Chinese fountain pens

 

China has had a long history of fountain pen production btu recently they have cottoned on to the growth in the fountain pen market and have been producing a wide range of models in direct competition with some of the big names. The pens tend to be very cheap and work well but the build quality and quality control suffers a little and they’re not as refined as other brands. You will often find that if you buy a few of them most will work fine but 1 will mysteriously have flow issues or have a scratchy nib. You also have to shop around because sometimes the same pen will be sold at wildly different prices. In my experience the best place to look is either AliExpress or Temu.

Asvine

There seems to be some confusion over the relationship between the Asvine & Hongdian brands but the best explanation I have found is that while their pens often share identical components, the 2 brands are different and Asvine was often commissioned to make pens for Hongdian. Another story goes that Asvine is just a sub-brand of the parent company, Hongdian, or that they are an OEM manufacturer for other brands. As you can see, trying to work out the relationships between businesses in China where so little information is made public can be a very difficult task! 

Asvine v126

Asvine is a company that has a reputation for making good pens and they sell for a bit more than the bargain basement Chinese pens. This model has a big #8 nib and a vacuum filling system that works brilliantly. The only difficulty I found was filling it from a full 30ml Diamine bottle, which has a very narrow opening, but I got it done without much mess. People say that they are similar to a Pilot Custom Heritage 823 but I think the Asvine is shorter and the only real similarity is the vacuum filler and the fact that it is transparent.

I inked it with Diamine Robert and it writes very smoothly indeed – a lovely pen. 

Asvine v200

WIP

Caliarts Ego v2

This is a make I hadn’t heard of until recently but they got some good reviews on Facebook FP groups so, here it is! It actually seems to be a really good buy – it writes very well and when left for months it wrote again first time – no stutter, no dryness! I inked it with Iroshizuku Asa-gao, which is a gorgeous bright blue (as you can see in the feed/section!) and a very well-behaved ink generally. 

Hero

Known in full as the Shanghai Hero Pen Company this brand is one of the oldest and most respected pan makers in China. They are famous for their clones of the Parker 51 & 61 pens, which are still incredibly popular pens today. I have written a special article on these pens here

Hongdian

These pens are made by the Zhejiang Lishui Lantian Pen Company, which has been in business for over 20 years. They started as an outsourced manufacturer for other brands of pen but eventually started their own brand. 

They have a reputation for being good writers and much of their product list is made from brass so they tend to have more heft than your average Chinese pens, and this is appreciated by some users.

Hongdian C1

WIP

Hongdian N12

WIP – clone of Aurora?

Jinhao

These pens are all made by the Shanghai Qiangu Stationery Co., Ltd., which was formed in 1988. They have a good reputation in the cheaper end of the market but the pens can be a bit fragile or be a bit hit and miss as writers. Many of they clone pens are classics though – especially the 82.

Jinhao 80

This one is supposed to be a fairly accurate copy of the classic Lamy 2000 bauhaus inspired design, but with a Lamy-style Z50 nib (so not hooded, narrow & gold); no metal nose section and no ink window. The lack of the metal nose section has the effect of making it lighter than the Lamy 2000 but might also make the grip slippier. 

I really like the feel of the slightly textured surface and it feels good in the hand. I have inked it with KWZ Sheen Machine and it writes beautifully, laying down plenty of ink even with an F nib. The cap seems to seal well and the pen doesn’t have dry starts. 

Interesting fact: Many Chinese pens are supplied with nibs that look almost exactly like the Lamy Z50 nib unit, used on the Safari and Al-Star models. You can also buy replacement nibs from China in a huge range of widths from EF (0.3mm) up to 2.9mm stub, which means (and yes I have tried it but do it at your own risk!) you can swap these nibs onto a Lamy pen and get a wider range of nib choices. The steel nibs themselves can be a very tight fit on the plastic feeds but the sticky-tape trick (tape on the top and sides of the nib & pull in line with the pen) usually works. I’ve swapped out quite a lot of my original nibs for 1mm stubs because they are much nicer for testing inks than the supplied EF & F nibs. 

Jinhao 82

This is one of the most popular Jinhao models – a copy of the Sailor Pro Gear Slim in many details but with a huge range of colours and very very cheap. It uses a cartridge converter and comes in at about 125mm, which makes it fairly small but still usable in my big hands. It has a great reputation amongst fountain pen users and in my tests it wrote first time after being left for months, so it is well made. 

