Warring States period lacquer deer Chinese crafts and craft objects include ceramics, porcelain, enamel, carvings, furniture, lacquerware, tapestry, embroidery, clothing, uniforms, jewelry, sacred objects, weapons and kites. In Imperial times, luxury art and crafts were indications of status and there was a certain hierarchy among the individual crafts. Jade carvings and lacquerware were more highly esteemed than ceramics. Jade was especially prized because of it symbolic value and the fact it was difficult to carve.
Painting and especially calligraphy have traditionally held high positions in Chinese art and culture and been universally admired. Other visual arts have traditionally not been accorded the same respect. Even though such works are often produced by anonymous artists, they still display a high level of skill and style. Wood carving, gardens and the carving of jade and other stones are all highly sophisticated. Chinese paper embroidery, colored glaze pottery , brocade, cloisonné and clay figurines are meticulously made by craftsmen and famous around the globe. Guizhou batik, Suzhou embroidery, carved chops, paper cuts, porcelain figurines, carved lacquerware and wicker work and basketware, are among the crafts sought by tourists. Jade is believed to have magical powers and ward off evil spirits. Sculptures made of jade were placed in tombs, and sometimes corpses were buried in jade suits. Embroidery is has traditionally been practiced by women and used to decorate clothes, shoes and bed linens. Colorful, elaborate animals and flowers designs are greatly treasured. [Source: Eleanor Stanford, “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001; C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009; U.S. State Department report; [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
Among some Chinese scholars rocks are regarded as works of art. The best stones are asymmetrical yet proportioned; with striking colors and pattern; interesting to look from all sides; and suggesting natural forms. Some are polished, and oiled. Other are sawn to give them a flat base. The best ones are created entirely by nature. Sometimes obscure Chinese objects can be of great value to modern collectors. A calligraphy brush washer from the Southern Song dynasty sold for an astonishing $1.2 million at a Sotheby’s auction.
“Chinoiserie” refers to objects made in China for export and “fakes” in a similar vein made by Western craftsmen and adapted to make them palatable to local tastes. The term implies a certain amount of tackiness and garishness with the most extravagant pieces being Gothic and rococo monstrosities with dragons and Chinese lions instead of cherubs and demons. The peak of Chinoiserie art was the mid 18th century when the fascination of things from the Orient was at its height in Britain. Pieces were often made for women and the tea party set and were associated with having affairs.
Websites and Sources: China Online Museum chinaonlinemuseum.com ; University of Washington depts.washington.edu ; China -Art History Resources art-and-archaeology.com ; Art History Resources on the Web witcombe.sbc.edu ; ;Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Visual Arts /mclc.osu.edu ; Asian Art.com asianart.com ; Qing Art learn.columbia.edu Museums with First Rate Collections of Chinese Art National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw ; Beijing Palace Museum dpm.org.cn ;Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Sackler Museum in Washington asia.si.edu/collections ; Shanghai Museum shanghaimuseum.net; Crafts : Kites travelchinaguide.com ; Furniture chinatownconnection.com ; Furniture chinese-furniture.com ; Jade: Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; International Colored Gem Association gemstone.org; Book: “Jade and You” by John Ng. Books: “The Arts of China” by Michael Sullivan (University of California Press, 2000); ““Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei” by Wen C. Fong, and James C. Y. Watt (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996);“Art in China” by Craig Clunas (Oxford University Press, 1997); “Chinese Art” by Mary Tregear (Thames & Hudson: 1997); “Chinese Decorative Arts” by Denise Leidy, et al. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997); “The British Museum Book of Chinese Art” by Jessica Rawson, et al (London: British Museum Press, 1992)
Kites, Pigeon Whistles and Molded Gourd Cricket Cages
Minor Chinese crafts include things like pigeon whistles, cricket cages and molded gourds. Pigeon whistles are tied to the birds so they whistle when the pigeon flies. The whistles have been around for more than a thousand years and peaked in terms of craftsmanship in the mid-18th century. Molded gourds have traditionally been made for singing insects such as crickets. They were built to resonate and their shape varied in accordance with the type and size of the insect they housed. The gourds are molded on the vine in carved wooden molds, hollowed, dyed and lined, for acoustic reasons, with mud composed of limestone, yellow earth and sand.
Kite-making and flying are considered artforms and kitemakers are regarded as artists. The best kites are made of wafer-thin bamboo strips, fine silk, string, and glue with skills that been passed down through generations. The Chinese have been making kites for thousands of years. Some of China's most famous kites were made at the beginning of this century by a major craftsman named Wei Yuan Tai. Constructed of brocade and silk wrapped around a bamboo frame, these kites were reportedly so appealing that flocks of birds sometimes joined them in the sky. Tianjing and Beijing both have kite-flying clubs and kite-making factories.
Prized fighting crickets are kept in elaborately adorned cages and porcelain jars in the summer, and hollowed-out, molded gourds in the winter. Sometimes gourds are inlaid with silver and ivory, insulated with pea paste and cabbage leafs and washed every day with tea. In the old days crickets were kept in silk purses when their owners were on the move. The Chinese also enjoy bird singing competitions. Some pay large sums of money for rare birds and keep them in tiny ornate cages. The best birds are kept in teak cages.
Molded gourd snuff bottles with auspicious clouds and spirit fungus were popular among elite in the 18th century during the Qing dynasty. A typical one was 7.3 x 4.9 centimeters. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““With the rise in popularity of snuff during the Qing dynasty, the materials employed in the manufacture of snuff bottles became increasingly diverse and extravagant, including such precious natural minerals as gold and jade as well as coral and amber. Also manmade materials, including porcelain, were used. Various traditional and innovative techniques were developed to complement these materials and bring out the unique application of craftsmen’s skills in these tiny works of art. The result is snuff bottles of every form and decoration imaginable, fully reflecting a grand synthesis of Qing dynasty arts and crafts.
History of Crafts in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “While the art of the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.) centered on the production of bronze wares, it also witnessed the rapid growth of tusk and bone carving. Not only do works of the time exhibit the nature of these two materials to the fullest extent, but they are frequently found with turquoises or other precious stones set in.
