China’s Four Treasures of the Study

a complete set of Chinese stationery

 

The “Four Treasures of the Study” 文房四宝 wén fáng sì bǎo, the brush 笔 , ink 墨 mò  ink stone yàn, and the paper itself 纸 zhǐ, are fundamental to Chinese art and culture, and have represented China internationally since the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco where Xuan paper and Huimo Ink both won awards, and in recent times in the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.

Four Teasures Set with water container
Four Treasures Set with water container
  • Paper production in China started around 2,000 years ago and matured into the fine Xuan paper over 1,000 years ago.  See Chinese Xuan 1,000 year old Truth paper and Xuan paper making – a Unesco intangible heritage.
  • Chinese brushes are very particular with thick brush body and fine point allowing the artist to combine a variety of detail strokes and wide brushing.  Xuan brushes are often mentioned with Xuan paper as one of the most famous and expensive brush types in China, they were invented around 2,000 years ago and were sent as tribute to the imperial courts since the Tang dynasty.
  • Chinese ink sticks have been shown from archeology to date back over 2,000 years, to at least 256BC. Huīmò (徽墨) is one of the most famous inks, from Shexian (歙县) in Anhui province (安徽). These inks may be perfumed with musk, clove, tree oils and other Chinese medicinal aromatics.
  • Inkstones are often a precious work of art in their own right, richly carved by highly trained sculptors.  Shexian inkstones (歙砚 Shèyàn) have been produced since the Tang Dynasty. The stone has a black color and may also displays a variety of gold-like markings.

Of course a complete Chinese study includes much more than these four items and a full set would include other “Treasures” and tools of the scholar such as the brush-hanger (笔挂), paperweights (镇纸), a set of seals (圖章)  – still used today by artists to stamp their painting with their own identification mark, and items such as the water droppers (水滴) and pots seen in the picture.

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    Comments: 8

    1. […] “Modern” Chinese ink has been shown from archeology to date back over 2,000 years, to at least 256BC. Huīmò (徽墨) is one of the most famous inks, from Shexian (歙县) in Anhui province (安徽). These inks, scented with aromatic tree oils and decoratively finished, are regarded as one of China’s Four Treasures of the Study. […]

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