the lending terms with Wang Shen. In the second poem, the possessive collector grows more sensible with the proposal of an exchange. In the third poem, the savvy dealer of aesthetic artifacts puts on the mask of a transcendental poet-philosopher, who, in glossing over his previous positions, dazzles his readers with illuminating banalities about detaching one’s mind from physical things.

Entrenched in a series of allusions to Buddhist scriptures and hagiographies, Su Shi’s new position is articulated through the rhetoric of negation, of which the most prominent component is the repeated use of the word “nothing” or “nothingness” [wu ] (in lines 7, 10, and 23). In the opposition between the real and the simulacrum, the rock and the painting lose their value as a miniature mountain and a pictorial representation of real horses, respectively. Su envisions a return to the “real” with him going back to Emei in his homeland and Wang Shen commanding “ten thousand horses” to break the enemy.

In the true Buddhist sense, however, even real mountains and real horses belong to the illusory realm. Indeed, Su Shi’s philosophical negation is more about the folly of human desires [yu ] than the artificiality of physical objects. The metamorphosis of Su’s poetic persona correlates closely with the different contexts in which yu appears in line 30 of each poem. In the first poem, his reluctance to accede to Wang Shen’s request is rooted in his own intense desire to maintain possession of the rock; in the second, his desire is counteracted by the hard-nosed savvy of an art dealer and is reoriented to the more pragmatic realm of material exchange; in the third, the spell of desire is broken, as Su becomes a veritable Buddhist adept. To maintain the philosophical high ground where he has repositioned himself, Su redefines his proposal of a rock-painting exchange as an exercise in observing “the miracle of turning objects around.” The allusion here is to a sermon by Buddha: all living beings “lose themselves in the pursuit of objects” [miji weiwu 迷己為物] as they “are turned around by objects” [weiwu suozhuan 為物所轉]; however, they can be like the Tathāgata if they can “turn the objects around” [zhuanwu 轉物].46 At the same time, as he engages in the high-flown rhetoric of transcending “objects,” Su leaves little doubt that he will keep his rock after all.

Qian Xie, Wang Qinchen, and Jiang Zhiqi were not the only contemporaries involved in the wrangle between Su Shi and Wang Shen. Qin Guan 秦觀 [1049–1100] also joined the fray with “Matching Zizhan’s ‘Twin Rocks’ [He Zizhan ‘Shuangshi’ 和子瞻雙石],” which uses the same rhyme words as Su Shi’s three poems:

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The title of Qin Guan’s poem suggests that he was responding to Su Shi’s “Twin Rocks,” quoted earlier. However, the thematic orientation and the rhyme scheme of Qin’s poem both make it clear that he was matching Su’s three long poems discussed above. The opening four lines of Qin’s poem offer further evidence that Qiuchi was the name given to Su’s green rock. The following description consists of several allusions that could be used in any poem with a rock as its subject. In the last eight lines, Qin Guan, however feebly, tries to admonish Su against possessiveness and urges him to follow the examples of religious sages and worthies. Qin does not seem to be alluding to a specific source in describing Guanyin 觀音 [Avalokiteśvara] giving up his residence at Potala or the three Mao brothers [san Maojun 三茅君] leaving Gouqu 句曲. Qin’s general point is that the truly enlightened do not attach themselves to physical things (not even their homes). Just as Guanyin left Mount Baotuo and the Mao brothers left Mount Gouqu, Su should give up his miniature mountain. According to Qin, Su has a more valuable and enduring asset: his poems.

Qin Guan’s admonition apparently fell on deaf ears. Su Shi did not give up his rock but, rather, kept it with him for the rest of his life. About a year after the Wang Shen episode, Grand Empress Dowager Gao 高太后 [1032–1093] died. With Emperor Zhezong 哲宗 [r. 1085–1100] assuming control of the government, a political reversal was soon underway. In the fourth month of 1094, Su was banished to Yingzhou (which happened to be the origin of his Qiuchi rock). Two months later, he was further demoted by being sent to Huizhou. His journey of exile led him to Hukou 湖口 (in present-day Jiangxi). There, he came across a rock that immediately struck his fancy. He named it Mount Jiuhua in a Gourd Bottle [huzhong Jiuhua 壺中九華] and thought about buying it to provide a “mate” [ou ] for his Qiuchi rock; however, circumstances en route prevented him from clinching the deal.58

