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Four Treasures of the Chinese Study

On the opening ceremony of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, a traditional Chinese Scroll Painting appeared and got highly praise for showing broad and profound Chinese civilization to the world. But have you ever wondered that what kind of tools Chinese people used to create these gorgeous traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy? The answer is Four Treasures of the Chinese Study.
Four Treasures of the Chinese StudyFour Treasures of the Chinese Study

a corner of an ancient Chinese Study

Four Treasures of the Study as a gift

Four Treasures of the Chinese Study(文房四宝,wén fáng sì bǎo) are particular stationery of Han people. They had made great contribution to the advancement and development of Chinese history and culture. Moreover, they are spread to other East Asian countries and become the necessaries in studies, too, hence, the word “Chinese” is eliminated and “Four treasures of the Study” gets popularized.

The name of “Four Treasures of the Study” appears to originate in the time of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 AD).But they are also referred as Four Friends of the Study in some historical materials. Almost all the ancient Chinese scholars are very good at Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting, therefore, when we visit their former residences now, we can easily find these four treasures on their desks.
Four Treasures of the Chinese Study

Four Treasures of the Chinese Study

Four Treasures of the Chinese Study
, in a broad sense, is a general expression to denote four basic stationeries in a Chinese Study, like writing brush,ink stick, paper and inkstone. Chinese culture is very fond of four word couplets, so these four treasures in Chinese we call “bi mo zhi yan(笔、墨、纸、砚 bǐ, mò, zhǐ, yàn) ”.Each treasure is produced in certain areas of China as a specialty for those scholars who would use them
.In the history of China, the specific brands of these four treasures change slightly with the time. From Song Dynasty on, “Four Treasures of the Study” refers to Hubi(湖笔,brush made in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province), Huimo(徽墨,ink made in Huizhou, Anhui Province), Xuanzhi(宣纸,paper made in Xuanzhou, Anhui Province) and Duanyan(端砚,inkstone made in Zhaoqing----former Duanzhou, Guangdong Province).
Besides four treasures in studies, ancient Chinese scholars also had more other “Treasures” including the brush pot(笔筒),the brush-holder (笔架), the brush-rinsing pot (笔洗),the brush-hanger (笔挂), the ink rest(墨床), the ink box(墨盒), the inkstone casket(砚匣), paperweights (镇纸), the reel(卷筒),the seal(图章)and seal-ink (印泥).
"Four Treasures of the Study” both have the strong practical value in writing and drawing and appreciation value for being art works blending painting, calligraphy, sculpture and decoration. Most “Four Treasures of the Study” housed in the Palace Museum are made by famous artisans in Qing Dynasty. These treasures are extremely dainty in choice materials and exquisite decoration considering the users belonging to imperial family or influential officials. In a word, they represent the development of tools in Chinese studies for thousand years and craftsmen’s creation wisdom as well as their excellent skills. 
Four Treasures of the Chinese StudyFour Treasures of the Chinese Study
Traditional treasures like Four Treasures of the  Study, should not be only for collection but also for use. In order to let “Four Treasures of the Study”enter into modern Chinese people’s life, education or training of Chinese calligraphy and painting are pushed forward in classrooms nowadays.

Despite flying over a great distance, many foreigners  put all their great enthusiasms into learning more about Chinese culture.The picture above comes from Beijing Language and Culture University----foreign students are using Four Treasures of the Study to write character "山" in different historical periods.



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