This practice continued to flourish in the ensuing Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 B.C.), with carving and inlay work receiving equally detailed treatment by the artists. The technique of color painting was first introduced to the art of carving during the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 B.C.), and it brought added splendor to works of tusk and bone. The approach of incising as evidenced in the making of laquer wares of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.- A.D. 220) is undoubtedly admired by most art lovers; yet, its application on pieces of tusk and bone of the time was quite successful as well, and the incisions were further filled in with pigments of multiple colors, resulting in works that are truly aesthetic marvels.
During Zhou dynasty, the "Hundred Crafts" were administered under the Office of Winter. Thereafter throughout different dynasties, the official sector of the trade had its ups and downs, while the private operations went on with a certain degree of steady progress. The Mongolian rulers of Yuan dynasty (1271~1368) dismantled all these. A new registry system was set up consisting of three different types of "Artisan Households". There were also appointed government agencies in charge of the registered artisans. The centralized management and convergence of various talents thus gave rise to inspiration as well stimulation in all crafts.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Ming dynasty (1368~1644) inherited and adhered to the Yuan registry of artisan households, forbidding any changes. The status of registered artisans was therefore on the books and hereditary; however, individuals of special distinction could still become government officials, or hold equivalent office titles, if their talents were greatly recognized by the emperor. There were also members of Ming's learned class, though at the top rank of traditional Chinese social hierarchy of four classes (learned, farming, crafts, and trade, in this order), who did not think it beneath themselves to engage in "handicraft" projects. By the time of late-Ming, some of the artisans had not only built a good business and fortune on their craft specialties, but also achieved a status of being on equal terms with the literati. The old rigid class registry half-dead, ambitious artisan families striving to enhance their own social standing, and the cultured and enlightened granting their approval and admiration accordingly, all these together contributed to the demise of a system which had become irrelevant long time ago. On May 19th, 1645, the new ruler Manchurian court ordered the elimination of the "Artisan Household" system.
The status of the artisan class rose with social and economic progress. During mid-Ming, under the reigns of Zhengde (1501-1521) and Jiajing (1522-1565), different schools of carving arts emerged and established themselves in Wuzhong (Suzhou or Suzhou, Jiangsu Province) and its vicinities. In mid-Ming, with their identity being confined, the artisans with outstanding talents could still gain recognition from the emperors and appointments to high offices. People who felt motivated to achieve thus saw opportunities for betterment. Quite a number of professional artisans in the Ming period were well-read, earnestly seeking acceptance by the literati. Yet still, to socialize with the latter group, for these aspiring initiates, retaining their own specialties of crafts was the entry ticket as critical as having good learning. As a result, with the emperors and the literati playing enthusiastic advocates, and through the effort of the motivated artisans themselves, carving and all other crafts experienced a new and robust period of advancements after mid-Ming.
Qing Period Arts and Crafts
Crafts from the Qing period period (1644-1911) were particularly ornate. Incorporating Tibetan, Middle Eastern, Indian and European influences, it included elaborately carved wood, baroque ceramics, heavily embroidered garments, and intricately worked gold and rhinoceros horn. Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times: “What the Qing wanted in court art was more: more ingenuity, more virtuosity, more bells and whistles, extra everything. When it came to scale, they went for extremes, the teensy and the colossal, cups the size of thimbles, jades the size of boulders. The Confucian middle way was not their way.”Among the more extravagant pieces of Qing art are silk costumes made with applique embroidery; a royal hat made of sable, silk floss, gold, pearls and feathers; and a five-foot-high cloisonne elephant with a lamp on its back.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In Qing dynasty, throughout the reigns of Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong, with the emperors as sponsors the carving artisans who served at the Workshops of the Imperial Household Department brought their originality and ingenuity into full play. Outside the palace, the private studios also made their unceasing effort and contribution thanks to the patronage of the literati gentry and rich businessmen. All these combined to take the carving arts to an unprecedented finesse and sophistication. At the Qing court, the unique specialties of the Canton ivory artisans (linked chains, "live" patterns, floss weaving, and the layered concentric ball) even earned an appellation of "Celestial Feat". [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“By the Ming dynasty, scholars became accustomed to painstakingly furnishing their studios with highly decorative ink stones and other refined, exquisite carvings. These scholarly items served as usable implements and as decorative table ornaments. Concurrently, the improved economic conditions in China led to the desire of affluent businessmen and merchants to imitate these outward signs of refined learning and scholarship. Artisans were permitted to exercise greater artistic freedom, resulting in a gradual refinement of the works produced in this period.
“By the Qing dynasty, the customs and traditions of the former dynastic period continued to prevail: scholars and wealthy merchants still cherished finely detailed carvings, and eventually this tradition was also adopted by the imperial household. Artisans from the populace were selected to serve in the Imperial Workshops. These artisan-carvers could be distinguished into northern and southern regional groups, and under Qing imperial sponsorship the development of carving style and technique progressed rapidly, reaching an extremely high level of accomplishment by the reign of the Qianlong emperor.
“There was a succession of many highly skilled carvers throughout both the Ming and Qing periods. These artisans produced a large corpus of expertly crafted and artistic pieces, though most of their names have not survived. Occasionally, brief descriptions about specific artisans have appeared in historical documents, but often all that remains is the carver's name. Carved artifacts bearing the artisan's name remain, but too often there is no way to verify or substantiate these findings.
“In addition to the imperial artisans, there were also many local, highly skilled, professional carvers. Examples of famous carved regional products are: stone carvings from Qing-t'ien in Zhejiang province, and Shoushan in Fujian province; bamboo carvings from Nanking and Chia-ting; hardwood furniture from Guangzhou and Yangzhou; box-wood carvings from Zhejiang; and ivory carvings from Guangzhou. The works of these regional schools are all known for their rounded contours and semi-polished lustre. The Chia-ting region bamboo carvings were known for special attention to minute detail, as well as works carved from bamboo sections and shoots. The ivory carvings of the Guangzhou regions were noted for their delicacy and ivory thread embroidery; while Beijing region excelled in free-standing ivory figurines and colored, inlaid ivory works. Within the individual regions, the artistic style was not homogeneous, but varied from one artisan to another. Among the bamboo carvers of the Chia-ting region, Chou Hao was famous for his use of the engraving technique to illustrate the Southern School landscape, Wu Chih-fan was acclaimed for his skill in "stiacciato relief carving" and the Feng family (Feng Hsi-chueh, Feng Hsi-lu, Feng Hsi-chang and their descendants) were particularly known for their carved bamboo-shoot figurines.