My only problem with this particular pen is that I took it in a fude nib – that upturned tip. I wanted to see what they were like and I honestly can’t get along with them at all – give me a normal nib any time! The people that use them like the variation in line width that can be achieved by varying the angle that the nib touches the paper. 

a fude nib

Jinhao 874 (standard metal clip)

These are unusual pens in that I’ve found them in 2 versions – this is the typical version with the metal clip and black converter. They are all push-cap, not screw, and the barrel has a little window in it (like a Lamy Safari), which is a bit superfluous as the ones I have are transparent. All are really nice pens that write well and they seal well so they restart easily after being stored. They come in a very wide range of nibs too so you can get everything from an EF right up to a 1.9mm stub, which is immense! I tend to prefer a 1.1stub if I want extreme italics – anything more is like writing with a chunky felt parker!

I’d happily recommend these to anyone. 

Jinhao 874 (St. Penpps version with wire clip)

This seems to be a version of the Jinhao 874 sold by an AliExpress seller called St.Penpps and they have given it a wire clip and red converter. This was inked with Diamine Skull & Roses, a German exclusive. 

EDIT: after months of being left all versions of this pen wrote well after just wetting the nib – they didn’t lose any ink at all so the seals are all excellent too. The only problem with one pen was that it clogged while using De Atramentis Pink Rose Gold, but this ink is a pen-killer and has clogged every pen I’ve put it in within minutes. 

Jinhao 990

These are simple plastic-framed pens with integral converters. The pen feels quite small in the hand but they come in a very wide range of nibs so they make good, cheap pens for testing inks or different writing styles. 

EDIT: Despite being fairly basic pens, when these were left for a few months and tested the nib just needed a slight dip in water to restart it. No ink had dried up so the cap clearly seals well. 

Jinhao Dadao 9019

These are really fat pens in the hand and they have a huge #10 (10mm) nib. I find them a bit unusual to hold but the nib is lovely and lays down a lot of ink – I used Organics Studio’s Aldous Huxley. The new design 2ml converter was easy to use but you do have to dip the huge nib all the way into the ink. I also noticed that the converter screws in at a slight angle, which is a bit annoying but it works fine. 

Some people say that the 9019 is a clone of the Namiki Emperor, and they have certainly copied of the Namiki clip, but I think this pen has different dimensions. Either way, it’s clearly tipping a nod that way and both are very large pens.

Jinhao 100/Century

This is a plastic-framed pen with an integral converter, so it’s effectively like a piston-filler but the capacity is much smaller than, say, a TWSBI where the entire pen chamber is filled with ink. These pens have a size-6 nib.

Jinhao x159

This is a very similar pen to the MontBlanc Meisterstück 149 but obviously nobody would confuse the two and this isn’t made to deceive anyone. It’s cheaply made but writes well and looks fine. It’s a fully plastic version of the old 159, which had a lacquered metal body. It has the huge #10 nib.

EDIT: on social media a few users have had pens crack where the cap finial meets the clip so this seems to be a weakness of the design. 

Jinhao x450

This is a metal-framed pen with an integral converter and size 6 nib, as per the Jinhao 100.

Lanbitou 3059

This is the closest copy of the TWSBI Eco I have seen so far – right down to the red logo on the cap, the split clip, the wide cap-band and hexagonal cross-section. But, although it seems very similar from outside, there are significant simplifications in the design that make it cheaper and less functional.

For instance, no little spanner or bottle of silicon grease has been provided because it has a much simpler arrangement for opening the barrel up and disassembling the pen – it just unscrews if you turn the collar between the barrel and the piston winding mechanism. The feed is also transparent and I’m not sure yet whether it is removable – I suspect not because on my pen the nib is also hooded and unreachable, but there are unhooded versions, which I might try to get hold of later. 

EDIT: after being left for a few months all of these pens had dried up completely and needed flushing out. Not a great sign and clearly the caps don’t seal at all well. I can’t recommend it as it can only be used for a short period and there are better pens in this price bracket. 

Majohn / Moonman

Majohn is it’s own brand but it had to rename the brand from Moonman when another, western, company trademarked the name in their country which would have prevented the Chinese company from importing there. 

They make very good quality pens which include the A1 & A2 which are clones of the Pilot Capless / Decimo design and completely new designs of their own. 

Majohn Capless A1

This is a very interesting pen indeed – mainly because it is an almost direct copy of a very much more expensive pen, the Pilot Vanishing Point / Capless, but a lot cheaper. The mechanism is extremely similar to the Pilot, including the little trap-door that seals off the nib to keep it wet when retracted. One extra option that you don’t get with the Pilot is a clipless version with a small roll-stop for people who don’t like big shiny clips.

