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Traditional Art - The Four Treasures of the Study

Four Treasures

The Four Treasures of the Study

Hu brushes, Hui inksticks, Xuan paper and Duan inkstones are popularly known as the "four treasures of the study" in China. They are essential tools for calligraphers and painters.

Brush-making began as early as the 3rd century BC in Shanlian town in Zhejiang Province. In ancient times, the town belonged to the Hu Prefecture, which gave its name to the Hu brush.

Most Hu brushes are made from the hair of the Hu goat, which gives a fine smooth tip. They also can be made from weasel, rabbit or sable hair, or a mixture of rabbit and goat hair. They are classified into four categories according to the type of raw material: Yanghao, Langhao, Zihao and Jianhao.

Shexian, Xiuning and Tunxi counties in Anhui Province were already famous for their inksticks in the late Tang Dynasty. It was said the ink "took to paper like paint and lasted one thousand years".

Anhui's inksticks are made of the ashes of burnt green pine from Huangshan Mountain, mixed with a kind of glue. The most decorative ones are moulded in Nanmu wood moulds and then carved by skillful sculptors with scenes of pavilions and pagodas, hills, brooks, plants, birds and beasts. A set of more than 40 pieces might depict all the scenic spots of West Lake in Hangzhou.

In ancient China, bamboo strips and silk, one heavy and the other expensive, were used for writing until the invention of paper during the Eastern Han Dynasty. The most renowned writing and drawing paper is xuanzhi, first produced in Jingxian County, Anhui Province at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty. White, soft, durable and non-absorbent, it is made in an 18-step process from the bark of wingceltis and rice straw. The largest size available, some five meters wide, is used by calligraphers and artists in China.

Revised May 18, 2011