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The Four Treasures of the Study

Chinese Culture >> Chinese Study

The four stationery items indispensable to any traditional Chinese scholar are a brush pen, an inkstick, paper, and an inkstone. They are the main tools with which he carries out his scholarly work, and for this reason they came to be called the "four treasures of the study" (wen fang szu pao).

 brush pen

The distinctive and elegant arts of Chinese calligraphy and painting have in recent years taken a prominent place in the international art world, and are the focus of much interest and discussion. Any person involved in the traditional Chinese arts of painting and calligraphy must rely heavily on the brush pen, ink, paper, and the inkstone, for it is only through theseinkstick tools that the beauty of Chinese art receives concrete expression. As a result, much importance has been attached the "four treasures of the study."

"To do a good job, one must first sharpen one's tools," a Chinese aphorism goes. An artist naturally takes selection of his tools very seriously. In dynasties of literary prominence, such as the T'ang (618-907 A.D.) and Sung (960-1279 A.D.), the art of the "four treasures of the study" reached heights of exquisiteness and excellence. Examples are the T'ang dynasty Chu Ke brush pen and Tuan Hsi inkstone, and the Li T'ing-Kuei inkstick and Ch'eng Hsin T'ang paper of the Five Dynasties period (907-960 A.D.). High quality "treasures of the study" made a direct contribution to the development of Chinese painting and calligraphy. The popularization of printing and mass production of paper and ink in the Sung dynasty permitted the works of the many outstanding calligraphers and painters who emerged at that time to be widely distributed. Many books published in these early times are still extant today; the fact that the paper remained intact and the ink did not fade away after more than one thousand years is proof of the high quality of workmanship employed.

 ink stone

Much is being done in the Taiwan to not only preserve traditional Chinese culture, but also continually introduce innovations and improvements. While retaining the merits and strengths of the traditional "four treasures of the study," modern technology and materials are being applied to make these "treasures" even more practical and suited to the needs of the user. The dependence of the Chinese arts of calligraphy and painting on this set of traditional "treasures of the study" to express the thoughts, writing system, life experience, and feelings of the Chinese people has brought forth an eternal, unfading cultural institution.



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