Ink brush maker keeps tra­di­tion alive

Shanghai Daily - - NATION - (Xin­hua)

SIFT­ING through bags of goat hairs to se­lect qual­ity ones for mak­ing Chi­nese ink brushes can be tough and bor­ing, but this is rou­tine work for Zhang Wen­nian, 50, who is an in­her­i­tor of the tra­di­tional hand­i­craft.

“The wool must be from the neck and un­der­arms of white goats weigh­ing un­der 25kg. Only a small amount of goat hairs are el­i­gi­ble enough for ink brushes — not too thick, not too soft,” said Zhang.

Many fa­mous con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phers and pain­ters, in­clud­ing Liu Haisu, Wu Zuoren and Ouyang Zhong­shi, were fans of the brushes made by Zhang’s ink brush work­shop, which is based in the city of Xuancheng, east­ern China’s An­hui Prov­ince.

Zhang said when his fa­ther man­aged the work­shop, it was ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing more than 200 va­ri­eties of brushes with an an­nual out­put of hun­dreds of thou­sands in its hey­day.

Tra­di­tional cal­lig­ra­phy with ink brushes has be­come ex­clu­sive to artists th­ese days, and the younger gen­er­a­tions are be­com­ing more ac­cus­tomed to e-read­ing and “pa­per­less” writ­ing, said Zhang.

His work­shop now pro­duces 100,000 ink brushes a year. And more than half of its an­nual rev­enue comes from small amounts of high-end prod­ucts that are sold to artists, while school stu­dents are the main force of be­gin­ners learn­ing cal­lig­ra­phy with cheap ink brushes, he said.

“With a smaller mar­ket, we are forced to pur­sue qual­ity, and it is im­por­tant to carry on tra­di­tional hand­i­craft and cul­ture,” Zhang said.

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