Bai Juyi and the Eastern Philosophy of Rock Appreciation

Bai Juyi was a prominent Chinese poet, essayist, and statesman who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Born in 772 AD, he became one of the most influential poets of his time, known for his accessible and emotionally expressive verse.

Apart from his literary achievements, Bai Juyi is also remembered for his love and appreciation of rocks. The story of Bai Juyi and his fondness for rocks began when he encountered a pair of oddly shaped rocks on the shore of Lake Tai in Jiangsu Province, China. Struck by their unusual appearance, twisted angles, and perforations, Bai Juyi had the rocks brought back to his home in Xu Zhu. He then wrote a poem about them titled “A Pair of Rocks,” in which he acknowledged that the rocks were not conventionally beautiful but appreciated them for their unique qualities.

Bai Juyi’s interest in rocks was rooted in the Daoist tradition, which cherishes nature and its manifestations. The holes, perforations, and indentations in the rocks represented the patient, mighty forces of the universe, which humans should respect, admire, and attempt to find harmony with. These ancient rocks also served as a consolation for the aging Bai Juyi, who felt excluded from the world of younger people.

Thanks to Bai Juyi’s enthusiasm and poetic talent, a wave of interest in rocks followed. This eventually led to a remarkable Eastern tradition of philosophical rock appreciation, which continued to flourish in Chinese culture. The decorative stones, known as “Gongshi” or “Spirit Stones,” were admired as evidence of the Qi energy that animates nature and the human body alike. Cultured individuals were expected to have an appreciation for rocks, valuing them as highly as paintings or calligraphic scrolls. Bai Juyi’s love for rocks played an essential role in shaping this unique cultural practice.

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