Trends: Xuan paper listed as UNESCO intangible heritage

Xuan paper, a kind of paper originating from ancient China used for writing and painting, was recently listed as a UNESCO intangible heritage.

The soft and fine-textured paper which has a great resistance to crease, corrosion, moth and mold is suitable for both Chinese calligraphy and painting. Because of its quality, Xuan paper has been used to preserve the majority of ancient Chinese books and paintings by famous painters, due to its reputation as "1,000-year-old paper".

The paper was originally produced in Jing county and its neighboring cities in Anhui Province, which were under the jurisdiction of Xuanzhou Prefecture in the Tang Dynasty, which is why it is named "Xuan paper".

The bark of Pteroceltis tatarinowii, a common elm species in Jing county, was used as the main material to produce Xuan paper. Rice was also used in the production of Xuan paper, along with several other materials later added in the Song and Yuan dynasties, such as bamboo and mulberry. Due to the shortage of such wood, straw was used as a replacement after the founding of new China in 1949, which greatly improved the quality of the paper.

Loosely speaking, the production of Xuan paper can be divided into 18 ingredients, of which some are kept secret. Steaming and bleaching the bark of Pteroceltis tatarinowii is included, as well as the addition of a variety of juices. Nowadays, modern techniques, such as mechanization are also used in the production of Xuan paper.

The Cao family in Jing county during the Tang Dynasty, was among the earliest papermakers and major producers in ancient China, originally produced Xuan paper. One of their descendents, Cao Guanghua said, "The fiber of such bark takes a rhombic shape under the microscope so when the ink and water are brushed onto the paper, the paper can hold them very tightly."

Over the years, Xuan paper, as an essential carrier of Chinese calligraphy and painting, is known as one of the "Four Treasures of the Study", along with ink, brush, and ink stone.

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