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People's Daily Online>>Life & Culture

Ancient craft of ink stick-making revitalized

By Zhang Yunlong, Li Sibo and Cheng Zhiliang (Xinhua)

08:56, January 30, 2012

BEIJING, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- A necessity in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy, ink was famously seen as one of the must-have items to equip an ancient Chinese study. Now, it is being recognized as equally essential among a list of cultural items whose continued production China is working to ensure.

Traditional crafts including ink-making will be showcased in an event in Beijing between Feb. 5-15 that will aim to raise their profile. It will be based around "intangible cultural heritage" (ICH), a set of old skills and crafts designated by authorities as worthy of protection.

Specifically, the organizers will focus on "preservation-orientated" businesses, enterprises funded by government to ensure that the next generation can carry on production in otherwise-threatened industries.

Famed craftsmen will be brought to the Chinese capital to show off their skills. In the case of ink production, they will travel from central province of Anhui.

The most famous ink sticks, solid forms ground with water to turn it to liquid, are the Hui ink sticks produced in Anhui, where the practice dates back at least 1,100 years ago.

The unique pigment is made from pines that grow on Huangshan Mountain, and it got the name "Hui" ink as the outcropping was originally under the jurisdiction of Huizhou.

Like many other traditional crafts that represent the essence of ancient Chinese culture, Hui ink-making is being increasingly distanced from people's daily lives as the country marches towards modernization.

Ordinary people now seldom use ink sticks, which means the market for Hui ink-making businesses is shrinking, thus making it difficult to preserve the craft. However, Hui ink was in the first batch of items that China placed on its list of ICH items in 2006, and thus there is hope for the craft.

More recently, in October 2011, China's Ministry of Culture certified 41 areas into which "preservation-orientated" funding would be concentrated. Southern Anhui was one of them. A major base for the traditional production of ink sticks, paper, brush and ink stones, it has around 400 firms involved in ICH businesses, with an annual output of one billion yuan (158 million U.S. dollars).

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