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Living Heritage: Xuan Paper

Updated: 2023-09-25 09:17 ( chinadaily.com.cn )
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Smooth yet tensile. Versatile and durable. With these qualities, Xuan paper is known as the "Paper of Ages".

The term Xuan paper first appeared in On Famous Paintings through the Ages, a book written by Tang Dynasty (618-907) scholar Zhang Yanyuan, in which he described Xuan paper as an ideal carrier for calligraphy and painting. Handmade Xuan paper from Jingxian county, East China's Anhui province, was listed as a tribute to the imperial court for its supreme quality during the period.

The traditional craft of making Xuan paper is extremely demanding. Sandalwood bark, a plant native to southern China, goes through 108 procedures together with rice straw over the course of three years before it can transform into a batch of fine Xuan paper. The entire procedure is so complex that even the most skilled craftsman can only master limited number of steps.

The flow of ink, both guided and resisted by water, determines the output of Chinese art, and Xuan paper outshines others with its excellent ability to give full play to ink. Different proportions of bark to straw during the papermaking process can create different canvases best suited for artistic expression in freehand ink paintings or calligraphy. 

Xuan paper has accompanied the passionate brushstrokes of the Chinese literati for thousands of years. Unlike other forms of paper, it is very resistant to damage brought by time. It is this durability that has made the preservations of many valuable works from ancient China possible.

Papermaking is a crystallization of wisdom of the ancient Chinese, and Xuan paper is the zenith of papermaking.

Column: Living Heritage

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