Friday, 8 November 2013

The Four Treasures of the Study

In ancient times, there were four items that were deemed indispensable in writing and painting. Together, they were termed 'The Four Treasures of the Study'. What were these items?

They are the brushes, ink, paper and seals.

Compiled from Origins of Chinese Culture

        The brush is a writing instrument that is peculiar to China. It is used in both calligraphy and painting. It was introduced into Japan during the Tang Dynasty. Today, it can be found all over the world. The brush comprises the hair tip and the stick. The hair tip is made from the hairs of the hare, goat, horse, mouse, wolf, fox, gorilla, swan, duck, chicken, pig, baby or even the human beard. The brush stick may be made of various types of bamboo, ivory, horn, jade, crystal, coloured glaze, gold, silver or porcelain.

        Where there is brush, there is ink. Before ink was invented, Man used carving to inscribe words. The people of the Shang Dynasty were already using ink. Characters were written on tortoise shells, which were later placed over a flame. The ancient people used the lines shown on the heated shells to predict their fortunes.

        One of China’s four great inventions was paper – an invention which contributed to the spread of culture in no small way. Before paper was invented, knotted ropes and inscriptions on animal shells and bones and bronze ware were the earliest forms of note-taking. It was much later that Man began to write on bamboo slips, wooden slats or cloth and to carve characters on stones.

          In China, the inkstone is used together with brushes and ink. Early ink was made of black lead or some other minerals. Before one could paint or write, the black lead had to be pounded and water added before use. As such, a pestle accompanied the earliest inkstone. It was not until the Han Dynasty that man-made ink was invented. Ink could be used on the inkstone directly. Hence, black lead gradually made its exit.


        Often used in calligraphy and painting, the seal was usually made with special stones. In ancient times, seals were made of jade, gold, silver, iron, crystal, porcelain and ivory. Later, seals made of stone gradually took precedence, especially the precious red-stained stone. 

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