A scholar's tools
Brush, ink, paper and ink slab were seen as the "four treasures" of a scholar, in ancient times.
Huzhou in northern Zhejiang province is home to Hubi, the most famous brush. At Shanlian town, one can drop into any family studio to see the complicated procedure of making a fine brush.
Calligraphy beginners can spend less than 10 yuan ($1.40) to get a langhao (a brush made with the tail hair of the yellow weasel). They may find the more expensive yanghao brushes made with sheep or goat hair very difficult to handle, though only these can produce more refined paintings and calligraphy.
With a good brush in hand, one can head to Anhui province for the paper and ink.
A famous saying among Chinese collectors goes that xuan paper can last for 1,000 years. Xuanzhi is so named as the best type comes from Jingxian county in Anhui province, which once belonged to Xuanzhou prefecture.
The secret of making xuan paper was revealed to the public only recently and with it, Jingxian has become a must-see place, located only a two-hour drive from the picturesque Mount Huangshan.
The county has 200 paper studios. A small workshop employing five people can turn out 1,000 pieces of paper everyday. The masters all have their own secrets of making paper, and it takes years of practice to make two pieces of paper of exactly the same thickness and strength.
Not far away, Shexian county has the country's best ink, which is shaped like a piece of stone and usually inscribed with words or paintings of landscapes and figures. The production of ink stone began here some 1,000 years ago and one can pick up a small packet containing brush, ink, paper and ink slab for friends.
However, to get the best ink slab, one has to travel to Zhaoqing in Guangdong province, which is known for Duanyan, the most coveted ink slab in ancient China. At Baishi (White Stone) village, every family has piles of rocks that can be turned into ink slabs of different sizes, shapes and decorations.
Among connoisseurs, perfectly round and square ink slabs are seen as more valuable than irregular ones. It is very rare to find any real antique ink slabs, except for those on display at the Duanyan Museum.
Local artisans love to carve the landmark Dinghushan mountain onto their ink slabs. Famed as an "oxygen bar", Dinghushan is a wonderful getaway from urban life. One can also find mansions, pagodas, temples and other historic sites in Zhaoqing.
Fit for royalty
In the past, there were many places that produced porcelain fit for royalty. But there is no place to beat Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, which has remained the "capital of porcelain" for centuries since the first potters began building kilns here some 1,700 years ago.
Walking down the street in Jingdezhen, one cannot but notice the traffic lights posts, which are covered in blue-white porcelain with images from ancient paintings.
At the International Porcelain Art Center, a group of buildings in the elegant Ming Dynasty style, tourists can walk into studios of famous porcelain masters and see the birth of dazzling works.
Half a century ago, artists in Jingdezhen created a series of products that won the praise of Chairman Mao Zedong. These works, featuring red flowers on a snow-white background, were thus named Mao Ci. Today, innovative masters blend diversified artistic styles into their works.
When choosing antique porcelain, it is important to bear in mind that techniques in faking antiques are very advanced. Spending a big sum on something dubious is not a good idea.
(China Daily 10/06/2008 page10)