Chinese Four Treasures of Study


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.
Xuan Paper
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 thatfour treasures of Chinese study, writing brush , ink, paper, ink stone 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 or roughness.
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 ink well.
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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