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Hui Ink Making

Hui Ink Making

Ink is one of the most significant contributions made by Chinese ancestors to Chinese culture and indeed to world civilization. Hui ink is one of the wonders of our ink production, produced in the form of ink sticks, which are ground on an ink stone to provide ink of the right consistency for purpose.

Hui ink sticks have distinct features and unique production techniques. The history of their development, and the science behind the different types mean that Hui ink has played an important role in the history of Chinese ink manufacture. There are many advantages in the use of top quality Hui ink in traditional production; for example, some are “as firm as a jade, distinct in texture and always durable”, some are “full of ink aromas while grinding”. Some are made of pine soot and glue and are very strong, others are as solid as a stone, distinct in texture, and deepest black, which are invaluable, and still more are as bright as a mirror, sharp a knife, and moral as a jade. Some ink sticks have become an art form in themselves, beautifully carved and engraved, with their own intrinsic aesthetic value.

According to historical records, Hui ink dates back to the Tang Dynasty and reached its zenith during the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Among the four ink producers during the Qing Dynasty, two (Wang Jinsheng and Hu Kaiwen) came from Jixi County, as did a wood craftsman named Hu Guobin from Shangzhou village in Jixi County during the late Qing Dynasty. These were typical of those who inherited the traditions of Hui ink production during the Qing period and subsequently the Republic of China. Nowadays their descendants continue to preserve their traditions in the local production of Hui ink.

It is very complicated to produce Hui ink. Furthermore, different types have their own unique techniques, which are never shared with others. Craftsmen employ different techniques according to the raw materials. For instance, tung oil, linseed oil and raw lacquer all require special methods of refining, firing the lacquer, cooling, collecting and storing. Meanwhile, there are particular ways to build the kiln that produces the required pine soot, to fire it, control the time and quantity when adding pine wood, choose which glue is required, make it, and mix the final ingredients in the right proportions for the finished product. The methods used will determine whether the ink is light, distinct, and fragrant, the hardness of the stick, and whether it can be ground to the desired consistency.

Today, however, with shortage of raw materials and people to maintain traditional techniques, the production of Hui ink is endangered, and there is a risk that the knowledge and methods may be lost unless they are supported and protected.