Chengni inkstone, one of the four most important inkstones in China (the other three are She, Duan and Tao inkstones), is produced in Xinjiang County of Shanxi Province in northern China. It is definitely an item not to be neglected. It differs from most of its brethren because of the way of making it. Instead of using a big chunk of hard rock, the stone is made from the soft soil from the bed of a local river.
Chengni inkstone originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was then a precious article of tribute. Unfortunately by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the craft of kilning the once famous Chengni inkstone had already lost its heritage due to various reasons. It regained its past prosperity after unremitting effort by craftsmen in recent years.
The very fine mud under the bed of the Fenhe River is filtered, mixed with bounding material, dried and carved into inkstone, then fired in the kiln. Because of the different minerals in the mud and also the different temperature of the firing, final products have different colors. The process has nine steps: mud choosing, filtrating, depositing, molding, baking, carving, firing, waxing and polishing. Chengni inkstone has the following characteristics: easy to generate ink, no harm done to the brush, and portable.
In terms of artistic design, Chengni inkstone, now with about a hundred designs, stresses on patterns and shapes, with elegant and simple but beautiful colors.