“Because of the various materials that can be utilized, the art of carving has been distinguished into several sub-classifications; however, during the Ming and Qing dynasties many carvers worked in more than one medium. In the Ming period, Chu Hsiao-sung of the Chia-ting region specialized in bamboo carvings, but a few of his works in wood also survive. In the Qing dynasty, the imperial artisan Yang Wei-chan, a native of Canton province, worked chiefly in ivory, but the Aloeswood Carving of the Nine Old Men of Hsiang Mountain also demonstrates that he worked in wood.
Carvings can be considered one of the earliest forms of Chinese art. The ancient Chinese carved objects from jade, stone, bamboo, wood, bone, horn, teeth and other materials. Six-thousand-year-old ivory combs and ivory carvings have been found at the Neolithic Ta-wen-k'ou cultural site in Shandong Province.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Aside from stone, materials widely made by prehistorical men into objects of utilitarian and decorative functions include tusk, bamboo and wood. The availability of stone, bamboo and wood was obviously ready and immediate, and animal tusks and bones soon became raw materials that could be worked on once mans dietary needs for meat were fulfilled. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Bamboo and wood are subject to natural deterioration, and their preservation tends to be difficult; on the other hand, the hardness of stone inevitably makes grinding and carving rather labor-intensive. In between are tusk and bone which feature the compositional and aesthetic characteristics of bamboo, wood and stone, carvings of tusk and bone are therefore considered best to illustrate the level of technical sophistication that ancient Chinese artists had arrived at. Already in the Paleolithic age the Chinese knew how to turn animal tusks and bones into a variety of simple but useful tools and adornments. When it came to the Neolithic period works of tusk and bone even assumed an essential role in the development of China's arts and crafts, and objects such as mallets, blades and ornaments clearly demonstrate the kind of artistic attention rendered upon their making.
“Carving is one of the oldest crafts developed by mankind. Archaeological excavations and literature sources show that early primitive societies had already learned to make utilitarian or decorative objects out of materials readily available in nature, such as jade, stone, bamboo, wood, ivory, horn, and bone. Different materials, comprised of different properties, call for different ways of applying knife-work. Among the various carving arts, those of bamboo, wood, ivory, horn, and fruit stone have most in common and are closely related. Since the mid-Ming dynasty in the sixteenth century, they have emerged and developed into a unique, independent category of arts.
“The origin of the arts and crafts goes a long way back, but the remote picture prior to the time of Yin-Shang dynasty (1300~1046 B.C.) is vague.“From the Han Dynasty onward, tusk and bone carving continued to occupy a significant position in the history of Chinese arts and crafts. While the art had with the passage of time seen ups and downs in the course of evolution, its development (with ivory carving in particular) reached the peak during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) when works of carving enjoyed the widest popularity. With the founding of the Republic, however, the growth of the art of tusk and bone carving came to an unfortunate halt, primarily due to the domestic turmoils that had been plaguing the nation, for decades. Yet, this is not to dismiss the fact that a good many fine works did emerge during this time.
The middle of the Ming dynasty is considered the golden age of Chinese carving. Palace artisans and highly skilled profession carvers produced stone carving in Chia-ting and Fukein provinces, bamboo carvings in Nanking and Chia-ting, hardwood furniture in Kuangchou and Yangchou, boxwood carvings in Chekiang, ivory carvings at the Kuangchou School, and "green leaf bamboo carving" at the Chia-ting School. The ivory carvings of the Kuangchou school were noted for their extremely fine and delicate linework as well as their ivory thread embroidery. The Beijing School excelled in free-standing ivory figures and colored, inlaid ivory work. One of the most awesome works of art at the National Palace Museum in Taipei is an elaborate ivory sculpture about a meter high, filled with intricate designs and detailed latticework, that took three generations to make. Chinese also carved figures and objects from bamboo-root, rhinoceros horn, fruit pits and nutshells.
Bamboo Carving in China
According to the Shanghai Museum:““Bamboo carving is a special kind of carving art developed on the basis of long-existed Chinese bamboo culture and carving craftsmanship, and reached its maturity in the middle and late Ming dynasty with the rise of literati’s aesthetic taste in connoisseurship and private collections. Three trends of bamboo carving gradually formed in the period from the Ming dynasty to the mid-20th century: Jiading School’s deep carving, Jinling school’s shallow carving, and liuqing (skin reserved) carving. Bearing their own distinctive forms and styles, the three trends influenced and stimulated each other. The participation of literati class further enriched bamboo carving aesthetic and cultural value, endowing it with extraordinary elegant characteristic among all the carving arts. [Source: Shanghai Museum, shanghaimuseum.net]
“Shanghai is deeply involved with bamboo carving. Jiading, now in the realm of Shanghai, bore the famous Jiading School, the oldest and largest school of bamboo carving in Chinese history. Its craftsmanship has been listed as National Intangible Cultural Heritage by Chinese government. In the mid-19th century, artists nationwide gathered in Shanghai and formed the Shanghai School. Its bamboo carving marked the last peak in the history of this form of art. Shanghai Museum’s abundant collection of bamboo carving masterpieces makes it one of the most important institutes in the field.
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Into late-Ming, Jinling (Nanking or Nanjing) and Jiading, both in the Province of Jiangsu, were two key regions with bamboo carving activities. By the time of Qing dynasty (1644~1911), Jinling had slowly lost its edge, while Jiading continued on with the heritage of the Three Zhu's (Zhu He, Zhu Ying, Zhu Zhizheng) for generation after generation. Bamboo carving became the local specialty and staple craft of Jiading. [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Around late-Ming and early-Qing, Jiading carvers of bamboo started to combine high and low relieves to give varieties and contrasts. The skills grew more and more sophisticated over the time. The levels of different depths in protrusion increased from initially only a simple one or two to "deep and shallow altogether five or six different grades", by the time of early Kangxi reign of Qing. Jiading in the early-Qing period was the leading, though not the only region for best bamboo carvings. Outside Jiading, there were individuals devoted to the art yet somehow their contributions stayed personal, neither forming a common local practice nor spreading beyond. Late-Qing continued with the development begun in mid-Qing of applying the antique style of bronze inscriptions to the bamboo carving art. Aside from emulating epigraphic inscriptions, themes based on pictorial representation were still being done, but again mostly in negative carving, and the carvers had to reply on the painters to design and sketch the image in ink on the carving surface first.
