| 2019-07-04 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character refers to the inkstone, a stone mortar vessel for the grinding and containment of ink. The inkstone, together with the ink brush, inkstick and xuan paper, are the four writing implements traditionally known as the Four Treasures of the Study.


wú jiā xǐ yàn chí tóu shù

Wu means “my” and jia refers to house or family. Xi yan chi is known as the wash-inkstone pool, which is derived from a story about the great master of Chinese calligraphy, Wang Xizhi (c. 303–361). It is said that Wang had been working hard to learn Chinese calligraphy ever since his childhood. He often washed his inkstone in a pool near his house. Year after year, the water in the pool turned black because of the ink. Tou means “the edge of” while shu refers to a tree. This line literally refers to a tree beside the wash-inkstone pool in front of the author’s house.

This line is quoted from a poem named “Mo Mei” (“A Verse for an Ink Painting of Plum Blossoms”) by the Yuan poet Wang Mian (1287–1359). “Afore my ink stone-pool grows a plum tree,/ Each of its blooms with delicate ink blows./ It craves no kudos for its hue from ye,/ But all over the world its fragrance flows.” This is a poem inscribed on a painting. In the first half of the verse, Wang depicted the plum blossoms on a painting by citing the story of Wang Xizhi. From Wang’s eyes, the color of the plum blossoms are so soft and light that they seem to be dyed by the water from the wash-inkstone pool. The depiction of the pale color of the blossoms also implies that these blossoms may not be as attractive as the flowers of bright colors, which foreshadows the following part.

The last half of the verse is quite famous. It associates the plum blossoms with self-cultivation by comparing them to humans. The plum blossoms do not care about attracting people by their color, as long as they can impress the world by their fragrance. Wang expressed his attitude towards the world in these lines namely that, he paid little attention to the judgements of others and didn’t try to please other people. What he valued was to live with dignity and fortitude, dedicating himself to the world just us the plum blossoms filled the air with their scent.


​edited by REN GUANHONG