The Landscape of Words
Stone Inscriptions from Early and Medieval China
- PUBLISHED: May 2008
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Art History / Asian Art, Visual Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 424 Pages, 7 x 10 in
- ISBN: 9780295987286
Winner of the Levenson Prize sponsored by the Association for Asian Studies
Shortlisted for the 2009 ICAS Book Award
Silk and bamboo are easily ruined,
But metal and stone are hard to destroy.
Placed on a high mountain
[The writing] will be passed down without limit.
- from Stone Eulogy, Mount Tie
To look at the mountains is like gazing at a painting, and roaming in the mountains is like reading history.
- Chen Yuanlong (1652-1736), commentary on inscriptions in and near Longyin Cave, Guilin
In this fascinating and meticulously researched book on the Chinese landscape as a medium for literary inscription, Robert E. Harrist Jr. focuses on the period prior to the eighth century C.E. to demonstrate that the significance of inscriptions on stone embedded in nature depends on the interaction of words with topography. Visitors do not simply climb inscribed mountains, they read them, as the medium of the written word has transformed geological formations into landscapes of ideological and religious significance.
The widespread use of stone as a medium for writing did not begin in China until around the first century C.E. - later than in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome - but by the twentieth century, more inscriptions had been carved in natural stone in China than anywhere else in the world. The Landscape of Words is the first study in a Western language devoted to these texts, moya or moya shike, carved into the natural terrain on granite boulders and cliffs at thousands of sites of historic or scenic interest. Like the writing system itself, moya are one of the distinguishing features of Chinese civilization. Carved in large, bold characters, they constitute a vast repository of texts produced continuously for more than two thousand years and are an important form of public art.
Harrist draws on insights from the fields of art history, social and political history, literature, and religion to present detailed case studies of important moya sites, such as the Stone Gate tunnel in Shaanxi and Cloud Peak Mountain, Mount Tie, and Mount Tai in Shangdong. The inscriptions analyzed represent a range of literary genres and content, including poetry, Buddhist sutras, records of imperial rituals, and commemorations of virtuous conduct in public life.
Authors & Contributors
Robert E. Harrist Jr. is the Jane and Leopold Swergold Professor of Chinese Art History at Columbia University. He is the author of Power and Virtue: The Horse in Chinese Art and Painting and Private Life in Eleventh-Century China: Mountain Villa by Li Gonglin and co-author of The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection.
Note to the Reader
Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
Introduction: Writing on the Bones of the Earth
Chapter One. Public Works and Public Writing at the Stone Gate
Chapter Two. Roaming with Immortals on Cloud Peak Mountain
Chapter Three. The Virtual Stele on Mount Tie and the Merits of Scale
Chapter Four. Imperial Writing and the Ascent of Mount Tai
Chapter Five. Postscript
Glossary of Chinese Characters
His attention to detail and command of the broad conceptual issues results in a skillful work of modern art historical scholarship. . . . The Landscape of Words rings with the emotions evoked by the overwhelming vistas and scale of the mountain sites and the author's sympathetic response to the tradition of making and appreciating moya.- Journal of Asian Studies
The book deserves praise for expanding interdisciplinary inquiries into the history of writing, the art of calligraphy, religious beliefs, travel, and the perception of landscape in early and medieval China, and for developing insights that scholars from many fields will be eager to build on. . . . Harrist's lucid writing, masterful narrative, and historical sensibility take readers on a ride filled with surprises and inspired moments.- Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies
This stunning, interdisciplinary work opens windows into centuries of Chinese elite culture. . . . All who study Chinese religions will find this meticulously researched work rewarding.- Religious Studies Review
This review cannot hope to convey the richness of Harrist's book. Like the makers of these . . . inscriptions, the author chose his locations and his subjects with care and carved his words and ideas with finesse. . . . Harrist has compassed the vast field of secondary scholarship on the economic, political, religions, and social histories of medieval China, and his thinking is informed by Western theoretical writings about place, tradition, and ritual. His labor has paid off in a nuanced and revelatory work.- Art Bulletin
Robert E. Harrist's The Landscape of Words is one of the most important books on traditional China published in recent years. . . . Given its ground-breaking importance, I predict [it] will also endure for many years to come as essential reading for China scholars and anyone interested in stone inscriptions.- Journal of Chinese Religions
Readers will appreciate the author's careful scholarship, extensive translations of inscriptions and other texts, and accomplished writing style, as well as the helpful maps, diagrams and captions supplied with measurements and dates. The inclusion of the 'Chinese Texts' appendix is especially important . . . the breadth and depth of content in Harrist's book should make it a valuable resource for teaching and reference, and a lasting contribution to the field of Chinese art history and visual culture.- Orientations
This meticulously researched book . . . is the first study in a Western language devoted to . . . moya or moya shike, carved into the natural terrain on granite boulders and cliffs at thousands of sites of historic or scenic interest.- Asian Art
Harrist virtually reconstructs a history of stone inscriptions from Han to Tang, with a postscript that extends coverage beyond the post-Tang era to modern times. Recommended.- Choice
The massive scale and ubiquity with which the Chinese have inscribed words onto the physical landscape is perhaps unparalleled by any other culture. Robert Harrist's book is the most in—depth study of this curious cultural phenomenon and a remarkable accomplishment. It explores alternative ways of explaining the 'magic' of words in topographic settings and the enduring appeal of calligraphy in Chinese culture.- Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, Harvard University
Relying on the most up—to—date scholarship in China and current methodologies in the West, as well as his own arduous explorations of remote mountain sites, Harrist has produced a book that joins the best of Sinological tradition with a discriminating art—historical sensibility.- Amy McNair, University of Kansas