The Landscape of Words
Stone Inscriptions from Early and Medieval China
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.
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.
About the Author
"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
"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
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