Master brushmaker helps keep traditional art form alive

(| Updated : 2022-04-19

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Guo Mingchang makes a Qi writing brush. [Photo/Iqilu News]

The Chinese writing brush dates back 3,500 years and is strongly tied to Chinese characters and calligraphy. For most Chinese people, the writing brush eventually fell out of favor as modern life progressed.

Guo Mingchang, from Guangrao county in Dongying, East China's Shandong province, is one of the few people who can still master the ancient art of making writing brushes.

Guo, who is in his 60s, is a descendant of the Qi writing brush-making technique and has been practicing it for over 50 years.

The Qi writing brush, along with the Huzhou writing brush in Zhejiang province, the Xuancheng writing brush in Anhui province, and the Hengshui writing brush in Hebei province, is one of the four legendary Chinese brushes. The Qi writing brush, with a history of more than 2,000 years, is also a provincial intangible cultural heritage item in Shandong.

A writing brush must go through more than 150 processing operations before it can be used, which includes dipping, drawing, combing, and combining, from special materials to become a finished product.

"Good materials and craftsmanship are required for a high-quality writing brush. My techniques have been passed down through my family for generations," Guo explained.

Each step must be completed by hand, putting the patience of the craftsmen to the test. "Mastering the process of producing just a brush tip takes at least three years," he said.

Qi wring brushes are becoming increasingly popular among calligraphy enthusiasts due to their meticulous manufacturing process and high quality. Guo, on the other hand, is still concerned about the inheritance of the craftsmanship.

The market for writing brushes began to shrink in the 1980s, and production scales decreased. Many artisans found that creating writing brushes was not enough to support their families, so they moved on to other endeavors. Because of the difficulties, few young people are interested in the field.

Guo has been working hard in recent years to help pass on the ancient skill.

"On the one hand, our team promoted the Qi writing brush technique in schools, teaching students about its historical and cultural origins as well as how to make it," Guo explained. "Instead of a family workshop, we established a company with the help of the local government to grow the Qi writing brush technique into an industry."

Guo's team is attempting to fulfill modern demands to generate new varieties by researching the tradition's values in practical usage, enjoyment, and collection.

Guo's Qi writing brush products are now being sold not only across the country via e-commerce platforms, but also internationally via exhibitions in the United States, France, Germany, and other countries.

Guo believes that the Qi writing brush making technique, being an essential local cultural name card, should be better protected and cultivated in order to allow more calligraphy enthusiasts at home and abroad to learn about traditional Chinese calligraphy.