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Chinese Literature
Wenfang sipu 文房四譜 "Notes on the Four [Tools] of the Study"


The 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 by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) writer Su Yijian 蘇易簡. The life dates of Su Yijian, courtesy name Su Taijian 蘇太簡, are not clear. He came from Tongshan 銅山 (modern Zhongjiang 中江縣, Sichuan) and was admired by Emperor Taizong 宋太宗 (r. 976-997) for his literary talent. He was therefore appointed to several important posts in the central and local government. Besides the 5 juan "scrolls" long Wenfang sipu, he has authored the political encylcopedia Xu Hanlinzhi 續翰林志 and a lot of other books included 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 collected a lot of literary sources, mainly rhapsodies and poems, but also prose writings. The book has a preface written by Xu Xuan 徐鉉 and a postface from 986 written by the author. The book has an appendix describing further inportant tools like a brush rack (bige 筆格 or bijia 筆架), water pot for rubbing the inkstone on the inkslab (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 geographical book Yudizhi 輿地志. The concept of the Wenfang sipu is similar to Ouyang Xun's 歐陽詢 encyclopedia 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 inkslabs" or Xielu 蟹錄 "About crabs".
The Wenfang sipu is included in all important contemporary bibliographies. In You Mao's 尤袤 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 collectanea 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.


Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1852. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

August 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail