Record of Stone Bell Mountain

by Su Shi

The Water Classic says: ``At the mouth of [Lake] Pengli there is a Stone Bell Mountain.'' Li [Dao]yuan held that ``below it, near a deep pool, faint breezes drum up waves, and water and rocks striking one another toll like huge bells.'' Others have often doubted this claim. Today, if one takes a bell or a lithophone and places it into the water, even if these is great wind and waves, he cannot make it ring. How much the less, then, for [common] rocks? It was not until the time of Li Bo [fl. early 9th century] of the Tang that someone searched for a surviving trace of the phenomenon. Upon finding a pair of rocks by the bank of a pool, he ``knocked them together and listened. Their southern tone was mellow and muted; their northern timbre was clear and shrill. When the clang ceased, its resonance mounted; the remnant notes then gradually came to rest.'' Li Bo then held that he had found the ``stone bells.'' I am, however, especially doubtful of this claim. The clanking sounds made by rocks is the same everywhere. And yet, this place alone is named after a bell. Why, indeed, is that?

On Dingchou day of the sixth lunar month in the seventh year of the Prime Abundance [Yuanfeng] period (14 July 1084), I was traveling by boat from Qi'an to Linru. My oldest son [Su] Mai was just about to leave for Dexing [township] in Rao [county] to take up the post of Pacificator (wei). Since I accompanied him as far as Hukou, I was able to observe the so-called stone bells. A monk from a [nearby] monastery dispatched an apprentice, who carried an ax, to select one or two of the scatttered rocks and knock them [with the ax], upon which they would make a ``gong-gong''-like sound. I laughed just as I had done before, still not believing the legend.

That evening, the moon was bright. Alone with Mai, I rode a little boat to the base of a steep precipice. The huge rocks on our flank stood a thousand chi high. They looked like fierce beasts and weird goblins, lurking in a ghastly manner and getting ready to attack us. When the roosting falcons on the mountain heard our voices they, too, flew off in fright, cawing and crying in the cloudy empyrean. Further, there was something [that sounded] like an old man coughing and lauhging in a mountain ravine. Someone said: ``That is a white stork,'' I was shaking with fear and about to turn back, when out from the surface of the water rang a loud noise that gonged and bonged like bells and drums unceasing in their clamor. The boatman became greatly alarmed. I carefully investigated it, only to discover that everywhere below the mountain were rocky caves and fissures, who knows how deep. Gentle waves were pouring into them, and their shaking and seething and chopping and knocking, were making this going and bonging. When our boat on its return reached a point between the two mountains, and we were about to enter the mouth of the inlet, [I saw that] in the middle of the channel was a huge rock that could seat a hundred people. It was hollow in the center with numerous apertures, which, as they swallowed and spat with the wind and water, made a bumping and thumping and clashing and bashing that echoed with the earlier going and bonging. It seemed as if music were being played. Thereupon, I laughed and said to Mai: ``Do you recognize it? The going and bonging are the Wuyi bells of King Jing of Zhou; the bumping and thumping and clashing and bashing are the song-bells of Wei Zhuangzi. The ancients have not cheated us!''

Is it acceptable for someone who has not personally seen or heard something to have decided views on whether or not it exists? Li [Dao]yuan probably saw and heard the same things I did, yet he did not describe them in detail. Gentlemen-officials have always been unwilling to take a small boat and moor it beneath the steep precipice at night. Thus, none was able to find out [about the bells]. And, altough the fishermen and boatmen knew about them, they were unable to describe them [in writing]. This is the reason that [such a record] has not been passed down through the generations. As it turns out, imbeciles sought the answer by using axes to beat and strike the rocks. Then they held they had found out the truth of the matter. Because of this I have made a record of these events, for the most part to sigh over Li [Dao]yuan's naivete and to laugh at Li Bo's shallowness.

Trans. James M Hargett, On the Road in Twelfth Century China, pp. 46--47