“In addition to carving on bamboo, artisans of Fujian Province during the reign of Qianlong (1736~1795) were well known for their unique bamboo-yellow technique (also referred to as "bamboo appliqué"), namely, using bamboo's inner skin for ornamentation of wares or other objects. Some of their works were honored as local presents to the emperor when he was on inspection tours of the Jiangnan region (South of the Yangtz River) and won his royal approval. By the late time of Qianlong reign, bamboo-yellow items had been included among the state gifts for diplomatic purposes; the technique itself had also spread from its place of origin in Shanghang, Fujian, to Shaoyang, Hunan, then in a roundabout way arriving west at Jiangan, Sichuan, then finally Jiading, Jiangsu to the east. The bamboo-yellow could be applied on everyday objects, as decorative veneers, or as a medium for the carvers to replicate the literati's art works, so it appealed to the tastes of either the commoners or the refined class.
Chinese Bamboo Carving Masterpieces and Craftsmen
“Bamboo brush-holder depicting a letter-reading scene from the Romance of the West Chamber,” with signature of Ju Sansong was created in the mid-17th century and is 13.5 centimeters tall, 8.5 centimeters in diameter at the mouth and 8.7 centimeters in diameter at the foot . Jo-hsin Chi wrote for the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Zhu Zhizheng, born around 1559 (year died unknown), active from 1573 to 1619, was Zhu Ying's third son. Among the many works which have come down to today carrying his sobriquet signature of "Sansong" (Third Pine), this holder is the most famous one. The high-relief scene shows a lady, her hair in tall topknots, her back to a screen, poring over a letter diffidently. A lush wutong (phoenix tree) is lightly engraved on the screen and a bird stands on a bough. The carver's name "San Song" in Kai (regular) script is inscribed at the right lower corner of the screen, appearing to serve the double functions of being the signature for the painting on the screen, as well as for the brush-holder itself. The lady in love is Ms. Cui Yingying from the Romance of the West Chamber. Peeking out at her from behind the screen, yet the whole person almost fully in view, is her naughty maid Hongniang. The latter seems to be hushing herself down with her index finger at the mouth. Farther back to the left of the screen is a wood table in relief, on which are arranged a crazed vase of lotus flowers, a potted miniature landscape with Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum), a qin (string instrument) in its protective wraps, and other sundry implements typical in a scholar's study: an incense burner, a brush, an ink stone, a water dish, and so on. All together, the foreground, the background, and the placement of various elements form a coherently streamlined composition around the tubular surface. [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“The overall layout of the image resembles that of one particular woodcut print by Chen Hongshou, active from late-Ming to early-Qing (1598-1652), for an illustrated editioni of the same famed love story. The two images are different in that in Chen's print, the screen is of four panels, and the room has no other furniture and displays, part of which however appear in the background of another illustration titled "Melancholy of Love" in a very similar manner. The illustrated edition was prefaced by Ma Chuanqi (1639), suggesting a close connection between this particular woodblock print of Chen's and the present brush-holder.
“Bamboo brush-holder depicting a scene of horse herding” by Wu Zhi-fan was made in the late 17th to early 18th century. It is 15.5 centimeters tall and 7.4 centimeters in diameter at the mouth The three-footed brush-holder is made of a stem section, with one joint kept for the base which curves a little inward. The surface is slightly scraped off using the jiandi technique (thinning the ground) along the top and bottom rims so both look somewhat flared. In low relief is carved a horse lying on the back rolling and kicking. A stableman wearing a puto (bandanna-like headgear), both hands grasping the reins, is trying to subdue the angry horse: its mane all flaring, the front legs bending along with upper body twisting toward the left, and the rear hooves thrusting up high into the air. The artist captures a split-second moment of the taming attempt. The images of the pair are both raised above the surface only slightly. The fine lines of the engraved mane, tail, and hairs around the hooves, go gradually flush with the ground. All this speaks vividly of the carver's superb mastery of the buodi (thin ground) technique. Further, against the slightly raised figures, in negative engraving are the features, the folds, the muscles and texture. The folds of sleeves are represented as in portrait painting: dintou shuwei, literally translated, "nail head and mouse tail", a style of line drawing which starts deep and hard, then finishes off lightly. The man's facial muscles are done in low relief; even the eyelids are there. So are the body muscles of the rolling horse. Each of the four hooves is carved with varying degrees of depths against the surface, achieving an impressive three-dimension effect. The exposed horse teeth are carved one by one, with every single detail carefully tended. Some semi-translucent pigment of dark brown dots the horse eyes, fully serving the purpose of the final touch, "Marking the Pupils", so to animate the figures or the animals being depicted. The man and the horse form the only images on the brush-holder; all other space is left bare without decoration. The one exception is that behind the stableman, engraved are four characters in elegant yet forceful Xing (running) script "by Wu Zhifan". Here the carving knife goes either harder or lighter traversing through each character, as if it had been a calligraphic brush's movements. The exact precision in execution shows that the maker of the piece must have been a fine practicing calligrapher himself.
“Wu Zhifan (byname: Luzheng; self-epithet: an East Sea Taoist) was born around early-Qin, died in either the late Kangxi reign or the first few years of Yongzheng reign and was active mainly during the mid to late-Kangxi. A resident of Nanxiang Township Jiading County, Jiangsu Province, later he moved north to Tianjin, Hebei Province and enjoyed the hospitality of an official there, surnamed Ma. Wu never returned south to his hometown and little was known about his final years. He was a fine painter and calligrapher, specialized in the genres of flower-and-bird and portrait painting; his calligraphy in Cao (cursive) script was very charming yet strong. He inherited the "Three Zhu's of Jiading" heritage shared by many bamboo carving artists in the region, that more than mere artisanship, a decent carver ought to be well-versed in painting and calligraphy. And he was one of the best in this tradition. A pity that he didn't get to achieve any fame and success back at home during his lifetime. Lack of any renowned literary figures among his acquaintances did not help either. As a result his life and doings have remained obscure as a whole.
