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人鬚筆 Beard Brush Pen


There are hardly any hares in the South of the Ridges.[1] A [local] prefect obtained a hare’s fur and sent it to a craftsman to make a brush pen [with the hair].[2] [The craftsman] lost the fur after getting drunk. In great fear, [he] cut off his beard to make a brush pen, which turned out to be great. [The prefect] requested more to be made, yet the craftsman declined. Having been pressed, [the craftsman] told the truth. [The prefect] then ordered his entire household to deliver their beards. Failure to deliver would lead to a fine equivalent to its worth.[3]

* From Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574-1646) ed. Gujin tangai 古今譚槩:

[1] Lingnan 嶺南 (South of the [Nanling] Ridges) is a geographic area that includes the modern provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

[2] Brush tips made of hare hair, known as tuhaobi 兔毫筆 (hare hair brush) or zihaobi 紫毫筆 (purple hair brush), are one of the major types of brush tips (the other types using weasel hair, goat hair or “combo hair”).

[3] The referent of the last possessive pronoun qi 其 is open to interpretation. The last sentence may indicate that the fine should be equivalent to the estimated price of the final product, the brush pen. Another reading possibility is less banal. Since the story is meant to be understood as a joke, the last sentence may also mean “Failure to deliver would lead to a fine equivalent to the beard’s worth”, making it a punch line that paradoxically imposes a fine that is, if not null, impossible to calculate.

A hare depicted in the "Shuangxi tu" 雙喜圖 by Cui Bai 崔白 (fl. 1050-1080)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

Tea bowl with a hare-fur pattern from the Southern dynasty (1127-1279)

Image credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


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