Tao Inkstone from Lanzhou of Gansu Province in west China is acclaimed as one of the Four Famous Inkstones in China, along with the Duan inkstone of Guangdong Province, the She inkstone of Anhui Province and the Chengni Inkstone of Shanxi Province. Tao Inkstone has a long history and made its fame during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Produced mainly in Taoyan Village in Zhuoni County, Tao Inkstone is made of stone found at the bed of the Tao River; hence the name. It mainly has four kinds Duck-Head Green, the best of the four in terms of quality, with light green, water-like lines and hard nature; Parrot Green with dark green and smooth surface; Osier Green in green mixed with vermilion, and with hard nature; and Light-Green Tao, featuring the flowing lines of water.
One feature common to all four kinds of ink slabs is that the stone is hard and fine. Though hard, the stone is not dry. Though fine, it is not slippery. With a hard, smooth stone you produce liquid ink easily by rubbing the ink stick against the stone. Since the stone is fine, but not slippery, it yields ink very quickly.
The inkstone's fame lies in its beauty and style and good quality, usually decorated with various fancy pictures like dragon, phoenix, tortoise, mountains and waters, figures and flowers and birds. In the past, it was a favorable collection of the celebrities. The Gansu authorities choose Taoyan as a present to the Special Administrative Government when Hong Kong officially returned to China in 1997. The most famous aspect of the inkstone is that when its lid is on, the lines and patterns of the original stone merge with the lid line to give the impression that the stone is whole.