Located outside the Heping gate of Beijing is Liulichang West Street. On this simple, elegant and flowing street, there is a shop, which has a history of nearly 350 years, and has a name coming from “make friends through culture, and take honor as the treasure.” Xu Beihong, Qi Baishi and Li Keran were all its loyal customers, associated with it through Chinese traditional calligraphy and painting. The shop is Rong Bao Zhai, the successor of Song Zhu Zhai founded in 1672.
Rong Bao Zhai has developed from a south paper shop in Liulichang Street to a well-known Chinese time-honored brand and oriental art gallery. With its brand connotation continuously expanded and enriched with the changes of years and the efforts of generations of Rong Bao Zhai people, it has gradually grown into a central State-owned enterprise engaged in comprehensive cultural business, which integrates the culture of calligraphy and painting management, stationery, woodblock printing, mounting and restoration, auction, pawn, publication, exhibition, and education.
Over the past more than 300 years, Rong Bao Zhai has experienced the rise and fall of honor and disgrace and personnel changes. Up to now, the three words “Rong Bao Zhai” still shine brightly. In the inheritance, development and continuation of each period, it condenses the cultural pursuit of Rong Bao Zhai people from generation to generation.
In 1896, Rong Bao Zhai set up a “tietaozuo” workshop at No. 2 Jingyuan Hutong on the east side of itself, and began to carve and print paper using woodblock printing. The workshop soon became famous owing to the high-quality products. The woodblock printing technique is a way of printing on textiles and paper. The technicians copy the original painting and then carve it on several boards according to the strength of the brush strokes, as well as the shades of colors. Then, technicians reprint the painting one by one stroke, with the colors shifting from light to dark. By referring strictly to the original work, the woodblock printing aims to achieve exactly the same effect as the original. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Rong Bao Zhai was no longer satisfied with printing only famous contemporary works, and began to focus on ancient paintings. In 1954, it successfully printed Wang Yun’s landscape painting “Pavilion on a Moonlit Night” on silk, filling the gap of 1,300 years of ink-block silk printing. Later, ancient famous paintings were made by woodblock printing from small to large. Among the fine works of single-width are the “Ta Ge Tu” by Ma Yuan of the Song Dynasty, the “Lotus on the Water” by an unknown painter of the Song Dynasty, and “Read the Book of Changes by the window in autumn” by Liu Songnian of the Song Dynasty, etc. The woodblock watermark works of huge-width include “Han Xizai Night Banquet” by Gu Hongzhong of the Southern Tang Dynasty, “a Lady of the Dukedom of Guo Going on a Spring Outing” by Zhang Xuan of the Tang Dynasty and “Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival” by Zhang Zeduan of the Song Dynasty. The three woodblock printing works were completed in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Through innovation, Rong Bao Zhai people have successfully developed this technique and climbed one art peak after another.
The exquisite mounting and restoration technique of calligraphy and painting is another intangible cultural heritage of Rong Bao Zhai’s. In the late 1950’s, most of the calligraphy and painting mounting technicians on Liulichang Street gathered in Rong Bao Zhai, and thousands of famous calligraphy and painting works were restored by Rong Bao Zhai. Rong Bao Zhai mounting is the most important representative of Beijing mounting of the northern school. On the basis of inheriting the Xuanhe mounting, it also integrates the advantages of the northern and southern schools. With the strict selection of materials, it adopts traditional technology to form its own unique style. For decades, Rong Bao Zhai’s artists engaged in mounting have systematically summarized the valuable experience of predecessors in long-term practice and successfully mounted and repaired many famous calligraphy and painting works without damage and discoloration, which is called “art garden miracle” by experts. In particular, Rong Bao Zhai has made many unique achievements in restoring and repairing ancient calligraphy and painting. “The Land Is So Rich in Beauty”, the masterpiece completed by Rong Bao Zhai technicians and hung in the Great Hall of the People represents superb skills in mounting and repairing.
Rong Bao Zhai always keeps pace with the times while passing on the torch from generation to generation. For a long time, in order to better inherit the national culture, protect and inherit the Chinese cultural heritage, Rongbaozhai has gathered a large number of cultural and art experts and technical talents who have worked hard for it, and also attracted cultural scholars and elites, who have left much-told stories and brightened this art hall. The brand of “Rong Bao Zhai” has gone through the baptism of years, growing in the grace of traditional culture.