Making Chinese Inksticks

Since around 256BC, Chinese have started making inksticks. It needs a lot of hard work to make only one inkstick — click to read more information about inksticks.

Old Hu Kai Wen Inksticks Shop 

Photos source: Tencent Photos, 2016.
Photos were taken at the Old Hu Kai Wen Ink Factory, She County, An Hui Province, China.

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The process of making traditional Chinese inkstick is highly confidential even if the recipe has been used for hundred years. Normally, it takes 11 complicated steps to make one inkstick. This inkstick craftsman is mixing up one of the materials. — in Anhui.

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Mr. Fang Wenhun is making inkstick molding. He started making inkstick in 1976 and has never left this workshop ever since. — in Anhui.

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Mr. Huang Zhijun is checking the finished inksticks. He has been making inksticks for over 40 years. — in Anhui.

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60 years old Mr. Wang Shengli has been working at this inkstick factory for 36 years. He has been doing the same work in all these years without a break. ¨Everyday, I do the same work and I will retire next year.¨ said Mr. Wang.


The factory owner Mr. Zhou said, ¨Mr. Wang Shengli is the second generation inkstick craftsman and he is in his 60s. Mr. Zhu Gang´s father was also an inkstick craftsman who worked for this factory. However, none of their children would like to do the same work any more. For young people, there are so many other ways to make money without working as hard as an inkstick craftsman.¨
— in Anhui.

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It is not difficult to sell inksticks. The most difficult problem for this traditional craftsmanship is that no one want to learn this skill. Most of the current inkstick craftsmen in China have spent their whole life to only make inkstick. For future, no one knows what might happen. Let´s hope this valuable craftsmanship will not disappear.

In this photo, the 54 years old craftsman, Mr. Zhu Gang, is taking out some finished inksticks to dry. His father was once a skilled inkstick craftsman, but none of his children is interested in making inkstick any more.ink-maker-17

Inksticks are placed in shade to dry.

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A worker is improving the paintings on the inkstick.

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Once the inkstick is finished, it needs to be decorated with small paintings or calligraphy. Usually, this work is done by women.

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When the inkstick is 30% dry, workers need to improve the details of the inkstick.

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The time each inkstick needs to become dry varies according to the shape and weight of the inkstick. Normally, an inkstick of 45 grams needs 6 months time to dry, and 80 grams 8 months. Also, different shapes of inksticks have to be placed in different ways.

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The inksticks are dried in the natural environment. The humidity, temperature, etc have to be strictly controlled. Every several days, workers need to flip the inksticks to avoid molds.

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The youngest inkstick craftsman is over 50 years old already.

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The best Chinese inksticks are still 100% handmade with the most traditional, also confidential, recipes. Modern machine still cannot make inksticks which are as good as handmade ones.

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Hammer.

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There are 7 to 8 workers in this workshop. Their job is to use hammer to reshape the half-finished inksticks. Firstly, workers use hammer to make the half-finished inkstick even softer. Secondly, workers have to squeeze these soft inksticks into a molding tool to get the inkstick a nice shape.

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Steaming inksticks. At this stage, the inksticks smell quite nice already.

(I really do not know how the inksticks are made although I visited inkstick factories before. Such kind of information is very confidential and, therefore, mysterious too. )

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Half-finished inksticks.

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This workshop is for finished inksticks. Most of the workers in this workshop are women. The finished inksticks are sent to this workshop to be decorated.

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Hands of inkstick craftsman. If observing closely, you will find almost all the inkstick craftsmen´s hands are black. It is difficult to wash this black colour off. There are very few inkstick craftsmen in China at the moment. Take the Old Hu Kai Wen factory as an example. There are around 100 workers in this factory and most of them are over 50 years old already. A skilled inkstick craftsman can make 5,000 to 6,000 RMB per month. Although this is a quite attractive salary in An Hui, it seems this is not attractive enough for young people. To be a skilled inkstick maker, you will not only need several years intensive training but also need to endure very bad work environment. Your hands will be black for almost all your life, the smell is strong, and you have to be strong enough to carry heavy raw materials.

 

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Old Hu Kai Wen Ink Factory is the most famous Time Honoured Brand in China. It was established in 1782 and its workshops are still in use. The worker just walked out of the workshop where the raw materials are processed.

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Inkstick craftsman have to stay at the dark dirty smelly workshop for the whole day.