Su Shi arrived at Huizhou in the tenth month of 1094. While in Huizhou, he devised a plan to match all the poems by Tao Yuanming.59 These matching poems have many references to Qiuchi. It should be clarified, however, that in these cases, Qiuchi stands for a place to which Su Shi hopes to return or claims to have returned, rather than the green rock given to him by Cheng Zhiyuan. Two significant aspects of Qiuchi should be mentioned here.60 First, it represents a synthesis of the Daoist pursuit of longevity and a return to a simpler way of life, as seen in “Matching Tao’s ‘Reading The Classic of Mountains and Seas.’” In this poem, Su describes himself as totally acclimated to Huizhou. He then presents his exile as a blessing in disguise: “There is a road back to Qiuchi; / How could I have come to Luofu in vain?”61 Mount Luofu 羅浮 (located in Huizhou) was where Ge Hong 葛洪 [283–363] attained immortality through Daoist cultivation and alchemy. Su’s exile to Huizhou is thus transformed into a return to the Daoist realm of the immortals. At the end of the poem, Su declares that he will hold the hands of Ge Hong and Tao Yuanming so that they may return together.

Second, Qiuchi is described as a superior utopia. In a note to “Matching Tao’s ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ [He Tao ‘Taohua yuan’ 和陶桃花源],” Su Shi mentions Wang Qinchen’s comparison of Qiuchi to Peach Blossom Spring. He positively depicts how the inhabitants of Peach Blossom Spring live in harmony with nature, as they rely on the fertile land for tilling and consume fruits and plants associated with longevity, yet the famed utopia still pales in comparison to the ideal of Qiuchi: “They can’t compare with my Qiuchi; / How many more years will pass before I retire?”62 Further, those who fled the Qin for Peach Blossom Spring are not his “true kindred spirits” [zhenqi 真契] because they were still fearful [youwei 有畏].63

Su Shi’s southern exile did not end in Huizhou. In 1097, he was further banished to Hainan Island. Three years later, he was pardoned and allowed to return to the mainland. He arrived at Hukou in the fourth month of 1101. There, he learned that Mount Jiuhua in a Gourd Bottle had been acquired by someone else.64 In a commemorative poem, Su Shi lamented the loss of the rock but took comfort in the thought that he still had his beloved Qiuchi rock: “Fortunately, I have a copper basin as a rock altar, / Where Qiuchi’s green jade keeps sparkling.”65 In its loneliness, the Qiuchi rock shines both literally and figuratively. It remains Su Shi’s most faithful and reliable companion as he readies himself to retire from government service.

3 The Afterlife of Su Shi’s Rock

Su Shi, however, would not enjoy the companionship of his Qiuchi rock for long. He died about three months after he left Hukou. A quarter of a century after his death, the Northern Song capital fell to the Jurchens. Su Shi’s beloved rock, which presumably found its way into the imperial collection, was abandoned, as were other palace treasures. It was later salvaged by Zhao Shiyan 趙師嚴 (zi Youyi 有翼), an imperial clansman. Zhao carried it across the Yangzi River to the south. In 1162, he brought it to Huzhou 湖州, after being appointed its vice prefect [tongpan 通判].66 In Huzhou, he joined the Club for Sincerity and Spontaneity [Zhenshuai hui 真率會] organized by Zeng Xie 曾協 [1119–1173].67 Shen Qingchen 沈清臣 (zi Zhengqing 正卿, jinshi 1157) was also a club member.68 Poetic exchanges among the three were routine.69 Zhao’s rock was the topic of one such exchange. Shen started with a poem that no longer exists, which used the rhyme words of Su Shi’s three long poems. Zeng joined in with “Composed about Zhao Youyi’s Qiuchi Rock, Matching Shen Zhengqing’s Poem Using Academician Su’s Rhyme Words [Fu Zhao Youyi Qiuchi shi ci Shen Zhengqing yong Su Hanlin yun 賦趙有翼仇池石次沈正卿用蘇翰林韻]”:

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Zeng Xie’s description of the physical attributes of Zhao Shiyan’s rock is not detailed enough for us to be certain that this is Su Shi’s original rock, but that hardly matters. What is of interest to us here is Zeng’s perspective on petrophilia as a form of addiction [shi ]. At the beginning of the poem, the contrast between general greed and single-minded addiction to rocks reflects a standard form of apologia in the petrophile’s discourse that has been used since the ninth century.77 In the wake of the fall of the Northern Song, such apologia lost much of its effectiveness. The dynastic catastrophe was attributed to, among other things, Emperor Huizong’s 徽宗 [r. 1100–1126] legendary indulgence in sensual pleasures, as exemplified in the construction of Genyue 艮嶽 Park.78 To decorate the park, fantastic rocks were gathered from all over and transported to the capital at great cost with the infamous Fleet of Flowers and Rocks [huashi gang 花石綱]. When the capital was ransacked, these rocks were all abandoned.79 This national trauma cast a long shadow over the discourse on petrophilia in the Southern Song [1127–1279].

