Chinese Scholars were civil servants appointed by the emperor of China to perform day-to-day governance. The scholars were schooled in calligraphy and Confucian texts. They dominated the government and local life of China until 1911 and their status was based on merit and was official, not social.
With the return of the school year, Ming’s Zen Gallery is featuring East Asian Scholar items in this installment of Zen Treasures. Scholar items make great gifts for your friends and loved ones headed back to the world of academia. Take a look at some of these beautiful artifacts that can bring a little Zen to the classroom or dorm room.
A typical Scholars desk can hold any number of interesting things but some of the most common are calligraphy brushes and a brush pot, scroll weights, ink stones and chops as well as stunning and unique Scholars Stones.
A basic calligraphy brush has a bamboo handle, although more exotic ones of ivory, jade, silver, gold and hardwoods are not uncommon. The material used for the bristles can also vary greatly but some of the more common ones are of horse, rabbit, goat or deer hair. Some parents will have a brush made from their child’s hair because it is said to bring good fortune in the child’s later academic examinations.
Chops (or seals) are typically made of shou shan stone, and depict the “signature” of a person, family or office and are still used frequently in place of a signature or autograph. Normally red ink or cinnabar paste is used for stamping and, of course, wax is used to actually seal a scroll or letter. Owners or collectors of art or books will often add their own studio seals to pieces they have collected. This practice is an act of appreciation towards the work.
Traditional East Asian ink is solidified into inksticks. Usually, some water is applied onto the inkstone before the bottom end of the inkstick is placed on the grinding surface and then gradually ground to produce the ink. More water is gradually added during the grinding process to increase the amount of ink produced, the excess flowing down into the reservoir of the inkstone where it will not evaporate as quickly as on the flat grinding surface, until enough ink has been produced for the purpose in question.
When painting or doing calligraphy, scroll weights were commonly used to keep the parchment or Xuan paper flat and prevent it from rolling up on itself. Scroll weights could be simple pieces of iron or intricately shaped or painted bone, wood or silver. They can be found in all shapes and sizes from special figurines to long flat pieces like the ones pictured here.
One of the most beautiful and elegant Scholars item is the Scholars Stone. Scholars would go out on quests to find a stone that spoke to them or reminded them of a landscape or mountain and would then return with it to mediate and help them gain clarity and insight while writing. Some of the prized features in these stones are thinness, openness, wrinkling and perforations.
While there are many other tools of the East Asian scholar these are some of the basic necessities. Incense burners, water jars, deity statues and vases are also commonly found on a Scholar’s table.
So as you are sending your young adults, teachers and friends off to school this year, think about getting them a little gift of Zen to channel the wisdom of the ancient East Asian Scholar.