Cul­tured En­ter­tain­ment

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

Bei­jingers en­joy a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing thrill seek­ers. The cul­ture is re­flected in ev­ery as­pect: Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street's four trea­sures of the study (writ­ing brush, ink stick, ink slab and pa­per), an­cient books, cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings blend with tra­di­tional cul­ture and mod­ern civil­i­sa­tion; Bei­jing-style fans and ar­chaised porce­lains speak of a time of ele­gance and lux­ury.

Lo­cated south of Heping­men (Gate of Peace) in Xicheng District, Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street is bor­dered by Nan­liu and Beiliu al­leys on the west and Yan­shou Street on the east, and has a to­tal length of about 800 me­tres. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Shun­zhi (1644–1662), the Han and Man eth­nic peo­ple were or­dered to live apart from each other in Bei­jing.

Be­cause of its lo­ca­tion, Li­ulichang was home to many Han eth­nic of­fi­cials. Guild­halls were built nearby. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and can­di­dates who were com­ing to Bei­jing for im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions fre­quent book fairs.

Many time-hon­oured shops along Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street in­clude Qing­mige (pa­per shop), Yidege (ink shop), Daiyuex­uan (Chi­nese writ­ing brush shop), and Cathay Book­shop (China's largest store for an­cient and sec­ond-hand books). The most well- known is Rong­baozhai (Stu­dio of Glo­ri­ous Trea­sures), the so-called “Folk For­bid­den City.”

An­cient Chi­nese Books, Cal­lig­ra­phy and Paint­ings

An­cient writ­ings, cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings of suc­ces­sive dynasties are his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence of the 5,000-year Chi­nese cul­ture. Writ­ten Chi­nese char­ac­ters de­vel­oped into a spe­cial art form known as cal­lig­ra­phy, closely con­nected to Chi­nese paint­ing, be­cause the same cal­lig­ra­phy tech­niques are em­ployed.

Chi­nese writ­ing brushes and brush-

wield­ing tech­niques are used in the cre­ation of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, both of which have be­come in­ter­twined in Chi­nese vis­ual arts.

To date, the restora­tion of an­cient books has a his­tory of over 100 years. Yiy­atang is a store in Bei­jing well known for its pic­ture­mount­ing tech­niques. Since its af­fil­i­a­tion be­gan with Cathay Book­shop in the 1950s, Yiy­atang has re­stored more than 300,000 worn-out Chi­nese books. With the ar­rival of the in­for­ma­tion age, Cathay Book­shop, with a strong busi­ness back­ground deal­ing in old books, has launched an on­line store.

Re­puted as the “Folk For­bid­den City,” Rong­baozhai has al­ways had the tra­di­tion of col­lect­ing cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings. Its col­lec­tions em­brace an­cient trea­sures and the works of renowned cal­lig­ra­phers and artists from an­cient and con­tem­po­rary China. It also has a rich col­lec­tion of four trea­sures of the study. In par­tic­u­lar, Rong­baozhai pos­sesses a Tian­huang stone weigh­ing 4,275 grams, re­garded as the largest of its kind in the world.

Rong­baozhai's wa­ter­colour block print­ing is re­puted as a “liv­ing cul­tural relic.” The paint­ing “Han Xizai's Evening Ban­quet” is recog­nised as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive work that utilises a wa­ter­colour block print­ing tech­nique.

Four Trea­sures of the Study

The four trea­sures of the study are tools for writ­ing, all unique to China, which sym­bol­ise pre­cious world ma­te­ri­als as well as spir­i­tual and cul­tural lega­cies. They em­body China's long- stand­ing cul­tural his­tory, il­lus­trate cre­ation, de­vel­op­ment, and con­tin­ual tra­di­tion of writ­ing tools from dif­fer­ent places, and re­flect the schol­arly wis­dom of writ­ers drawn from na­ture.

For thou­sands of years, Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ing have re­lied on this set of tra­di­tional writ­ing ma­te­ri­als to con­vey peo­ple's thoughts and feel­ings. In the eyes of an­cient Chi­nese peo­ple, writ­ing ma­te­ri­als and in­stru­ments were more like spir­i­tual com­pan­ions rather than prac­ti­cal tools.

