Produced in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province in South China, the Duan inkstone 端砚 is one of the four most famous inkstones in China along with the She inkstone in Anhui Province, the Tao inkstone in Gansu Province, and the Chengni inkstone in Shanxi Province.
The Duan Ink Stone originated in the BaiShi and Ribing villages, in the city of Shiqing in Guangong Province. Baishi and Ribing are neighboring villages, and for centuries, up to 80 percent of the villagers earned their living by making Duan ink stones. Presently, it is still the central region for Duan ink stone production.
According to documents, Duan inkstones were first produced during the Wude reign (618-626) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is made of Duan stone from the Duanxi River running at the foot of Mount Lanke, hence the name. Famed as being fine and doing no damages to the brush, the, Duan inkstone has had a high reputation among Chinese scholars ever since.
Making Duan inkstones includes four steps: stone selection, engraving and box-matching, among which stone selection and engraving are the two most important steps. It is very hard to hand pick flawless stones, and using tools such as dynamite is forbidden. Engraving encompasses good conception, and highlights the fine shape of the stones and engraving skills.
Flying dragons, flowers and birds, figures, mountains and waters are common images engraved on the stones. . The matching boxes are also very carefully chosen and are often made of purple sandalwood, and rosewood.
The Duan inkstone has various styles, and new-style products are designed one after another, such as the Doufang inkstone, the engraved rectangular inkstone and the engraved natural inkstone. In recent years, many products were made to meet increased export demand.
According to existing records, people started making Duan ink stones in the Tang Dynasty. It has a fabricated flow, it protects the brush, and it almost never freezes, even when placed in low temperatures. . The industry flourished nationwide in the mid-Tang Dynasty. Throughout hundreds of years, villagers have developed a scientific production system. The process is rather complicated, which encompasses stone selection, material screening, shape designing, carving, and wooden box matching and polishing. The end result must be very delicate, so every stage of the process must be done by hand.
The key to making Duan ink stones is collecting the proper stones. . The cave is about 80 cm high, and collectors have to squat, sit or lie down to collect the stone. Because of the requirements of the environment, the tools for stone collecting have to be specially made.
Like other traditional handicraft industries, the Duan ink making industry has its own organization and rituals. The Duan ink makers worship Wuding and hold a grand ceremony to worship him on April eighth of the lunar calendar every year.
The Duan ink stone is highly valued for its artistic aesthetics and its special selection procedures.. In modern society, the traditional industry is becoming more mechanized. Fewer and fewer people are interested in inheriting this skill. We need to understand the obstacles and make efforts to remove them if we hope to preserve this culture.