“Wu's carving was in Jiading's style, combining high relief, in the round, and openwork. This sophistication had been the hallmark of Jiading bamboo carving. He was expert in all these techniques and capable of another signature line of Jiading bamboo ware: the tube-shaped container made of a bamboo stem between joints. Composition on such an elaborately designed yet convex surface posed a major challenge for the carver. How to seamlessly flow from one element to the next, beginning to the end, had been the number one issue that had to be dealt with ever since the Three Zhu's time. Wu had to, too. Using the cliff wall surfaces in the image to connect it all was his usual solution.
“His much-admired buodi yangwen, also known as buodi yangke, namely low relief, required a very thin layer of the outer skin to be scrapped off the bamboo stem, thus leaving the image very slightly raised above the ground. The similar jiandi technique of thinning the ground around the image had been used way back in the Han dynasty's portrait-carving on stone, such as the ones at a family temple in Jiaxiang County, Shantong Province. Wu took full of advantage of the firmness of bamboo texture to apply his buodi yangwen technique. The low relief design thus formed also leaves out much "white space" undecorated for the viewer to indulge his own imagination. The present brush-holder fully characterizes Wu's famous style. Low relief in essence, buodi yangwen carves its raised images almost level with the skinned surface around. The fine grain and firm fiber of bamboo make this unique treating possible, which otherwise would have easily broken.
Wood Carving in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The archaeological excavations show that the essential techniques of woodcarving had been pretty much complete at the time prior to Qin dynasty (221~207 B.C.). Carving in intaglio (yinke), in relief (yangdiao, either raised or piercing through), and in the round (lidiao) all reached a highly developed state. And in furniture, the woodcarving skills came into full play. Edifices of traditional wood structures were another arena for woodcarvers to fully wield their talents; thus came the popular set-phrase, or almost cliché, to describe highly decorated buildings as diaoliang huadong (carved beams and painted pillars, for extreme, elaborate luxury). [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Wood of fine grain is the prerequisite for successful fine carving. After polishing, it has to be fine to the touch, i.e. smooth and soft. The most ideal material is boxwood. In addition, Qienan incense wood (aloeswood, tagara) and sandalwood are known for their nice aroma, whereas ebony's appeal is in its hues and sheen. Gnarled wood gets its name from its many knots, lumps, and snarls. Woodcarving artisans took advantage of this interesting natural form and subtly fashioned it into original artwork, with minimum and "invisible" knife work.
“Aside from furniture and buildings, carving skills are also showcased in wood sculptures of religious figures. Buddhism thrived during the Six Dynasties (220~589) and subsequent Sui (581~618) and Tang periods (618~907) ; there were robust activities in the carving of wood statues. The works from the period could be found and seen today. As for wood statues made in North Song (960~1126), from what have been able to survive, those of Bodhisattva in various postures are most admired. They are either sitting in lotus posture, or performing abhaya ("no-fear") mudra, or standing, or in meditation, all with comely and fitting bearing and serene composure, a true statement representative of the marvels of the highly skillful woodcarving art at the time.
“Yuan Dynasty (1271~1368) placed a very high value on the "Hundred Crafts". Artisans of superb workmanship were accorded a respectful title "Maestro Artisan". The new institution of jianhu ("Artisan Household") registry allowed the carving skills passing from the father to the son for generations, until well into Ming dynasty (1368~1644). Woodcarving as a craft, however, still belonged under other professions such as architecture, furniture, and religious statues making. After mid-Ming, the carving arts became an independent craft category in its own right. However, many carving artists though famous for one single craft never confined themselves to that one single medium during their lifetime. For example, renowned bamboo carvers Zhu Ying and Pu Cheng both carved on wood as well. Rhinoceros horn expert Bao Tiancheng also did his art on ivory and red sandalwood. Into Qing dynasty (1644~1911), there was a woodworking workshop, even one specifically called Canton woodworking workshop, installed under the Workshops of the Imperial Household Department. The talented carvers nevertheless devoted most of their time to ivory carving, with wood carving only as a side job. It was the same outside the palace; no artisans could afford carving wood alone as an art or craft. It had to be part of furniture making or wood-framed structure building, or at the best carried out in rendering religious statues.
Boxwood Sculpture of a Lohan Scratching His Back
“Boxwood Sculpture of a Lohan Scratching His Back” was made in the 18th century. It 4.4 centimeters high and 4.6 centimeters long. Jo-hsin Chi wrote in for the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ A small chunk of boxwood is carved in the round into a sitting lohan (the Arhat, Arahat or Arahant in Theravada Buddhism), his legs crossed, clothing rolled down to the waist, and the upper body naked. With his left hand pressed against the ground for balance, a scratching stick in the right hand goes over his right shoulder giving his back a good up and down scratch. Between his knees, a pug jumps and frolics, the tail hoisted up high, happily wagging and yapping to his master. [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
The lohan's forehead all wrinkled, his crow's feet deep-set, his features gaunt and angular, yet a contented grin is tilting up the right corner of his mouth and a relaxed look beaming in his eyes. Boxwood is fine-textured and of an elegant tint. It's a slow-growing tree and doesn't get big easily, so not suitable for buildings or furniture but ideal for carving. The tiny lohan sculpture couldn't have been done in such fine manner if it was any other wood other than boxwood. Boxwood has a beautiful sheen to it and the grain is very fine. Its hardness is just right and very easy on the knife. However, the tree grows extremely slow so a good-sized chunk is hard to come by.
“One branch in the early-Qing Jiading bamboo carving was headed up by the Feng family and Shi Tianzhang. One of their specialties was to sculpt the underground stems (commonly mistakenly called "roots") into vivid sculptures of figures in the round. Father and son two generations as well as the student Shi all served in the Imperial Workshops. The latter was highly regard by the emperor and thus became well-known for quite some time. All three had been recruited because of their mastery in bamboo carving, but once there they did more than just bamboo and extended their carving knives to other media such as ivory and wood. The maker of this exquisite work didn't leave his signature but obviously was an experienced fine carver. Perhaps, it was one of them?
