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Traditional Chinese paper cuts

Posted on August 26, 2013 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

As promised, I shall continue to 'show off' my vintage collection... and this time, it is traditional Chinese paper cuts that I collected when I was young. As a child, I loved to draw, cut, fold ( origami) and build ( lego). Of course my cutting technique was hardly refined, but I loved folding colourful square paper into smaller squares and then cutting triangles, squares, circles and other patterns on it... The most thrilling moment was when I finally unfolded the paper to see my new symmetrical creations! Would kids these days be thrilled by this? I am not so sure.


traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou


Paper cutting is a traditional folk art/ craft that originated in China, and eventually spread to other parts of Asia and the rest of the world. Its history could trace back to the invention of paper introduced by Cai Lun ( 50-121 AD). And in 2009, it was recognised and listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Paper cuts are traditionally used for religious and ceremonial purposes ( such as funerals and weddings), and as decorations during festivals such as Chinese New Year. Red paper is often used with Chinese characters that represent good luck, joy, health and hope.


traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou


Traditionally, the patterns are either first drawn or carved by free hand, and then engraved by knives. The styles and characteristics of the patterns/ designs vary a lot in different regions whilst sharing similar/ common themes. Most of the time, the designs are symmetrical but the ones pictured here are all asymmetrical.

The first two sets seen here are from the southeastern city of Yangchow ( now renamed as Yangzhou), which is said to be one of the earliest regions to adopt paper cutting as folk art. A folk arts and crafts agency was set up in 1955 to revive the neglected art and skills, and in 2007, a Chinese paper cut museum also opened in the city, showing the importance of paper cut in the region.


traditional Chinese paper cuts

 Paper cuts from Nantung


The third set consists of 6 designs of chrysanthemum and it is from Nantung/ Natong. I had to be extra careful when I tried to photograph these designs made of thin rice paper because they are so delicate. I could see that they were all hand-cut with great skills and patience, a shake in the hand would ruin everything.

The last set, which has a very different style from the others is from the Northeastern county of Yuhsien ( now renamed as Yuxian) in the Hebei province. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, paper-cutting of Yuxian is especially well-known for its colourful and vivid asymmetrical designs of Chinese opera characters, insects, animals and rural life. The designs shown here are inspired by the mythical Chinese creature, qilin.

Since 2010, the county has been hosting an annual paper cutting art festival and opened its first paper cut museum in 2011, exhibiting over 1200 pieces of art work from across the country. The county is now home to more than 30,000 paper cutting artists and craftsmen, and their work are being sold worldwide generating more than 3% of the country's GDP!


traditional Chinese paper cuts

Paper cuts from Yuhsien/ Yuxian


If you are interested in learning more about traditional Chinese paper cutting, there is more information via the following links: The art of Chinese paper cutting and Chinese Traditional arts and crafts.



This post was posted in Paper craft, Chinese design, Traditional arts & crafts, Design and was tagged with paper craft, chinese design, Chinese paper cuts, folk arts & craft