Chinese Paper Cutting

Paper cutting is a very distinctive visual art of Chinese traditional handicraft and has been making its way along the route of the long history of paper. This art originated from the 6th century after the invention of paper in the Han Dynasty, when women used to paste golden and silver foil cuttings onto their hair. Paper cutting once became one of the main forms of art, and was popular to the common people of the time. Later, paper cutting was used during festivals to decorate gates and windows. After more than one thousand years’ development, now it has become a very popular means of decoration among country folk, especially women.

Most of the paper cutting artists are women. The themes of their works usually include everything in people’s daily life. The main cutting tools are simple, one tool is just a pair of scissors. Once they are owned by a master of paper cutting, they will become so supernatural that works of paper cutting beyond imagination are created out of their hands. Another tool is an engraving knife which is necessary to make a delicate job. When you look at items made by these tools carefully, you will be amazed by the true-to-life expressions of the figure’s sentiment and appearance, or portrayal of natural plants and animals’ diverse gestures. And you even can see tiny feathers of pied magpies, patterns of chrysanthemum have the curling petals. There are some other interesting patterns of paper cutting, such as a married daughter returning to her parents’ home, or young people paying a New Year visit to their grandparents.

No doubt that art comes from life and serves life. Paper cutting is very popular in the countryside. The bright color of red, green or light blue in works provides a strong foil to a merry atmosphere. So they are often found in wedding ceremonies or festivals in China. And people like to decorate their windows and doors using colorful paper cuttings.

Although the other art forms, like painting, can also show similar scenes, paper cutting still stands out for its charm of clear lines and ingenious patterns which are all hand-made. As they are usually in monochrome, paper cutters must make use of their imagination to make the three-dimensional scenes stand out visually from the paper. They must delete secondary parts and compose the main body properly, abstractly and boldly. Though simple, the color then appears charmingly bright.

It is easy to learn about paper cutting but very difficult to master it with perfection. One must hold the knife vertically and press evenly on the paper with some strength. Flexibility is required but any hesitation or wiggling will lead to imprecision of lines or damage the whole image. The paper cutters stress the cutting lines in several styles and there are four ideal but basic lines that they endeavor to master. They attempt to carve a circle like the moon, a straight line like a stem of wheat, a square like a brick, and sawtooth like the beard.

People express their good wishes through paper cuttings. For example, for a wedding ceremony, red paper cuts are a traditional and necessary decoration on the tea set, the dressing table glass, and on other furniture. Big red Chinese characters “Xi” (usually two of them together means double-happiness ) are a must on the newlywed’s door. Upon the birthday party of a senior, the character “Shou” which represent longevity will add delight to the whole celebration. And a pattern of chubby children cuddling fish signifies that they will be abundant in wealth every year.

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