Re­fer­ring to the writ­ing brush among the “four trea­sures of the study,” Daiyuex­uan first comes to mind. Es­tab­lished in 1916, Daiyuex­uan sells brushes pro­duced in Huzhou, Zhe­jiang Prov­ince. It was named af­ter its founder, Dai Bin, who called him­self “Yuex­uan,” and is over a cen­tury old. Writ­ing brushes from Daiyuex­uan dis­play ex­quis­ite work­man­ship and come in three dif­fer­ent types.

In re­cent years, Daiyuex­uan has also branched into other fields. The Hui-style ink stick made by Daiyuex­uan is pop­u­lar with cal­lig­ra­phers and artists be­cause it has a rich and del­i­cate tex­ture and glossy fin­ish. Xuan pa­per, made with tra­di­tional work­man­ship, is as pli­able as foil. Duanxi ink slabs have a high qual­ity with ex­quis­ite work­man­ship.

Qing­mige is a time-hon­oured shop on Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street. Qing­mige has a his­tory of more than 600 years. As a shop that deals in pa­per from South China, Qing­mige pro­vided “four trea­sures of the study” to the im­pe­rial fam­i­lies and gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the most im­por­tant six min­istries dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. Qing­mige sells Xuan pa­per, writ­ing pa­per and Chi­nese ver­mil­ion seal paste. The “eight-trea­sure” Chi­nese ver­mil­ion seal paste is hand­made with eight raw ma­te­ri­als such as cinnabar and gold leaf.

An­other time-hon­oured shop on Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street is “Yidege,” es­tab­lished in 1865 and is well known for its ink. The two char­ac­ters “Yide” are the first two char­ac­ters in the verse that con­sti­tute the cou­plet on its en­trance door. Since the es­tab­lish­ment of the Yidege Ink Fac­tory in the 1950s, tech­ni­cians have de­vel­oped Yidege ink, Zhonghua ink, and the “eight­trea­sure” Chi­nese ver­mil­lion seal paste based on tra­di­tional skills ac­claimed by cal­lig­ra­phers, artists and other ink users.

“Yidege ink” is a tra­di­tional prod­uct de­vel­oped with the Yidege Shop in 1865. High-qual­ity black car­bon ink, an­i­mal glue and high-grade aro­matic spices are used, and fine tra­di­tional work­man­ship is ap­plied to pro­duce the “Yidege ink.” The prod­uct fea­tures bright ink marks, fa­cil­i­tates smooth writ­ing, and leaves be­hind thick mark­ings with a rich fra­grance. It also dries eas­ily, is suit­able for mounted cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, wa­ter-re­sis­tant, doesn't fade, and us­able dur­ing all four sea­sons.

Bei­jing-style Fold­ing Fans

As the say­ing goes, “Get your fan rack for sum­mer.” Fans, which can be waved to re­lieve the heat or lifted to cre­ate shade, en­joy a long his­tory in China.

Fold­ing fans were ex­tremely pop­u­lar in Bei­jing dur­ing the Ming and Qing dynasties, when play­ing and col­lect­ing fans was com­mon. Fans be­came es­sen­tial to writ­ers. In Bei­jing, fan shops spe­cialised in re­pair­ing, mak­ing and sell­ing fans dec­o­rated with cal­lig­ra­phy, po­ems or coloured paint­ings ap­peared. Fan shops mainly sold pa­per fans. But they also sold pa­per and four trea­sures of the study, as fans are used sea­son­ally.

At that time, in ad­di­tion to Rong­baozhai, Qing­mige and Song­guzhai sold fans with plain cov­er­ings and glue-based golden paint, or in­vited well-known cal­lig­ra­phers and artists to paint on their fan cov­er­ings. Other well-known fan shops in­cluded Qing­hanzhai on Li­ulichang East Street and Dail­ianzeng at the east­ern mouth of Damochang in the old Chong­wen (present- day Dongcheng) District.

