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The brush was invented by Meng Dian (?-210 B.C.), according to legend, yet primitivepainted pottery had decorative designs painted by tools more or less like a brush. Clearly visible stains or marks of a brush were left in certain places on the pottery. From this it may be surmised that the brush predated the written language itself. The history of the Chinese brush can be traced back at least six thousand years.

That Chinese calligraphy has become an art that enjoys a worldwide reputation is in a large measure related to the use of the brush to write the characters. The head of the brush is made of the hair of the goat, wolf, rat or rabbit, which is softer than bamboo, pencil, quill or ball pen. Because of its softness its written strokes can be light or heavy, thick or fine. The strokes flow naturally, entering an artistic world with an element of wonder. Other materials may give you a handsome style, but they can hardly attain the level of achievement in calligraphic art executed by the brush.

Writing brushes are soft, stiff or a combination of the two. A soft writing brush is flexible and easily moistened with ink. Made of aoat hair, it is called yang hao in Chinese. Some calligraphers think beginners should use this brush to practice handwriting, since it facilitates forceful writing. Practice begins with medium-sized characters, however, which call for regularity and neat lettering. Thus it is advisable to use a combination writing brush, since it is difficult for the beginner to handle a goat-hair brush.

Stiff Brush

This brush is stiff and hard and does not hold a large amount of ink. Made of wolf hair,itiscommonly called a wolf-hair brush. To practice writing small characters, which call for regularity and neatness, it is better to use a stiff brush.

Jian hao, or a combination of stiff and soft hair, contains goat hair and the hair of another animal. Rabbit hair is somewhat purple, so a rabbit-hair brush is called a purple brush. The ratio of hair may be 70 percent rabbit hair and 30 percent goat hair or vice versa or 50 percent of each. Zi yang jian is the name in Chinese for a rabbit-goat writing brush.

Selecting The Writing Brush

The Chinese brush may be big or small, stiff or soft. The important thing is that it serve your own practical purpose. Generally, a big, soft brush is used to write large characters and a small, stiff one to write small characters. The point must be "round like an awl" that can be "pressed like a chisel". The Chinese brush point should have the following characteristics: roundness, pointedness, evenness and strength. Roundness means the point should be rounded and robust. Pointed-ness means it should be as sharp or pointed as an awl. Evenness means that when you spread the brush and hold it down, the brush is even. Strength means the point is flexible or elastic. You can moisten a new brush in your mouth, then press it forward and backward on your thumb. The brush will go round and round smoothly. When you pick the brush up, it will return to its former shape naturally becoming as sharp and pointed as before. This means your brush is all right.

Protecting Your Brush Ink Stick

A new brush has a sticky coating that must be removed by immersing the brush in warm water (do not use hot water). The hair will then fluff out. Do not try to remove the glue by force. Do not use your teeth to remove the glue. The glue on brushes for writing small characters should be removed from two fifths of the length of the hair. The glue on brushes for writing medium-sized characters should be removed from half the length of the hair, and the glue on brushes for writing big characters should be removed from two thirds the length of the hair. It is not advisable to remove all the glue from the brush. If it is removed entirely, the brush will not have the required force or rigor. How much glue should be removed just depends on the convenience of the user.

The brush for writing big characters must be washed in clean water after use. Be sure no ink is left on the brush, which should be carefully groomed. The brush should be hung up with the tip downward. The brush for writing small characters must be put in a sheath after use, to protect it from gluing up. If the brush is not used for a long time, it must be kept in a box or a bag. Camphor balls should be used to protect the brush from being moth-eaten.

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