Zeng Xie’s poem alternates between praise and admonition. Su Shi’s petrophilia is at first presented as a lofty passion, reflecting his love of “hills and ravines” and separating him from greedy people in general. Such a lofty passion is problematized, however, in the conspicuous (and seemingly gratuitous) reference to what happened shortly after Su’s death (i.e., the southern invasion of “northern horses” and the abandonment of his rock).

The same shift can be observed in Zeng Xie’s description of Zhao Shiyan’s recovery of the rock. Zhao was a seventh-generation descendant of Zhao Dezhao 趙德昭 [951–979], the second son of Emperor Taizu 太祖 [r. 960–976]. As an imperial clansman, he apparently could not and did not do anything to save the collapsing dynasty. All he managed to do was rescue a piece of rock that was, at the time, associated with the hedonistic lifestyle of an emperor who was held responsible for the dynasty’s downfall. It is true that returning the rock to where it properly belongs – a scholar’s table – is celebrated in Zeng’s poem as a sign of returning to “a time of peace.” At the same time, however, it is clear that, although the rock is “safe and sound,” the Song empire is by no means intact, having lost its northern territories to the Jurchens. Furthermore, the peace enjoyed by the Southern Song was extremely fragile. For example, in the ninth month of 1161 (about a year before Zeng Xie formed the Club of Sincerity and Spontaneity), Wanyan Liang 完顏亮 [1122–1161] led an army of 600,000 to invade and conquer the Southern Song. For a moment, the threat of another Jingkang 靖康 disaster loomed large. Although the Jurchen invasion soon ended in failure, the memory of this ominous event not long before must have been fresh in Zeng’s mind when he wrote about Zhao’s rock.

There is also a flip side to Zeng Xie’s praise of Zhao Shiyan for his lack of “addictive desire” for otherworldly possessions and his “heavenly impulse” that sets him apart from the common run of humanity. The allusion here is to the Zhuangzi 莊子: “When a man’s addictive desires are deep, his heavenly impulse is shallow.”80 However, as Zeng emphatically asserts, a “love of curiosities” is ultimately not different from an “addiction to profit,” which are both manifestations of partiality. The distinction between “the greedy man” and “the rock addict” at the beginning of the poem dissolves at the end. In the last couplet, Zeng Xie seems to offer a moral compromise: Zhao could view the rock for aesthetic pleasure but should not try to keep it permanently.

Zeng Xie wrote from the perspective of an observer of petrophilia. There is no evidence that he was a rock lover himself. The poems of Zeng Ji 曾幾 [1085–1166] are close to a petrophile’s confession. By his own account, Zeng’s petrophilia was nothing short of an obsession. His extensive rock collection came from all corners of the country. Among them was a piece of Ying rock (i.e., the same type as Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock), which prompted Shen Zuozhe 沈作喆 (zi Mingyuan 明遠, jinshi 1135) to compose a poem that used the same rhyme words as Su Shi’s three long poems.81 In that poem, Shen apparently questioned Zeng’s moral and philosophical wisdom as a rock collector. In response, Zeng wrote two poems. The first is titled “Instructor Shen Mingyuan Used the Rhyme Words of Dongpo’s Poems about His Qiuchi Rock to Write about the Ying Rock That I Have Kept. I Used the Same Rhyme Words in My Poem [Shen Mingyuan jiaoshou yong Dongpo Qiuchi shi yun fu yu suo xu Yingshi ci qi yun 沈明遠教授用東坡仇池石韻賦予所蓄英石次其韻]”:82

IMG000008
IMG000008

The exact date of Zeng Ji’s poem is hard to determine. Sometime around 1059, Shen Zuozhe was appointed instructor of the prefectural School of Confucianism [Ruxue jiaoshou 儒學教授], also known as master of erudition [guangwen xiansheng 廣文先生] (or simply guangwen 廣文, as used in Zeng’s poem). Based on this information, Bai Xiaoping 白曉萍 dates the poem to approximately the same time.87 Internal evidence in Zeng’s response poems suggests that they were probably written between the sixth month of 1060, when he moved from Suzhou 蘇州 to Shaoxing 紹興 (where his eldest son was the vice prefect), and the tenth month of the following year, when he fled to Taizhou 台州 to seek refuge from the advancing Jurchen army. In other words, it was written during his sixteen-month stay in Shaoxing (around the same time as Zeng Xie wrote about Zhao Shiyan’s Qiuchi rock).

