Chinese paper art

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Chinese paper art

In a culture that invented paper back in the 1st century AD (Cai Lun, during the Han Dynasty), Chinese paper arts have existed for thousands of years, spanning from painted or pattern cut paper fans, lanterns, to decorative designs and structures accomplished by folding and/or cutting.

Paper cutting art

Chinese papercutting is a unique artform, since paper was invented in China and has existed there for thousands of years. Common designs are animals, flowers and figures cut with scissors or a knife, mainly made to decorate doors and windows. Papercuttings are also called window flowers or cutting pictures. Papercutting has long history featuring both national and regional themes. It was most popular throughout the Qing Dynasty during which many skills developed, including drafting and the use of smoked paper.

Cuttings can be made with single or multicolored papers, both of which present pictures both vivid and natural. Various papers can be applied for papercutting. Skilled crafters can even cut out different drawings freely by a pair of scissors without stop.

Though the end product is usually small in size, it can reflect many aspects of life such as prosperity, health, or the harvest. Some cuttings represent stories about the happiness gained from the accomplishment of common goals.

Archeological finds trace the tradition back to the 6th century, although the tradition probably began a few centuries earlier. Paper cuttings were chiefly used for religious purposes or decoration.

Today, papercuttings are chiefly decorative. They ornament walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes and are also used on presents or are given as gifts themselves.

Papercuttings have special significance at festivals and on holidays. At the New Year's Festival for example, entrances are decorated with papercuttings which are supposed to bring good luck. Papercuttings used to be used as patterns, especially for embroidery and lacquer work.

There are two methods of manufacture: one which uses scissors, and another which uses knives. In the scissors method, several pieces of paper - up to eight - are fastened together. The motif is then cut with sharp, pointed scissors.

Knife cuttings are fashioned by putting several layers of paper on a relatively soft foundation consisting of a mixture of tallow and ashes. Following a pattern, the artist cuts the motif into the paper with a sharp knife which is usually held vertically. The advantage of knife cuttings is that considerably more cuttings can be made in one operation than with scissors.

In the countryside, papercutting is a traditionally female activity. In the past, every girl was expected to master it and brides were often judged by their skill. Professional papercutting artists are, on the other hand, usually male and have guaranteed incomes and work together in workshops.

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