The writing brush, ink stick, paper and ink slab
(stone) are the four traditional implements and materials for writing
and painting in China. These four stationery items are called “Four
Treasures of the Study” in China.
Each of the four items is represented by its best, the Xuan Paper,
Hui ink stick, Hu brush and Duan ink slab are highly valued by Chinese.
It is mainly used for practicing Chinese calligraphy and painting.
From the Tang Dynasty, Xuan paper became the tribute paper for the
royal court. It is also known by Westerners as the rice paper. Actually
it is not made from rice but from the bark of wingceltis mixed with
rice straw. Xuan paper is produced in Jingxian County, Anhui Province.
It got its name due to the producing area which belonged to Xuanzhou
Prefecture in ancient times. It is very complicated to make Xuan
paper. It involves 18 processes and almost 100 operations and the
whole procedure lasts almost one year. Xuan Paper was regarded as
the king of paper and is supposed to last 1,000 years. It is white
as alabaster, soft and firm, resistant to aging and worms. It can
well absorb the ink but it is not rough. So it is welcomed by people.
Writing brush has such a long history that
prehistoric painted pottery, inscriptions on oracle bones, bamboo
slips and silks are all writing materials for brush. Some ancient
writing brushes were also excavated in the graves of the Spring
and Autumn Period, the Warring States, the Qin and Han Dynasties.
In the Tang and Song Dynasties, Xuanzhou became the national writing-brush-producing
center, whose products were called "Xuan brush" was the
best in quality in Xuanzhou. After the Yuan Dynasty the brush-producing
industry of Huzhou boomed, and "Hu brush" replaced "Xuan
brush". The characteristics of "Hu brush" were sharp,
neat, round and resilient.
The Hu brush is made of the hairs of the goat, hare and yellow weasel
which are soft and resilient. Dipped in the black Chinese ink, the
Hu brush may follow the maneuvers of writer’s hand to produce a
variety of strokes-dark or light, wet and solid or half dry and
hollow for different effects in the writing or painting. High quality
Hu brush has four characters such as, a sharp tip, neat hair arrangement,
rounded shape and great resilience. The making process has over
70 steps of work. To sort of the material is rather complicated.
According to the thickness, length, and softness of the hair they
would be classified and to make different functioned brush. The
sticks for the brush are made of high quality bamboo or precious
wood usually decorated with carvings. Hu brush was renowned as the
king of writing brush in China.
The Hui Ink Stick
Traditionally Chinese used ink stick to produce ink to write. When
produce ink people pour some water on the ink stone and rub the
ink stick round and round. When the water becomes thick and black
enough it is ready for writing. At the beginning people used graphite
for writing. Later people invented the ink stick. It was made of
pine or tung soot. In the Ming Dynasty ink sticks were made of pine
soot with pork lard and vegetable oil. The best ink sticks were
made in Shexian County, Anhui Province. They were called Hui ink
sticks because Shexian was named Huizhou in the Song Dynasty. Hui
ink sticks also contain musk, borneol and mineral pigments that
made the ink stick keep its color for a long period and smell aromatic.
The ink stick became an art later in the Qing Dynasty. They were
always made into different shapes and decorated with pictures and
poems. Some of them were even as valuable as gold. A good ink stick
is finely grained and has an even and smooth texture. It is firm
and not sticky. It is pure, solid black in color, without murkiness
The Duan Ink Stone
Ink stone was used to rub ink stick to produce ink. Chinese ink
stone from the Han Dynasty was unearthed to show that this utensil
for ink making has been in use for over 2,000 years. Duan ink stone
is most famous with the history of 1,500 years. The name of Duan
ink stone is due to its producing place Duanxi of Zhaoqing, Guangdong
Province. It is regarded as the valuable item in the scholar’s study.
Duan Ink stone has fine grains, smooth texture, beautiful color,
and artistic carving design. Duan ink stone can grind ink fairly
fast, wet the hair of the writing brush evenly, and keep the left-over
Ancient tools for calligraphy and painting included not only brush,
ink stick, paper and ink stone, but also some accessories such as
penholder, brush pot, ink box, paperweight, seal, and seal box.
The raw materials of these tools were pottery, porcelain, copper,
iron, lacquer, wood, bamboo, stone, jade, jadeite, agate and coral.
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