Boxwood Brush-holder Depicting a Scholars' Gathering in the West Garden
“Boxwood Brush-holder Depicting a Scholars' Gathering in the West Garden” was made in the late 17th to early 18th century. It is 18.5 centimeters tall and 17.8 x 22.3 centimeters in diameter at the of mouth . Jo-hsin Chi wrote in for the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “A popular legend in the Ming and Qing periods described how several centuries ago during the Yuanyuo reign (1086-1093) of North Song emperor Zhezong, a graceful literary gathering had taken place at West Garden, the property of Wang Shen, husband of a mid-Song emperor's daughter, and a painter-cum-calligrapher in his own right. Wang was the host, the list of guests including the famous brothers Su Shi (1037-1101)and Su Che (1039-1112), their calligrapher friend Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), as well as Qin Guang (1049-1100), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Li Gonglin (1049-1106), Chao Buzhi (1053-1110), Zhang Lei (1054-1114), Zheng Jinglao, Cheng Jingyuan (1024-1094), Wang Qinchen, Liu Jing, Cai Zhao, Li Zhiyi (1038-1117) and Yuantong the Great Monk. All were heavyweights of the then literary and art circle and had their respective significant places in the art or literature history of China. Among them, Li and Mi were both leading figures of great importance in the Chinese painting. Su, and Mi again, ranked among the top four calligraphers of Song. It was also said that Li had supposedly done a painting of the happy gathering, titled a "Graceful Literary Gathering at the West Garden", and that Mi had written a namesake account to go with it, making the story of this highbrow event even more prominent and enjoyable down the centuries. However, Mi's account didn't make its first appearance until Ming dynasty though it has survived to today since, and no other literatures or sources back in Song ever mentioned thus backed up the story of the gathering. Further complicating the matter is that since South Song, there have been all sorts of versions as to the place, time, and list of the guests. So did or did not the famous Garden Gathering actually take place? One is led inevitably to raise the question.[Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Of late some have commented that the well-known writing attributed to Mi Fu of Song dynasty was very likely a Ming "forgery", and that still the event as recorded in this account could have indeed happened, but might or might not have been called as an "Graceful Literary Gathering at the West Garden". Regardless, the high-Qing carver who created the present boxwood brush-holder based his design on the descriptions in Mi's account of the Graceful Literary Gathering at the West Garden, with some of the carver's own artistic adaptations for better composition. The guests are arranged into five groups:
“Group one: the center figure is the ever-popular and beloved poet Su Dongpo, with four other gentlemen and one lady. Our protagonist wearing his signature "Dongpo cap" is writing feverishly. The host Wang sits by him on the right, watching. Li Zhiyi stands on the other side of the long table, holding a plantain leaf and looking intently toward the calligrapher at work. Cai Zhao is seated right across facing Su, but glances sideways at Su's brother Su Che, who is leaned against a rock and reading. Beside Cai, the charming lady who also has her gaze fixed at the younger Su is a member of the Wang household. All six are surrounded by plantain trees, and each person leads the viewer to the next, together forming a seamlessly coherent whole.
“Beyond the old pine tree, group two huddles around the painter Li Gonglin, who perches on a round mound, in front of a table, working his brush to render a painting based on the theme of Tao Yuanming's Returning Home after Quitting the Government Job. Across him Huang Tingjian sits against the table watching. Chao Buzhi stands by Huang, his left hand on the latter's shoulder, his gaze focused at the painter. To the left, Zhang Lei and Zheng Jinglao hold each other on the shoulders, appreciating a painting scroll together. A boy attendant behind Huang turns head to look over at group one, subtly joining the two groups together. Indeed a ingenious, well-thought-out arrangement.
“Below, to the left of group two, is situated the third group, a party of two. The Taoist monk Zheng Jingyuan, settled at the root of a kuai juniper, is voluble with excitement and gesturing to an uncertain look on the face of poet Qin Guang, who sits on a rock facing him, hands covered in long sleeves. From where Qin is, now the viewer glances upward and finds Mi Fu wielding his brush writing on a cliff wall. His good friend Wang Qincheng looks up at him at work with both hands clasped behind the back. A boy holds the ink-stone in attendance. The three make up a fourth group.
“Across the ledge, a bamboo grove comes into view. Yuantong the Great Monk sits cross-legged in lotus posture on a rush cushion, discoursing on wushenlun (the Buddhist concept of "being not born") with Liu Jing, who also sits in the same posture facing him. Below them, the water splashing against the rocks seems almost audible in the streaming creek under a small bridge. And this fifth group completes a full circle, back at the beginning with group one, delivering an immaculate composition round the brush-holder's entire circumference wall. The fact that the diameter of the present brush-holder at where it is widest measures over twenty centimeters makes it a rather rare piece. The carving on the outside surface goes piercingly deep, and the inside is hollowed out for the practical use of holding brushes, and the uneven cross-sections form an irregular wall surface. All this makes it uniquely different from a typical counterpart made of bamboo, both visually and tactilely.
Fruit Seed and Shell Carving in China
According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “From literature sources and physical specimens, we know fruit stones used as carving materials come from a variety of sources, including (Chinese) ganlan olives, black olives, walnut shells, cherries, plums, peaches, etc. A "solitaire" stone could serve as a curio item for display, or as a pendant, either for personal ornament or hanging to the end of a fan. When threaded together, they form a bracelet, a "chaplet", or a string of "court beads" which the Qing nobility and high officials wore over their ceremonial dress robes. [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“The motifs of fruit stone carvings could be separated into five major categories: "Written Words", "Boats", "Flowers and Birds", "Figures or Animals", or "Image Narratives derived from Poetry or Folklore". Words, characters engraved on the surface of a fruit stone formed the earliest decorative elements in this art, going back to as early as Song dynasty. However, as of Ming (1368~1644) and Qing (1644~1911), a period stressing exquisite and elaborate presentation, mere written words in their own right as ornaments tended to be less used.
