Traditional Chinese Woodworking Tool: Ink Line

By Zhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Long Adze (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

In the evolutionary history of traditional Chinese woodworking tools, each tool has no standardized production, and each tool is made by the woodworkers themselves.

Frame Saw (1950s) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

However, some tools, such as adzes, axes, and saws, cannot be made according to their personal preferences and requirements.

Simple Ink Line (Late Qing Dynasty (1840–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Therefore, some old carpenters embody personal thinking, preferences and craftsmanship in the shapes of ink line to show their judgment of objective things and understanding of tradition. 

Ink Line (1950s) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Ink line is a very common tool in traditional Chinese carpentry for marking straight lines on wood. It can also serve as plumb line.

"Children at Play" Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

"Children at Play" Ink Line: The figures engraved on this ink line constitute a story, showing the carpenter's self-amusement.

Dragon Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Dragon Shaped Ink Line: Dragon is a legendary creature in Chinese mythology, capable of controlling over wind and rainfall. It flies up into the sky on the Vernal Equinox day and hides in deep waters on the Autumnal Equinox day.

Dragon Head Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Dragon Head Shaped Ink Line: This dragon-shaped ink line expresses the carpenter's wish to pray for a safe journey when traveling around. The shape of dragon head also symbolizes leadership.

Tiger Shaped Ink Line (Qing Dynasty (1616–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Tiger Shaped Ink Line: Different shapes of ink lines represent different meanings, and the shape of tiger is extremely rare. Tiger is regarded as the "king of the forest" in ancient China, and the ink line with such a shape is considered to have the role of protecting the house.

Peacock Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Peacock Shaped Ink Line: This peacock-shaped ink line expresses the carpenter's wish for auspiciousness and happiness.

Fish Shaped Ink Line (1970s) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Fish Shaped Ink Line: "Fish" (鱼) and "abundance" (余) are homophonic in Chinese, so it symbolizes wealth. This ink line expresses the carpenter's hope for a rich and abundant life.

Goldfish Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Goldfish Shaped Ink Line: As fish is a symbol of harvest and abundance in Chinese culture and indicates good fortune, this ink line expresses the carpenter's wish to bring more wealth to life through craftsmanship.

Carp Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Carp Shaped Ink Line: Carp is one of the most widely used animals in Chinese mythology. It symbolizes fertility and fortune.

Carp Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Carp Shaped Ink Line: This ink line expresses the carpenter's good wish for his work and family.

"Carp Leaping over the Dragon Gate" Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

"Carp Leaping over the Dragon Gate" Ink Line: In Chinese mythology, when carp jumps over the Dragon Gate, it can turn into a dragon. This ink line expresses the carpenter's wish for not only succeeding in the career and getting promotion, but also the courage to swim against the current.

"Fish Turning into Dragon" Ink Line (Qing Dynasty (1616–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

"Fish Turning into Dragon" Ink Line: A dragon with the body of fish is a form of "fish-dragon mutual transformation". It comes from folk customs and legends of the ancient China and has existed for a long time. "Fish turning into dragon" symbolizes development, evolution and success in the examination. The "yin" and "yang" pattern on the right side represents the harmony.

Quail Shaped Ink Line (Late Qing Dynasty (1840–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Quail Shaped Ink Line: This quail-shaped ink line expresses the carpenter's wish to live and work in peace and contentment.

“Squirrel Collecting Grape" Ink Line (Late Qing Dynasty (1840–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

“Squirrel Collecting Grape" Ink Line: “Squirrel Collecting Grape" (松树葡萄藤) is one of the traditional Chinese auspicious patterns. The character “Squirrel” (鼠), has the same pronunciation as the character "Fortune" (福) in some Chinese dialects.Together with grape, which contains many grains, the entire pattern symbolizes fertility and prosperity.

“Squirrel Collecting Grape" Ink Line (Late Qing Dynasty (1840–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

The ink line expresses the carpenter's hope for a happy life.

Car Shaped Ink Line (1960s) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Car Shaped Ink Line: Car is a popular decorative theme after the founding of the People's Republic of China. It reflects the cultural characteristics of that time.

Car Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

This car-shaped ink line shows that as the world changes and develops, the carpenters are also adapting to new things and technologies, while improving their skills and creativity.

Ink Line with Cock and Floral Patterns (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Ink Line with Cock and Floral Patterns: The cock and peony symbolize wealth and fame. This ink line expresses the carpenter's hope for a successful career.

“Taking the First Place" Ink Line (Mid-Qing Dynasty (1728–1820)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

“Taking the First Place" Ink Line: “Du Zhan Ao Tou" (独占鳌头) means taking the first place in the civil service examination in ancient times. Now it signifies coming out first. This ink line shows the carpenter's career expectation to take the first place of the industry.

"Happiness Appears on the Eyebrow" Ink Line (Qing Dynasty (1616–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

"Happiness Appears on the Eyebrow" Ink Line: In ancient times, Chinese people think that pica pica can bring good news, so they call it "Xi Que" (”喜鹊“, meaning "magpie of happiness") or "Bao Xi Niao" (”报喜鸟“, meaning "bird that announces good news"). Two magpies therefore symbolizes double happiness.

Characters "Plum" (梅) and "Eyebrow" (眉) have the same pronunciation and tone "méi", so people use the pattern of pica pica standing on the branches of plum tree to imply that "happiness appears on the eyebrow" and "people beaming with joy".

Rabbit Shaped Ink Line (Republic of China (1912–1949)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

Rabbit Shaped Ink Line: Rabbit symbolizes cleanness, docility and goodness. When building a new house, the carpenter uses a rabbit-shaped ink line to wish the house owner a sound and innocent family.

"Serve the people" Bas-relief Ink Line (1960s) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

"Serve the people" Bas-relief Ink Line: "Serve the People" is the purpose of the workers in the socialist countries. This ink line expresses the carpenter's full enthusiasm for work and the hope to build up the country.

Deer Shaped Ink Fountain with Lingzhi Pattern (Qing Dynasty (1616–1912)) by UnknownZhenjing Traditional Woodwork Museum

These ink links have various shapes, all lively and vivid, reflecting the wisdom of the working people. Although their craft levels, educational background and capability of understanding vary a lot, each piece they have made is a classic.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Wonders of China
From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of China
View theme
Google apps