The earliest writing brush that has been found is a relic of the Warring States Period (476 BC 芒鈧?221 BC). From that time onwards, the brush has evolved into many forms. The nib can be made from rabbit"s hair, wool, horsehair, weasel"s hair, or bristles, and so on; while the shaft may be made from bamboo, ivory, jade, crystal, gold, silver, porcelain, sandal, ox horn, etc. It is important to see that there can be both soft and hard brushes each producing their own particular styles.
The delicacy gives literators and painters inspiration for creation, and has led to brush shafts being decorated with artistic patterns. One prized example was an ivory-weasel"s hair writing brush. On the ivory shaft with the diameter of 0.8 cm, there carved eight figures of the immortals and pavilions concealed seemingly in the clouds. With this in one"s hand, the threads of writing would hardly halt.
A good ink stick should be ground so as to be refined black with luster. With the invention of paper, they were improved accordingly. Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220), ink sticks have been made from pine soot, using other procedures that include mixing with glue, steaming and molding. In ancient times, emperors such Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) had paid great attention to the production of ink sticks and were expert in their appreciation of quality inks.
Paper making is among the "four great inventions" and one of the great contributions that ancient Chinese people made to the world. Before the existence of paper, our ancestors utilized knots in cords to record events. They then carved on bone, ivory, tortoise shell and bronzes. For very many years they wrote on pieces of bamboo. There is a story that tells how Confucius was such an avid and diligent reader that he would wear away the strips of ox-leather used to bind the pages of bamboo books together. During the early Han Dynasty wealthy people would write upon white silk but this was beyond the reach of the majority as the cloth was so precious.
It was Cai Lun who made the valuable contribution and his research gave rise to paper. Afterwards, many varieties of paper were produced of different quality and usage. Today the Xuan paper originally made in Anhui Province still shines with its charm.
The ink slab is the reputed head of the "four treasures", for its sobriety and elegance has endured the passage of time. Through ink slabs, people can sample the artistic charm of sculpting and the ink stone"s natural tints. Nearly all Chinese calligraphy enthusiasts hold that the star of ink slab is the Duanyan, ink slab produced in Duanzhou of Guangdong Province. It has its base a purple hue and enjoys the poetic name "purple clouds". It was always a tribute to the royal families during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907).