The first eight lines of the poem describe how the ruthless quarrying to satisfy the craze for Ying rocks devastated the natural environment in the area. In Zeng Xie’s poetic fancy, even the stream goddess knits her eyebrows in displeasure. This dark side of petrophilia had been exposed by earlier Song poets. For example, Wei Xiang 韋驤 [1033–1105] described, in vivid detail, how commercial quarriers continuously cleaved rocks from a mountain until it became totally bare.88 Still, Zeng’s description is remarkable in that it appears in a poem about his own love of rocks and thereby implicates himself. However, his primary regret is not so much the destruction of nature as it is the general poor quality of rocks that remained in the area.

The last eight lines of Zeng Xie’s poem should be understood as a dialogue. In this dialogue, Shen Zuozhe voices his objection to Zeng’s possessive desire as a rock collector, rather than his petrophilia. Zeng already had access to a grand mountain (i.e., Guiji 會稽 Mountain near Shaoxing) that occupied a “wooded valley,” but he still “annexed” a miniature mountain in the form of a rock. This, in Shen’s view, reveals a possessive desire that borders on excessive. Zeng’s collection was indeed quite extensive. In addition to rocks from Yingzhou,89 it included those from Taihu 太湖,90 Lingbi 靈壁,91 Daozhou 道州,92 Nanxiong 南雄,93 and Kunshan 崑山.94 Shen must have viewed at least some of Zeng’s impressive collection of rocks when he wrote about the Ying rock. Some, if not all, of those rocks came into Zeng’s possession before this particular piece of Ying rock. The Kun rock, for example, was presented to him by Li Geng 李庚 [jinshi 1135] in 1155.95 Zeng does not explain why he would maintain such a large collection. Instead, he shifts the argument by asserting that his rocks provide constant companionship, which is lacking in capricious human relations.

In addition to the devastation of the natural environment from the process of harvesting the rocks, transporting them required a tremendous amount of human labor. This particular problematic aspect of petrophilia is largely ignored in Zeng Ji’s first poem, but it conspicuously appears in his second, “Matching the Poem with the Rhyme ‘Lü’ [Ci ‘lü’ zi yun 次綠字韻]”:

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Citation: Journal of Chinese Humanities 7, 3 (2021) ; 10.1163/23521341-12340119

The poem relates Zeng’s petrophilia to the circumstances of his life. As old age pressed upon him, mountain climbing was no longer viable. However, if he could not go to the mountain, then the mountain had to come to him; setting up and viewing fantastic rocks indoors provided an experience equivalent to roaming around the mountains. Indeed, his love of rocks was an extension of his love of the mountains: “With my love of mountains already an obsession, / My love of rocks has turned into another obsession.”99 However, satisfying his obsession required considerable labor, not only in harvesting but also in transporting the rock. Whereas his first poem exposes the negative side of quarrying, this one problematizes rock transportation.

There is a profound irony in the fact that Zeng Ji’s achievement of “quiet leisure” relied on the work of a “sturdy runner” in transporting the rock over a great distance from Lingnan 嶺南 to his “wilderness house.” Instead of glibly describing, as he did in the first poem, his rock as “fly[ing] over the great rivers and valleys,” here he lets his moral anxiety bubble to the surface in confessing his “deep shame” about the “heavy transportation” of the rock. In the end, he could find no moral solution other than fantasizing, somewhat flippantly, about divine assistance. The last couplet in the poem alludes to the following legend. The First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇 [r. 221–210 BCE] wanted to cross the ocean to see where the sun rose, so he built a rock bridge, whose columns were erected by the ocean god. The emperor was also helped by a magician, who could drive rocks into the sea. If the rocks did not move fast enough, the magician would whip them.100

In Zeng Ji’s first poem, the rock is described as a gift from an “old friend,” who happened to be the prefect of Yingzhou. In the present poem, it becomes clear that it was Zeng who repeatedly wrote letters of request. Indeed, in his retirement, Zeng Ji frequently sent such letters: “In my idle life, I have written hundreds of letters, / All for nothing but a piece of rock.”101 These letters were often addressed to ranking officials of regions where the rocks were mined – a fact that he frequently mentioned in either the titles or the texts of his poems. In addition to the Ying rock that prompted Shen Zuozhe’s poem, there is mention of four “fantastic rocks” [guaishi 怪石] that were sent by a prefect [junshou 郡守] of Nanxiong and a Kun rock that was obtained from the magistrate [zai ] of Kunshan. Zeng was famed for his impeccable moral integrity in his long government service: “His career brought him to Lingnan thrice, and yet there was not a single southern curiosity in his house.”102 In his later years, however, his scruples seem to have given way to his petrophilia.

