Chinese Stone Collecting
Mr. Liu Jian Jun of Shanghai wrote to Ms. Chiara Padrini of the President of Italian National College of Bonsai and Suiseki Ibstructors (IBS) and explained current Chinese stone collecting.
In the Shanghai association, they have close to 800 members and there are a total of over 5,000 serious collectors in Shanghai alone. The total stone collection population in China is over 5 million and increasing 15-20% each year.
In China, none of the collected stones are found by the actual collectors. They are found by what they call "stone farmers". These people live around stone collection areas and finding stones is their primary profession. They sell the stones to local traders or known collectors, or collectors buy the stones from local people they know. In many cases, it will take a stone farmer an entire year to find a single good piece and perhaps a few medium quality stones. But the income received from these stones is still better than the rest of the stone farmerís other income. Considering that the final selling price of many stones is in the thousands of dollars, this is not surprising. This is also one of the reasons Chinese collectors can have very high quality stones.
Most of Mr. Liuís water stones are not found in small streams, they are found from big rivers where professional divers get them from 30-40 meters under the water. Only these big rivers with fast currents will produce the high quality stones with good shapes that collectors desire. This process of the water wearing away and shaping the stones is called "water sculpture" in China.
Mr. Liu states that all Chinese stones are "100% natural in shape and nature". (This is a change from many ancient Chinese stones that were drilled and enhanced to balance the perforated, convoluted nature of the stones.) Mr. Liu goes on to say that "Chinese collectors are very strict on this [maintaining natural stones]. Some new collectors in the West sometimes cut the bottom of the stone. In China, this kind of stone will be graded as "Bonsai" stone and only has very low value both for the collection and for the market. Normally 10% of the price compared with natural stone. Chinese collectors pay great attention to the shape, quality and color of the stones they collect."
Find out more and view some of the wonderful stones currently on display at exhibitions in Shanghai and Shen Zhen by going to Ms. Padriniís site at http://www.padrini.it/liuingl.htm
NOTES: I think it is interesting that most Chinese stone collectors do not collect their own stones. I know that in the Western world, Korea, and Japan there are also collectors who do this, but I think the majority of collectors (outside of China apparently) enjoy the search for the stones as well as simply displaying them. I have a book from Taiwan that indicates that they also enjoy the search, as well as preparing the stones for display.
Related to the above comment, I would like to say a few words about carving stands. Without much "first-hand" knowledge, it seems that many Western collectors enjoy making the "daiza" or carved wooden stands for display of their stones. To many of us this is an essential part of the final suiseki or viewing stone and must be prepared to fully complement the stone. If we do not carve the stands ourselves, we locate a professional craftsman who will create one to our specifications. My impression is that this is considered to be a negligible aspect of the art in most of the Eastern world today. Although many of the Chinese stands are very elaborate and obviously take a great amount of effort to create, there is no mention of the them in Eastern literature, unless the stand happens to be very old. Perhaps this is just a perception due to the lack of information.
Padrini, Chiara, Notes by Liu, http://www.padrini.it/liuingl.htm/viaggio_en.htm/notes.htm/liuingl.htm/viaggio_en.htm/liuingl.htm/notes.htm, 2001
Liu, Jian Jun, International Master Stone Collectors Invitation and Exhibition, http://www.padrini.it/liuingl.htm/viaggio_en.htm/notes.htm/liuingl.htm/viaggio_en.htm/liuingl.htm/notes.htm/viaggio_en.htm, 2001