“Following the natural contour of a fruit stone or pit and rendering it into a tiny boat was a very common practice in this particular field. And the chosen boat was most often the one our beloved poet Su rode at the Red Cliff. Either a passage quoted out of his Ode of Red Cliff I, or some narratives excerpted from the Ode II, the depicted scenes could always take the viewer right to the source of origin that inspired the creativity. The flower-and-bird pattern was another quite popular theme for fruit stone carving. Tiny pits could even be carved into appealingly cute and adorable baskets, with all kinds of flowers in it, thus acquiring the name the "Hundred-Flower Basket". There were also motifs based on poetry-derived narratives or figures from popular folklore. In a way, the fruit stone boats depicting Mr. Su Shi's Red Cliff rides also belong to this category, but its frequent appearance entitles it to a category on its own.
“Based on what sources we have, the fruit stone carvers came basically from two regions: Wuzhong and Canton. Exquisiteness was the rule in terms of fruit stone carving and a renowned carver could fetch high prices for his creations. However, maestros who could demand unusual high pay didn't come all the time. The art of fruit stone carving could be learned, but it was extremely difficult to master. A practicing carver therefore could hardly support his family on it alone.
On seashell shell carving in Dalian, Kazuhiko Makita wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Shell carvings are a famous souvenir from this port town. The technique involved was originally used in furniture, including folding screens, applying ground-up shells to depict flowers, birds and other designs. Some of the most popular shell carvings are framed pictures of Dalian landscapes or lucky charms such as the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The shiny, milky white shells used in these pictures are distinctive and beautiful. The technique was invented in the 1950s as a way to utilize shells, including those of the abalone that is a local specialty. Dalian Shell Carving Co., founded in 1958, uses 15 kinds of domestic and foreign shells to create various colors. Wall hangings priced at about US$60 sell best, with many people purchasing them as gifts for auspicious occasions. “We want to work on developing practical items, such as accessory boxes decorated with shell carvings,” said Weijiu Liu, 55, the company president and a craftsman. [Source: Kazuhiko Makita, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 13, 2013]
Chinese Fruit Stone Carving Masterpieces and Craftsmen
Ganlan Olive Stone Miniature Boat with the Ode to the Red Cliff Carved on the Bottom” was made Chen Zuzhang in 1737. It is 1.6 centimeters high, 1.4 centimeters long and 3.4 centimeters wide. Jo-hsin Chi wrote in for the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ The maker of this miniature wonder shaped a boat out of a ganlan olive pit, complete with what apparatus a decent vessel should be equipped with. Doors and windows can open and close. The cabin awning and cover are decorated with weaving pattern. Masts erect, sails and riggings standing by, inside the cabin are seated the poet Su Dongpo and two other guests. Cups and plates scatter around on the table. At the bow are three boy attendants and one boatman, the helmsman by himself in the back. On the bottom is engraved Su's Ode to the Red Cliff, II, over three hundred hair-thin characters long. And in Xing (running) script, are inscribed "May, Dingsi Year, Qianlong Reign, with utmost reverence by your humble servant Chen Zhuzhang", which translates to the 2nd year of his reign. The boat was stored in a red sandalwood rectangular curio box with a handle, which again was kept in Huazi Chamber or Yanxi Chamber of Yangxin Hall, when the last emperor Puyi exited his palace forever. There were altogether over two hundred tiny curio items hidden in the same box. The sheer number perhaps explains why the Palace Inventory team of 1925 "missed the boat" on the first checking, only to discover it the second time. Thus its tag number is also coded with one additional letter of "S" for Supplementary. [Source: Jo-hsin Chi, National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
“Imperial Ivory Artisan Chen Zhuzhang came from Canton. He was sent to the capital in 1729 (the Yongzheng reign) on the recommendation of Zu Bingqui, the official in charge the Customs at Canton Province. However, he didn't seem to have performed in any outstanding way initially on the job, and was only making three liangs a month. Yet at the end of the same year after the ganlan olive boat was completed, he was blessed with a huge raise to twelve liangs a month, topping everyone else on the payroll list ever recorded in the archives of the Imperial Workshops. Could it have had anything to do with the making of this tiny boat? Any way, from the moment on, no longer an average ivory carver under Yongzheng he transformed and advanced to the highest-paid and most important one in the early Qianlong reign.
“Five years later after the boat project, in November of 1742, Chen asked to return home on account of being "old, weak in seeing and hard of walking", and requested the court's permission for his son Chen Guanquan to escort him back to Canton. The archives didn't mention when the junior Chen had arrived at the capital but he might have worked as an assistant to his father when the latter first started his tenure in the palace in the 7th year of Yongzheng reign.
“Ever since Ming, the Suzhou area had been a place time and again producing talented artisans capable of carving miniature boats out of small fruit stones, and the heritage lasted well into early-Qing. For example, the Feng family of the very bamboo town Jiading were famous for carving on bamboo as well as on pit stones. While serving in the palace, Feng Xilu was also seen doing a peach stone boat with two fine lines engraved underneath, quoted from Su Shi's Ode of Red Cliff, I. That a Cantonese ivory carver Chen Zhuzhang came to pick up a new medium and eventually rendered such an intricate and elegant work of fruit stone boat indicated the inspirational influence on him of the Suzhou carving then in vogue at the court. The present miniature boat exemplifies the early Qianlong court's practice of a "Suzhou's style through Canton's artisanship"
Elaborately Carved Dried Olives from Guangzhou
Reporting from Guangzhou, Kiyota Higa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The elaborate carving technique took my breath away. It was a sculpture made of dried olives that measured just three to four centimeters, carved with a drill and other tools. These olive products are traditional handiwork in Guangdong Province, descriptions of which have been found in literature from the Qing dynasty around the 18th century. [Source: Kiyota Higa, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 24, 2015]
“The number of full-fledged craftspeople who will inherit the carving technique is decreasing, and only four or five remain in the provincial capital of Guangzhou, according to sources. One of them is Zeng Xianpeng, 31, who works at the shop Guangzhou Landiao Yishu Gongzoushi. Zeng is passionate about passing on advanced carving techniques and feels a responsibility to protect the tradition
“Traditionally, carved olives feature ships and animals such as birds. However, Zeng’s works include playful designs such as animation characters. Some high-end products cost at least 2,000 yuan (about ¥40,000) but products that cost about 40 yuan (about ¥800) are also available in the shop. Influenced by his craftsman father, Zeng started practicing carving about 10 years ago. He overcame the opposition of his parents, who worried about the dwindling industry.
