The local skill of making Lu'an inkpads has been listed as part of the nation's intangible cultural heritage.
The Lu'an inkpad, used to impress a stamp or seal, was invented by Zhang Lu'an at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It quickly gained a reputation for reproducing bright colors that resisted fading.
"In most people's opinions, an inkpad is just a tool used to impress a stamp," said Ma, an official of the Jing'an District Culture and History Bureau.
"However, according to traditional Chinese culture, the quality of an inkpad directly influences the quality of an artwork."
Many famous painters and calligraphers, including Wu Hufan and He Tianjian, used the Lu'an inkpad because it won't spoil in summer or turn hard in winter.
Young craftsmen use traditional methods to make Lu'an inkpads. (photo: Shanghai Daily)
Because of this, use of the Lu'an inkpad has become one of the most important methods used by the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission and the Shanghai Museum to identify art masterpieces. Ma said that making a Lu'an inkpad was a complex affair. It required more than 50 ingredients and special procedures to ensure its color stayed bright.
"All the procedures should be made by hand instead of on an assembly line, because the chemicals of a metal machine would affect the inkpad's color after being mixed with its special materials," Ma said.
There are only two surviving students of Zhang Lu'an-Gao Shixiong and Fu Jiliang-and both are over 80.
They have donated the secret method for making the Lu'an inkpad to the country, according to the Jing'an District Culture and History Bureau.
"The Lu'an inkpad was listed among the first batch of intangible cultural heritage skills in Shanghai," said Yang Jiguang, head of the bureau.
"It's good for the inkpad to be recognized as one of the national treasures."
The bureau plans to nurture young successors to the aging masters and it will be holding training classes and establishing an exhibition hall.
(Shanghai Daily February 20, 2008)