4 Concluding Remarks

I conclude by summarizing the shifting meanings of Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock in Song poetry. Initially, in Yangzhou, for unknown reasons, the rock reminded Su Shi of a strange dream about Qiuchi. The interpretation of that dream was a collaborative process. Zhao Lingzhi connected the dream to Du Fu’s poetic imaging of Mount Qiuchi as a Daoist realm of retreat. By naming the rock Qiuchi, Su turned it into an emblem of his dream world and what that world represented.

In the capital city Bianjing 汴京, Su Shi’s rock became entwined in the urbane exchanges in high society, where tensions occasionally flared. The rock turned into a transferable and tradable item, even as Su portrayed it as his inseparable companion and as a miniature replica of his native land to which Su longed to return. In the back and forth between Su and his friends, the rock’s connection to the dream about Qiuchi was obscured: Qiuchi was merely one of several sacred Daoist mountains about which the rock reminded Su.

During Su Shi’s exile to the far south, the idea of Qiuchi seeped into his poetic engagement with Tao Yuanming. Whereas Wang Qinchen had compared Qiuchi to Peach Blossom Spring in interpreting Su’s dream, Su transformed Qiuchi into a superior alternative to Tao Yuanming’s utopia. Su’s desire to acquire a rock from Hukou as a companion for his Qiuchi rock was indicative of both his uncontrollable petrophilia and his loneliness in exile.

In matching Su Shi’s three long poems, Song poets were preoccupied with the issue of the desire for material things. Qin Guan simultaneously critiqued Su’s possessiveness and praised his poetry. In the wake of the collapse of the Northern Song (which was attributed in part to the construction of Genyue Park, for which fantastic rocks were harvested and transported from all over the country), there was a heightened wariness about petrophilia, even among the most ardent rock lovers.103 Zeng Xie’s ostensible celebration of Zhao Shiyan’s repossession of Su Shi’s Qiuchi rock refuted a fundamental premise of the rock fancier’s discourse, namely that petrophilia is a nobler passion than common greed. Zeng Xie equated petrophilia with attachment to more vulgar worldly things. In a semiconfessional mode, Zeng Ji exposed the serious consequences of indulging in petrophilia. In addition to displaying a lack of wisdom at the philosophical level, such indulgence caused grave harm to the natural environment and compromised the moral integrity of the rock lover.

Acknowledgments

I thank Yue Zhang for inviting me to contribute an essay to this special issue of Journal of Chinese Humanities and guiding me through the submission process. I am also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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1

Yingzhou was under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Circuit of Guangnan 廣南東路, of which Cheng Zhiyuan had been the judicial commissioner [tixing 提刑].

2

To avoid confusion with 英州, I romanize 潁州 as Yǐngzhou. Su Shi’s half-year stint as prefect of Yǐngzhou started in the intercalary eighth month of 1091.

3

Su Shi 蘇軾, Su Shi quanji jiaozhu 蘇軾全集校注 [Collations and Annotations on the Complete Works of Su Shi], annot. Zhang Zhilie 張志烈, Ma Defu 馬德富, and Zhou Yukai 周裕鍇 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe, 2010), 6:35.3971–72.

4

Peng Dingqiu 彭定求 et al., coll., Quan Tang shi 全唐詩 [Complete Poetry of the Tang Dynasty] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1960), 225.2419.

5

Qiu Zhao’ao 仇兆鳌, Du shi xiangzhu 杜詩詳註 [Detailed Annotations on Poems of Du Fu] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979), 7.584.

6

This is the cave of Mount Wangwu 王屋 (in present-day Henan), one of the Ten Great Grotto-Heavens [shida dongtian 十大洞天]. See Zhang Junfang 張君房, Yunji qiqian 雲笈七籤 [Cloudy Satchel with Seven Bamboo Markers], ed. Li Yongsheng 李永晟 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2003), 27.609.

7

See, e.g., Ge Lifang 葛立方, “Yunyu yangqiu 韻語陽秋 [Comments on Poetry],” in Lidai shihua 歷代詩話 [Remarks on Poetry from Various Dynasties], comp. He Wenhuan 何文煥 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1981), 13.583; Rolf A. Stein, World in Miniature: Container Gardens and Dwellings in Far Eastern Religious Thought, trans. Phyllis Brooks (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).

8

Qiuchi does not belong in the Seventy-two Blessed Sites in Zhang, Yunji qiqian, 27.618–31. For a narrative collection of traditional sources on Qiuchi, see Li Zuhuan 李祖桓, Qiuchiguo zhi