Chapter II The Ink
Section I   An Overview of the Ink
The ink (ī in Chinese that reads mò) is one of the four treasures and one of the important factors of Chinese style, and was a prerequisite for the invention of printing technique.
The earliest form of the ink was black powder, which was composed of burnt sumach extract, ash from burnt pine branches. After a long time of evolution, the ashes were mixed with animal adhesive and turned into solid forms such as a round plate or a rectangle.
By the time of Tang Dynasty, there were ink producing plants set up by the government; during Song Dynasty Anhui Province became a center of ink production, and people in the country began to collect famous ink sticks; during Ming Dynasty, muskiness and gold foil were used in making ink sticks, at the same time, moulds for making ink stick and casing of sticks were greatly improved.
Section II    Kinds of Mo
Mo is classified according to raw material used, there are mainly two kinds—burnt pine branches and burnt animal oil. The latter is more difficult and therefore more expensive, used to be tributes to emperors.





    The above are samples of ink sticks made from burnt pine branches





The above are samples of ink sticks made from burnt animal oil
There are also red ink sticks and other colors such as blue, green and yellow. As we can see from the samples above, there are always ornamental pattern on them, the edges of some of them are painted with gold color and on some of them the year of production was marked.
Ink sticks are also classified as the following:
1.   Imperial ink, which was made for the use of the emperor only, made in the imperial court;
2.   Ink sticks of tribute, which were manufactured locally to be offered to the imperial court, usually three times a year;
3.   Ordered ink sticks, that were ordered by scholars for their own use;
4.   Appreciative ink sticks, that were made for purpose of appreciation;
5.   Popular ink sticks, that were made for use of the broad masses;
6.   Gift ink sticks, that were made for birthday or marriage gifts;
7.   Medicine ink sticks, that could be used to apply on the body to cure some diseases.
Section III   Assesment of Mo
A good piece of Mo is usually of fine texture, the proportion of adhesive is not too much, normally twice the weight of the ashes; it is hard, smells good and sounds natural when rub it on stone.
To be able to discriminate Mo, one has to be farmiliar with preserved sticks made by famous producers, to know their quality, inscription, patterns and style.
One has to remember some important demarcation lines, for instance, before the 35th year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing, there has been no patterns of “plowing and knitting”, before the 30th year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong, there was no pattern of cotton, so if an ink stick that was marked the 25th year of the reign of Qinglong with a cotton pattern, it must be a fake.
We should also know the name of the emperor, Confucius, the names of one’s own ancestors are not used on ink sticks; the producers had to avoid using them or modify such names if they have to these names.
Carving style on ink moulds is different between Ming and Qing, in Ming, the carving was bold and sharp while in Qing it was delicate.
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