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The Four Treasures of the Study

The name "Four Treasures" first originated from southern and northern dynasties. They are also referred to as "four treasures of the study" and are the most fundamental writing instruments for calligraphers and brush painting artists in ancient China. Its four elements, the Ink, the Ink Stone, the writing brush and the paper had been widely employed by scholars throughout the period of ancient Chinese history.


Ink Sticks are simply types of solid ink traditionally used for writing or painting. The production of ink takes great consideration over how the fine materials are processed, which primarily are powders and animal glue and sometimes incense or medicinal scents are added. The finest ink can be extremely delicate and mellow. When making ink, ink sticks have to be continuously grounded against the ink stones, whilst mixing it with a small quantity of water, until it produces a dark liquid. Then it can be applied to the paper with a writing brush. Although the impression is that ink sticks are too simple, it proved to be essential in the ancient writing and helped to connect all four treasured elements into a single and unified purpose. Only with the help of this original tool, the wonderful artistic mood of Chinese calligraphy and paintings can be achieved.


Ink Stone, also called ink slab, is Chinese in origin and considered as key to producing the desired type of ink. It has an unsmooth area for grinding the ink stick into powder and an ink well where the powdered ink is mixed with water in order to create liquid ink. The material of ink stones vary in different parts of China, such as pottery, brick, metal, lacquer ware, porcelain and the most common natural stones. Since ink stones are in high demand all over China, so many provinces boast of their own speciality. The four most famous ink stones in China are Duan ink stones produced in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province, Wei ink stones from Jiangxi Province, Lu ink stones made from Shandong Province and Chengni ink stones from Shanxi Province. The finest ink stones pay particular attention to greasy quality, pure colour, surface smoothness and non-absorbency.


Writing Brush, The history of the writing brush can be traced back to about 2000 years ago. Although there is no conclusion that the writing brush started before western zhou, there are indications of paintbrushing from prehistoric painted pottery patterns and various Shang dynasty relics. It is commonly known that the writing brush has been widely used to write on bamboo slips and silk in Eastern Zhou. Many provinces in China produce writing brushes. Depending on the origin and craftsmanship, two different types of brush exist; "Hu Brush" and "Xiang Brush". Modern raw materials of brush are primarily white goat hair, weasel tail hair, black rabbit hair and a combination of two kinds of animal hair. It is said that these hairs can bring good luck during the imperial examiniation period. Brushes can also be classified into soft, mixed and hard ones. The most famous brushes are Hubi, which have been highly sought after since Ming dynasty.


The Paper, As one of the four great inventions of ancient China, the paper has contributed immeasurably to Chinese history. The paper used for calligraphy and brush painting is a particular form of paper, known as Xuanzhi, which is very soft, fine-textured and has high tensile strength and longevity. The quality of the paper mainly depends on the processing methods. It can be unprocessed, half processed or fully processed. The unprocessed paper is very absorbent and quite malleable, whereas the fully processed papers are much more resistant to absorption and are stiffer.