In mod­ern times, the Rong­baozhai and Hong­baotang fans at Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street have the most abun­dant ren­der­ing of cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings. They de­pict his­tor­i­cal sto­ries, lo­cal opera fig­ures, land­scapes and dif­fer­ent kinds of cal­lig­ra­phy. Xuan pa­per or Yunmu let­ter pa­per is mostly used as fan cov­ers.

The fan com­bines var­i­ous tra­di­tional Chi­nese hand­i­crafts in­clud­ing carv­ing, in­lay­ing and lac­quer­ing tech­niques used to make fan slats, and to ren­der cal­lig­ra­phy and paints on fan cov­er­ings. The fan has be­come a pre­cious trea­sure of China.

To­day, in ad­di­tion to the time­honoured shops on Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street, the Guyun Fan Shop and Zheng­gao Fan Shop lo­cated at Shilihe are the most well-known for fans in the Bei­jing style. Zheng Gao, a fan crafts­man from Bei­jing, makes in­no­va­tive fan de­signs based on in­her­ited tra­di­tions.

Bei­jing Ar­chaised Porce­lain

Bei­jing ar­chaised porce­lain or “Bei­jing fanggu (an­tique-style) ci (porce­lain)” seems to be a kind of imi­ta­tion. Bei­jing ar­chaised porce­lain is a tra­di­tional art that dates back to the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1662–1723) in the Qing Dy­nasty. It refers to porce­lain mak­ing and paint­ing tech­niques in­her­ited from the im­pe­rial porce­lain work­shop dur­ing the reigns of Em­peror Kangxi, Yongzheng (1723–1736) and Qian­long (1736–1795).

Bei­jing's ar­chaised porce­lain has been de­vel­oped and passed down among the peo­ple. In the early 20th cen­tury, porce­lain-mak­ing tech­niques be­came more en­riched, and the com­pleted porce­lains had an ex­quis­ite qual­ity in body tex­ture, glaze colour, with fine pic­ture qual­ity.

In 1900, Zhan Yuan­guang, a porce­lain mas­ter adept at draw­ing, colour-fill­ing, glaz­ing and fir­ing, came to Li­ulichang from Jingdezhen, launch­ing the his­tory of man­u­fac­tur­ing Bei­jing ar­chaised porce­lains.

Bei­jing ar­chaised porce­lains are dec­o­rated with pat­terns and var­i­ous themes: vivid hu­man fig­ures, moun­tain stones, and life­like flow­ers, birds, fish and in­sects. Porce­lains mod­elled af­ter those made with “wu­cai (five colours),” a porce­lain-mak­ing tech­nique preva­lent dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi, fea­ture no­table strokes and strong red­green con­trast, high­light­ing a dis­tinct eth­nic style.

Jurentang Bei­jing Ar­chaised Porce­lain is a time-hon­oured shop in Bei­jing with a his­tory of more than 100 years, dat­ing back to the palace work­shop of the Qing Dy­nasty. The Bei­jing ar­chaised porce­lains pro­duced by Jurentang come in var­i­ous shapes, such as ar­row car­ri­ers, gar­den seats and porce­lain pearls.

Jurentang ad­heres to tra­di­tions of porce­lain-mak­ing by us­ing purely nat­u­ral min­eral sub­stances such as pig­ments. Be­fore the pig­ments are used, they're put into a grind­ing miller for about 30 days. Then they are given to crafts­peo­ple and grinded man­u­ally for an­other 15 days, en­sur­ing that the pig­ments are re­fined and durable.

Nowa­days, mod­ern arts and crafts masters ab­sorb the strong points of oth­ers in an ef­fort to be in­no­va­tive while in­her­it­ing tra­di­tions of their pre­de­ces­sors. They are de­vel­op­ing hand-made porce­lains with dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns to ap­peal to peo­ple's de­sires and tastes. Th­ese ef­forts al­low Bei­jing's ar­chaised porce­lains to bet­ter re­flect the charm of a by­gone age.

Li­ulichang Cul­tural Street

Four trea­sures of the study

A fan with cal­lig­ra­phy

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