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Located at the western end of Liulichang Street, Beijing , Rongbaozhai (the "Studio of Glorious Treasures") is famous for both its collection of calligraphy and paintings that spans centuries, and its excellent array of the "four treasures of the study" (brushes, ink, paper and ink stones).

The studio deals in paintings, calligraphic works, carvings and seals by famous figures, especially the block prints found on watercolors. Today it has preserved a dozen valuable works including a Tianhuang seal and a piece of Tianhuang stone weighing 4,275 grams, the heaviest of its kind in the world.


Currently one of the most illustrious traditional art galleries in China, Rongbaozhai's birth was far humbler -- and some might even call it secretive.

The shop at Liulichang opened in 1894 when China's ruling Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was collapsing under its own weight and foreign powers were grabbing larger and larger slices of the nation.

But Rongbaozhai's roots go back much deeper: beginning with the establishment of its predecessor, Songzhuzhai, more than 300 years ago.

The story began with the Zhang family of Chunshu Lane in Beijing. Renowned papermakers, they owned and operated Songzhuzhai.

Songzhuzhai mainly sold art and writing paper to the literati. All the paper used in the imperial civil service examinations was selected and made by Songzhuzhai. This, of course, gave the shop great prestige and promoted the sale of its goods.

Zhang Yangshan inherited Songzhuzhai during the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1821-1850). However during the time the shop was in his care the job of providing paper for the imperial examinations was taken away and given to rival shop-owner, Yiwenzhai.

It was the beginning of a nightmare. Before long, Zhang Yangshan died, it is said, of anger and hatred. His only son died in his prime. Songzhuzhai was heavily in debt and the burden of the family fell onto the shoulder of Zhang Yangshan's daughter-in-law, whose family name was Li.

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