The four treasures of the study (文房四寶) is a reference to the 4 essential items that would absolutely be present in the study rooms of scholars.
The 4 stationary items are:
- Brush (筆)
- Ink (墨)
- Paper (紙)
- Inkstone (硯)
They can sometimes also be referred to as the 4 friends or 4 jewels of the study.
Among the 4 items, the brush is the most prominent and continues to be a symbol of academic success that is displayed in homes.
During ancient times in China, the brush was the only stationary used by people to write on cloth and paper.
It allowed both the elite and commoners to draw calligraphy and write poems for leisure.
The earliest brush excavated by archeologists is estimated to date as far back as over 2,000 years ago.
While people can easily hand-make brushes for themselves, the highest quality ones are made of white goat hair as the writing tips.
A particular story about a famous brush shop is about a scholar who topped the imperial examinations after using one of the shop’s brushes. The shop owner is Wang and he became famous overnight when the story leaked. His brushes were then coined as Wang Yi Pin (王一品) brushes which loosely translates to the “number one” brush. This shop was passed down from generation to generation and still operates today in Huzhou.
Most people might think that ink is just black colored liquid that can be written with.
But scholars are worthy of the highest quality of ink that write smoothly, last forever and would behave as if by command of a scholar.
Historical art work that are estimated to be over 300 years old that used quality ink is still as vibrant as if their brand new.
The type of paper that was commonly used in the past is rice paper.
It is said that a particular type of rice paper called xuan zi (宣纸) is able to retain it’s integrity for a thousands years.
While the brush enjoys the most attention among the 4 treasures, scholars are known to hold the inkstone in the highest regard.
This is because it is used to grind the ink stick.
This plays a very important role in writing comfortably and producing beautiful words and calligraphy.
Even though there are 4 treasures of the study room, the brush is most often used as a display item in feng shui.
It’s placement is usually on the study table of children, study rooms, and in areas where the flying star 4 is present.
This is supposed to improve the student’s mental vitality in studying and to enjoy good luck with academic pursuits.
As display products, the brush often accompanies the abacus to symbolize the ability to excel in solving math problems.
The four treasures can sometimes also be found in a set made of gold, inevitably to call on academic luck.