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Microscopic Carving

The art of microscopic carving generally refers to the engraving of infinitesimal characters on ivory or human hair. The artist engaged in this unique craft, when he applies the graver, cannot see the work he is doing but has to depend on feel. The art is therefore sometimes described as "carving by one's will".

There are such sculptors of microscopic carving in many cities of China, who can engrave on small grains of ivory poems, paintings and miniature seal marks in no less than 10 different colors.

Microscopic carving on human hair is a new art developed only in recent years, being pioneered by Shen Weizhong, a member of the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Research Institute. On a hair several millimeters long and without the help of any magnifying apparatus, the artist can engrave poems or other texts by relying on the feel of his fingers. To achieve this, he needs an absolutely quiet environment, in which, holding his breath and controlling his pulse by meditative power, he plies his art with a cutting wire thinner than the hair. To read the surprisingly neat characters on the finished work, it is necessary to magnify them several dozen times with a microscope.

Hair carving has been developed on the basis of fine-character carving, which has always been a Chinese tradition. Its rudiments may be traced back more than 2,000 years. On the fragments of oracle bones of the Western Zhou period (11th century BC - 256 BC), unearthed in Guyuan of Shaanxi Province, have been found small carved characters the size of rice grains with hair-thin strokes. Archaeologists have also found on the much earlier Yin oracle bones miniature engravings the size of millet, legible only under 5-fold magnification.

Artists of today with their assiduous study and experiment have given the age-old art a new luster.

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