I enjoyed using it from day #1 and even months later it usually starts first time, even with Diamine Noel ink in it – a sheening ink. The only slight problem has been that it isn’t easy to see how much ink is left in it because the clear converter is almost completely hidden in the nib mechanism and the barrel is of course opaque. 

Majohn Capless A2

Mahohn A1 (metal cased) above & A2 (plastic cased) below

I haven’t inked this pen yet – just too many pens and not enough time! But on first looks it is a very nice addition to the collection. It’s a copy of the Pilot Decimo Capless but, as you’d expect, very much cheaper! It has a plastic body, which makes it a bit lighter than the A1 but not a lot lighter because so much of the internal working is metal anyway. 

Majohn C1

WIP

Majohn C3 

This adorable little chunky pen is such a good writer and feels great in the hand. I like that the cap thread is actually the rim of the section so it seals way inside the cap. It has no clip but it does have a little silver roll-stop. I inked it with Iroshizuku Momiji which is very well-behaved and a brilliant red colour.

After being left for a few months it wrote first time! 

Majohn M2

A smallish eye-dropper, demonstrator pen that I received by accident (twice!) from a seller but which has grown on me. It comes with a free pipette and has a nice, tight seal which should keep the ink in very well.

I’ve inked mine with Diamine Werewolf Blood (an exclusive for the  Scriptum shop in Oxford), which looks amazing through the clear barrel! It has an EF nib, which wouldn’t be my normal choice but  when somneone ships you the wrong pen and you get it for 30% of the list price you don’t look a gift pen in the nib! Still, I find it a very smooth EF to write with and when reversed it writes microscopically small! 

Majohn M600S Celluloid

WIP – Leonardo clone?

Majohn M800

WIP – Leonardo clone

Majohn N1

WIP – pocket pen

Majohn P136

WIP – another Montblanc 146 clone

Majohn (Moonman) T1

This has a lovely large (#6?) nib on it but when inked with Troublemaker Doña Victorina it has persistent dry starts and often stutters. The dry starts look to be a problem with the cap sealing and could possibly be fixed with an extra rubber O-ring but I haven’t got a spare to try. I’ve dipped the nib in water and then it writes fairly well but it quickly dries up so I do suspect that there are flow issues too. 

Moonman is just the old brand name for Majohn – they had to change their brand after some competators registered the brand in other countries. 

Unbranded (Majohn?) piston-filler

This is a basic, unbranded piston-filler pen. This came with a cosmetic fault – the internal silver shroud that hides the piston mechanism was cracked. That said, it has written well since day #1 and even when left for a few months it just needed a dip in water to restart it. I inked it with Troublemaker Petrichor.

PenBBS

This company is based in Shanghai and started as a group of enthusiasts who decided to commission a pen to be made for members of the PenBBS online bulletin board system. 

Their pens have a reputation of being very high quality, smooth writers and they have built a great following by incorporating lots of different filling systems into their product range. You can find a model with just about every possible filling method ever devised! 

PenBBS 268

WIP

PenBBS 309

This pen is a plastic piston-filler and the model I bought was the clear-bodied one with red cap and knob. They have a screw cap which houses a lovely large #6 nib so it is a pretty smooth writer. When my pen came the piston was jammed and when I unwound the mechanism the whole end came off, showing that, unlike mainstream brands like the TWSBI Eco, this pen uses the same thread for adjusting the piston as it does for removing the piston mechanism. That makes it simpler and cheaper but it does mean that you have to be careful to make sure the mechanism is well screwed in and that it doesn’t come undone when filling the pen. 

It writes pretty well though so the basic mechanics of it are fine and it’s a good pen – but as you’d expect it just falls down a little on the build quality. The nib makes up for this though and I really like using the pen. 

EDIT: after being left for a few months, inked with Diamine Writer’s Blood it wrote first time, with no dry start issues. Very nice to see and a good indicator that PenBBS deserve their reputation for being one of the best Chinese brands.

PenBBS 355

WIP

PenBBS 489

This is a really unusual pen, made with the Sheaffer Touchdown filler system. I’ve used them on vintage Sheaffer Imperials and they seem to work well and are fairly simple so I had to give it a try on a new pen. Well, I can report that it worked fine and was easy to fill by just raising and lowering the plunger a couple of times.

Then in the hand the pen feels lovely and writes very smoothly indeed. The #8 nib is large and lays down a good amount of ink. 

PenBBS 500

WIP

Wingsung/Yongsheng

This company is owned by the Shanghai Hero Pen Company (英雄), one of China’s oldest and most respected brands. They started out as a company that Hero outsourced some manufacturing of the Parker 51/61 clone pens to but eventually they were bought up by Hero and now also make other clones of popular pens. 

