|article selected from Travel China weekly|
Writing Brush Produced in Zhejiang Province's Huzhou
The writhing brush produced in Huzhou, ink stick from Huizhou in Anhui Province, ink stone from Duanxi, Gaoyao country in Guangdong Province, and xuan paper, are regarded as the "four treasures of the study" in China.
The Huzhou writing brush falls into four categories--the first made of goat hair which has very flexible features, second of brownish rabbit hair, third of weasel hair with stiff characteristics, and the fourth a mixture of goat and weasel hair, which is neither too flexible nor too stiff.
The workmanship is exquisite and complicated, as it contains more than 120 processes from selecting materials to the finished products.
These brushed are specially good both for painting and calligraphy. The most famous brands include Yulanrui, Lantingsan, Youjunshufa and Cuihengchun, because the shaft of these brushes is usually made either with red sandalwood or mottled bamboo, white porcelain or even with ivory. Thus, they are regarded as the best-quality brushes and the most exquisite handicrafts.
Xuan Writing Brush
The xuan writing brush, together with the famous xuan paper, is made in Jingxian County, Anhui Province. In ancient times, Jingxian County was under the jurisdiction of Xuanzhou Prefecure, from where the product got its name.
Scholars in the Jin Dynasty(256-420) were specially fond of the xuan writing brush. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Xuanzhou became a writing brush manufacturing center, and the xuan writing brush was listed as a tribute for the use of emperors.
At that time, folk artisans also made a breakthrough in craftsmanship, selecting materials and in polishing the shaft. Brushes were sharp-pointed, neatly cut, plump and smooth at the tip. Artists could write and draw freely as they wished by using these brushes combining stiffness and flexibility. The xuan brushes elaborately made of brownish rabbit hair are the best and thus command an extremely high price.
Daiyuexuan Brand Writing Brushes
This writing brush was originally made by the venerable artisan Dai Yuexuan. Now, it is well-known in Beijing for its high quality and its elaborate craftsmanship. With the semi-manufactured writing brushes made in Zhejiang's Huzhou as the main material, the artisan used his immense skill to make a product uniquely sharp-pointed, neatly cut, smoothly round and gracefully stiff at the tip. Because of these four characteristics, this brand enjoyed high prestige among artists and calligraphers.
Dai Yuexuan actually worked for a writing-brush workshop by the east entrance to the Liulichang Cultural Street in Beijing 80 years ago. His brushes were much better than the brand made in Huzhou although using the same materials. Later on, the daiyuexuan brand become renowned far and wide.
Writing Brush from Houdian Village
Houdian, a small village in the suburbs of Hengshui City in Hebei Province, is noted worldwide for its good-quality writing brushes.
Writing-brush manufacture came into existence in Houdian Village in the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle around 1404, and flourished in the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911). In the early years of the Republic of China, almost all brushes sold in Beijing's famous Dianyuexuan and Hukaiwen stores for writing and calligraphy were made by workers from Houdian. In 1952, the Houdian people built a large plant to pass on the traditional craftsmanship to the younger generation and to develop it.
The main materials are taken from the animal's tail, such as wolf and civet hair from tail, or ox hair from the ear, in more than 40 kinds. The hair collected in the winter is the best for making high-quality brushes. Five main procedures have to be strictly followed in manufacture, such as hair washing and drying, character carving on the shafts, packaging and the miscellaneous process. Each of the five procedures contains about a dozen processes before a brush with different shape and different specification is made for different purposes.
Brushes made in Houdian Village are durable, offering a good combination of flexibility and stiffness, absorbing more ink than other types, and with little likelihood of the hair falling out.
How to Choose Writing Brushes
Writing brushes are made of animal hair and there are many kinds with different functions.
Chinese writing brushes are usually categorized according to various grades of flexibility or stiffness. Brushes made of rabbit, deer, weasel and rat hair are stiff, and those made of goat hair and chicken feathers look more flexible. If one wants a brush neither too flexible nor too stiff, the best choice is one made from a mixture of rabbit and goat hair, or a mixture of goat and weasel hair. There are three combinations: 70 percent rabbit hair and 30 percent goat hair, the same proportions in reverse, or equal proportion.
Generally speaking, people who are used to brushes with flexible features can write with facility using a stiff brush, while whose used to a stiff brush will find it hard to write freely by using one with flexible features for a change. For beginners to practice Chinese calligraphy, it is best to use brushes with flexible features or those neither too flexible nor too stiff. The weakness of the latter is that users cannot write regular script of large characters, let alone copy models of calligraphy by Yan Zhenqing, a celebrated Tang Dynasty calligrapher.
Good-quality brushes, as noted earlier, should be sharp-pointed, smoothly round, neatly cut and stiff at the tip. More specifically, the brushes are more like tender bamboo shoots when,having absorbed enough ink; the tip is very neat when being twisted by the fingers; the hair won't bend to the shaft, but naturally falls down when the wet tip goes around a thumb several times. Usually, the longer the tip of a brush, the more elastic strength it possesses. It does not mean the longer the tip of a brush, the more elastic strength it possesses. It does not mean the longer the hair of a brush, the better it is. When a brush shows a long and semi-transparent tip in the sunshine, it can be considered as being of good quality.
The forgoing consideration may assist people to choose writing brushes and write or draw with facility.