An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Wenfang sipu 文房四譜

Aug 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenfang sipu 文房四譜 "Notes on the four [tools] of the study" is a description of traditional Chinese utensils of the writing desk compiled during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) by Su Yijian 蘇易簡 (958-997), courtesy name Taijian 太簡, from Tongshan 銅山 in the prefecture of Zizhou 梓州 (today's Deyang 德陽, Sichuan). He was admired by Emperor Taizong 宋太宗 (r. 976-997) for his literary talent and was therefore appointed to several important posts in the central and local government. Apart from the 5-juan-long Wenfang sipu, he wrote the political encylcopaedia Xu Hanlinzhi 續翰林志 and some of other books which can be found in his collected works.

The Wenfang sipu describes the four main utensils of a scholar's writing desk, namely brush (bi 筆), ink (mo 墨), paper (zhi 紙) and inkstone (yan 硯). For all these four items, Su Yijian assembled quotations in literary sources, mainly rhapsodies and poems, but also prose writings. The book has a preface written by Xu Xuan 徐鉉 (916-991) and a postface from 986 written by the author. The book has an appendix describing further important tools like a brush rack (bige 筆格 or bijia 筆架), water pot for rubbing the inkstick on the inkstone (shuidi 水滴).

The chapter on the brush is two-juan long. It begins with general statements about brushes and then goes on to production, use and miscellaneous informations, and ends with literary allusions. The other three chapters are shorter. The quotations in the Wenfang sipu are very rich and contain a lot of fragments of books that are long since lost, like the Zhongchenzhuan 忠臣傳 of Emperor Yuan 梁元帝 (r. 552-554) of the Liang dynasty 梁 (502-557) or Gu Yewang's 顧野王 (519-581) geographical book Yudizhi 輿地志. The concept of the Wenfang sipu is similar to Ouyang Xun's 歐陽詢 (557-641) encyclopaedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚, but the detailed description of each single tool has not been made by earlier writers. Later writers of the Song period have used the Wenfang sipu as a model, for example the books Yanjian 硯箋 "Notes on inkstones" or Xielu 蟹錄 "About crabs".

The Wenfang sipu is included in all important contemporary bibliographies. In You Mao's 尤袤 (1127-1194) Suichutang shumu 遂初堂書目, the title is Wenfang sibao pu 文房四寶譜 "Notes on the four treasures of the study" (which seems to be more accurate). It also lists a supplement called Xu wenfang sibao pu 續文房四寶譜. The Wenfang sipu is included in the series Baichuan xuehai 百川學海, Xuehai leibian 學海類編, Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Shiwanjuanlou congshu 十萬卷樓叢書.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1852.
Zhao Huizhi 趙慧芝 (1995). "Wenfang sipu tiyao 《文房四譜》提要", in Guo Zhengyi 郭正誼, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Huaxue 化學 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 1009-1012.
蜀漢 (221-263)