The name confusion apparently comes from the 2 different readings of their name 永生, which is Yongshen in Mandarin Chinese and Wingsung in another Chinese dialect. 

WingSung/YongSheng 628

WIP

WingSung/YongSheng 629

This is basically a clone of the Montblanc 146 but comes with a steel nib and has been released it in more colours/variants than the original Montblanc. It is a piston filler, like the 146, but the components are cheaper.

I love this pen – it’s comfortable to use, balanced and has a smooth nib. 

WingSung/YongSheng 630

This is a classic copy of the Montblanc Meisterstück 149, right down to the style of ink window but it has a steel nibb and a cheaper feel. It has also been released in a raft of new colours, including transparent ones, and with flat-ended variants.

WingSung/YongSheng 699 

This is a direct copy of the Pilot Custom 823 and is really comfortable to write with – one of my favourite pens, after the 823. It has the vacuum filling system, a large ink reservoir and a large #8 nib. It comes in the same colours as the 823 (transparent black, brown & clear) plus a vivid transparent blue.

There is also a piston version of this pen which seems to have the same model number.

WingSung/YongSheng 3003

A simple converter-filler pen but they write well and look pretty. They have a push cap which seems to seal very well indeed as the ink didn’t dry up after months of storage and they just needed a dip in water to restart the ink. I even used De Atramentis Black Velvet Gold, which is a very shimmery ink and it hasn’t seemingly affected the flow at all. 

One nice little bonus is that the nib seems to be semi-flexible as the tines split nicely when you apply pressure. This perhaps helps the ink flow and keeps it wet.

WingSung/YongSheng 3008 v1 (clear)

These are lovely writers but I have one that seems to be writing dry, with a wet ink like Diamine Poppy Red. I’m not sure why this is happening but it is a bit disappointing. This one was inked with Dominant Industry Base Black though and has always been a great writer – even after being left for months it wrote first time. I think this just highlights problems with quality control. 

WingSung/YongSheng 3008 v1 (blue)

Again, another great pen that just needed the nib wetting to restart it after a long time in storage. This was inked using Diamine Hell’s Bells, a German exclusive. 

EDIT: I would recommend these pens but there is a third in the set with an F nib, which has consistently written dry. It dry started after storage and even after wetting the nib the flow seems to dry up and it becomes scratchy. So perhaps the moral is to swap out the nib for something broad? 

WingSung/YongSheng 3008 v2

The slightly larger cousin of the 3003, with a piston instead of a converter and a screw-cap instead of push fit. Looks nice and writes well but after being left I found that most of the ink had leaked into the cap and it was a ghastly mess! Not sure if I just have a leaky seal but the jury is out with this pen. On the positive side it hadn’t dried up, with all that ink in the cap!

WingSung/YongSheng 3013

I actually took ages to get around to inking this pen because I wasn’t sure if the vacuum filling system was going to work properly – it was a very cheap pen! But after I had had such good experiences with other WingSung pens I decided to try it and it worked brilliantly. You get a massive fill of ink and it just works first time – you just unscrew the end which frees up the plunger in the middle – you pull the plunger out and then, with the nib submerged in the ink, push down the plunger fairly quickly and this induces a vacuum in the chamber which when released at the end of the down stroke draws ink into the main chamber. Ingenious! 

This is a plastic framed pen but it ends up feeling quite heavy because the guts are made from metal. That aside it feels very good in the hand and the #5 nib writes beautifully.

Yiren

This is a small brand of pen made by the Nanchang Yiren Pen Company. 

Yiren DisplayGT

There are no prizes for guessing which pen inspired the design of the Yiren – it’s clearly a Lamy Safari. But if you like the Lamy Safari then you’ll also know that they come in specific colours which become collector’s items and the Yiren just comes in its own variety of colours so I think they aren’t a direct competitor. They have a push cap and everything else you’d expect from a Lamy Safari but some variants also have transparent sections and coloured clips. They also come in a myriad of colours including multi-coloured ones. 

I’ve found them to be a decent pen which just needs a little dab of water on the nib to get them writing after storage. This pen was inked with Troublemaker Lam-ang, which isn’t the most free flowing inks but I used a 1.1mm stub nib on it to give it better flow and to lay down more colour.

One slight issue is that they are very hard to attribute a brand name to – in fact most sellers just seem to describe the pen without any branding. I just found the name Yiren on a few ads for this pen so I  am assuming that’s who makes them. You can also find similar pens listed under the name Morandi and JIKUN. 

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