Chinese Engraved Block Printing: a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
China Engraved Block Printing Technique was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. According to UNESCO: “The traditional China engraved block printing technique requires the collaboration of half a dozen craftspeople possessed of printing expertise, dexterity and team spirit. The blocks themselves, made from the fine-grained wood of pear or jujube trees, are cut to a thickness of two centimeters and polished with sandpaper to prepare them for engraving. Drafts of the desired images are brushed onto extremely thin paper and scrutinized for errors before they are transferred onto blocks. The inked designs provide a guide for the artisan who cuts the picture or design into the wood, producing raised characters that will eventually apply ink to paper. First, though, the blocks are tested with red and then blue ink and corrections are made to the carving. Finally, when the block is ready to be used, it is covered with ink and pressed by hand onto paper to print the final image. Block engraving may be used to print books in a variety of traditional styles, to create modern books with conventional binding, or to reproduce ancient Chinese books. A number of printing workshops continue this handicraft today thanks to the knowledge and skills of the expert artisans. [Source: UNESCO]
Wooden Movable-type Printing of China was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2010. One of the world’s oldest printing techniques, wooden movable-type printing is maintained in Rui’an County, Zhejiang Province, where it is used in compiling and printing clan genealogies. Men are trained to draw and engrave Chinese characters, which are then set into a type-page and printed. This requires abundant historical knowledge and mastery of ancient Chinese grammar. Women then undertake the work of paper cutting and binding, until the printed genealogies are finished.
The movable characters can be used time and again after the type-page is dismantled. Throughout the year, craftspeople carry sets of wooden characters and printing equipment to ancestral halls in local communities. There, they compile and print the clan genealogy by hand. A ceremony marks the completion of the genealogy, and the printers place it into a locked box to be preserved. The techniques of wooden movable-type printing are transmitted through families by rote and word of mouth. However, the intensive training required, the low income generated, popularization of computer printing technology and diminishing enthusiasm for compiling genealogies have all contributed to a rapid decrease in the number of craftspeople. At present, only eleven people over 50 years of age remain who have mastered the whole set of techniques. If not safeguarded, this traditional practice will soon disappear.
Chinese Paper Cuts and Xuan Paper Also Recognized by UNESCO
Paper-cuts originated in Eastern Han Dynasty China (A.D. 25-220) and are hung on windows or doors for good luck. Typical images include butterflies, flowers and a variety of animals. To be a paper cut artists requires agile fingers, patience and often an ability to use the art form to convey a story or a theme like a shadow puppet story. “Paper-cutting has traditionally an art form created by women artists. It the past it was passed down from generation to generation of women and particularly prevalent in Shaanxi, Today it is a dying art. In villages wear paper cuts were traditionally created, young people have left for the city and, according to the Los Angeles Times, “discarded their heritage and swapped paper-cuts for iPads.” [Source: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2012]
Chinese Paper Cut was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. According to UNESCO: Present throughout China and in various ethnic groups, paper-cut is a popular art integral to everyday lives. A predominantly female pursuit, it is transmitted from mother to daughter over a long period of time, beginning in childhood, and is particularly common in rural areas. It earns the most skilful artists respect and admiration. Many techniques are used: the paper can be cut or engraved with a chisel, coloured or left blank. Increasingly, modern technologies are used. Motifs, which vary greatly and are often devised by the artist, depend on the region of origin (for example, in southern China fine and delicate motifs predominate) and the purpose of the product, which might be used for interior decor (windows, beds and ceilings), festivities (weddings, birthdays and ceremonies), or prayers (invoking the rain, warding off the devil, and so on). As a key part of Chinese social life in all ethnic groups, paper-cut expresses the moral principles, philosophies and aesthetic ideals of its exponents. It continues to provide an outlet for emotion and is experiencing an unprecedented revival.
Traditional handicrafts of making Xuan paper was also placed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2009. The unique water quality and mild climate of Jing County in Anhui Province in eastern China are two of the key ingredients in the craft of making Xuan paper that thrives there. Handmade from the tough bark of the Tara Wing-Celtis or Blue Sandalwood tree and rice straw, Xuan paper is known for its strong, smooth surface, its ability to absorb water and moisten ink, and fold repeatedly without breaking. It has been widely used in calligraphy, painting and book printing. The traditional process passed down orally over generations and still followed today proceeds strictly by hand through more than a hundred steps such as steeping, washing, fermenting, bleaching, pulping, sunning and cutting — all of which lasts more than two years. The production of the ‘Paper of Ages’ or ‘King of Papers’ is a major part of the economy in Jing County, where the industry directly or indirectly employs one in nine locals and the craft is taught in local schools. True mastery of the entire complicated process is won only by a lifetime of dedicated work. Xuan paper has become synonymous with the region, where a score of artisans still keep the craft alive.
On a paper shop in Beijing that sells Xuan paper, Mamoru Kurihara wrote in the Japan News: In search of traditional paper, I visited the Liulichang area in central Beijing where many antique shops are located. Beijing Jianchongnan Zhidian is a specialty store that sells Xuan paper. There are about 70 kinds of paper in different colors suitable for various purposes, including calligraphy, letter-writing and ink brush painting. Since I don't know all that much about paper, many of them looked similar to handmade Japanese paper. According to store manager Yuan Lihong, 39, the paper is made using raw materials such as straw which make the paper colorfast and long-lasting. Yuan showed me a piece of Xuan paper that was 70 centimeters wide and 140 centimeters long with a smooth surface. By closely examining the slightly yellowish paper, I noticed the material in the paper's texture. Yuan said that the paper is suitable for calligraphy and ink brush painting because of the way in which the paper absorbs liquid. It costs about $US280 per 100 sheets. The paper is also a very popular gift.. [Source: Mamoru Kurihara, Japan News, February 17, 2015]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington; Palace Museum, Taipei, CNTO (China National Tourist Office), Metropolitan Museum of Art
Text Sources: Palace Museum, Taipei; Shanghai Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2021