Monday, March 7, 2011

Kung Te-Ch’eng

Lots of buzz these days about an ink from Noodler’s called Kung Te-Ch’eng. In terms of color, quality and description it has some interesting characteristics. A shade of bluish-purple, it’s not one that particularly lights my fire but it is understandable why many others are excited by it. Reading a couple of reviews and seeing the attached samples gave a good idea of color and performance, and also a couple of ‘watch out for’ tips. The makers of Kung Te-Ch’eng state right off that for the health of your fountain pens this is an ink that must be used with caution. It also has a very strong chemical smell which some may not like, and spilled on anything, this bulletproof (permanent) ink is there to stay, so care must be taken.

What caught my eye before even getting a look at the ink was the name and description. Why did Noodler’s choose the name Kung Te-Ch’eng, that of a contemporary Chinese statesman who died only three years ago? Interesting story. The ink maker’s stated goal was ‘an attempt to replicate the color, depth, behavior, properties and general characteristics of the first royal ink of ancient China.’ According to information offered by JetPens, ink blenders at Noodler’s were interested in China’s royal ink at the time of Confucius. To understand the shade of ink used at the time, experts have examined the remnants of ink stones used by the Chinese Emperors, but information is limited by the passage of years as well as difficulty in getting cooperation from museums and collectors. The preference, according to what has been learned was for a blue-purple. In gratitude for the assistance received in their search, Noodler’s chose to name their ink Kung Te-Ch’eng, the name of the 77th lineal descendant of Confucius.

Kung Te-Ch’eng (1920-2008) was a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of China from 1946 to 1991, helped draft the 1947 Constitution of the Republic of China and was a senior advisor to the President of the Republic of China for over fifty years. He was for a number of years director of the National Palace Museum in Taipei and served as President of the Examination Yuan for almost ten years. As a descendant of Confucius, the first character of his name is the same as the ancient philosopher’s.

The royal blue-purple ink of ancient China was of course used exclusively by the Emperor and his statesmen-advisors in recording official policy. Outside of the palace confines, the standard ink at that time was black. Ancient Egyptians and Chinese, both developed ink at approximately the same time around 2500 BC. From long ago Chinese literature has referred to the brush, ink, inkstone and paper as the “four precious things of the library.” Evidence for early Chinese inks similar to the modern ink sticks we see now dates from around 256 BC. The ink was produced from soot and animal glue, using fine particles of carbon lampblack for color, and gum or glue as a binder. It was sold in solid sticks or cakes, either round or rectangular. For writing it was was ground on an inkstone and mixed with water. The finest lampblack is said to come from the burning of vegetable oils but in ancient times the best soot came from burning the wood of specially selected pine trees in an ink furnace which included inverted pottery jars to catch the smoke. The jars trapped the soot which was later removed with feather brushes. The soot was then mixed with glue made from horn or animal hides. Glue made from the horns of young deer was of the highest quality because of its purity. Good ink was dependent upon good glue, giving the ink texture and life.

In reading about Chinese ink I came upon an interesting tidbit about the Chinese Imperial examinations which were given to select those qualified for government posts between the years 605 and 1905. The examinations were very long and each student taking the exam arrived at an examination compound with only a few amenities: a water pitcher, a chamber pot, bedding, food, an inkstone, ink, and brushes.

Examples of Chinese calligraphy on the right:

The first is by Zhang Zuyi (1849-1917) in the style called Clerical Script.

The second example on darker paper is by Chen Hongshou (1768-1822) written in the Running Script style.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting--even for us non-ink fanatics. Most take so much for granted and never wonder why or how. But knowing that around 250 BC inks in China were made from soot and animal glue adds to one's cultural literacy--something so lacking in many people, especially the now generation.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America