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Paper Cutting

An Introduction to Paper Cutting

Papercutting is one of China's most popular folk arts. It originated from the 6th century when women used to paste golden and silver foil cuttings onto their hair at the temples, and men used them in sacred rituals. It is supposed that the beginnings of papercutting were even a few centuries earlier. Papercuttings are used for religious purposes, for decoration and as patterns.

Chinese paper cuts were used for religious and ceremonial purposes. Various paper objects and figures used to be buried with the dead or were burned at the funeral ceremony. Papercuttings, which were usually of symbolic character, were part of this ritual. This is a superstition that these things burned or buried would accompany the dead in another world. They also often served as decorations for sacrificial offerings to the ancestors and gods. Papercutting have special significance at festivals and on holidays. At the Spring Festival for example, entrances are decorated with papercuttings which are supposed to bring good luck.

Today, papercuttings are chiefly used as decoration. They ornament walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes and are also used for decoration on presents or are given as presents themselves. they are usually made with red paper, which is the most popular and propitious color in Chinese culture. Papercuttings used to be used as patterns, especially for embroidery and lacquer work.

In Chinese folk culture, the art of paper-cutting occupies a significant amount of time allotment in various folk activities. As early as the Southern Song Dynasty, professional paper-cutting craftsmen have emerged. In the countryside, papercuttings are usually made only by women and girls. This used to be one of the crafts that every girl was to master and that were often used to judge brides. Professional papercutting artists are, on the other hand, almost always men who have guaranteed incomes and work together in workshops. 

Papercuttings are not produced by machine. They are all hand-made. There are two common methods of making papercuttings: scissor cuttings and knife cuttings. As the name indicates, scissor cuttings are fashioned with scissors. Several pieces of paper--up to eight pieces--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 he usually holds vertically. The advantage of knife cuttings is that more paper-cuttings can be made with the knife cutting technique than the scissor cutting technique in lesser time and minimal operation.

Although papercutting requires very simple making skills, its content is rich and reveals many local Chinese customs. Patterns of moppets, gourd vessels and lotus flowers symbolize numerous offspring highlighting the belief of Chinese that the more sons, the more blessings; festival and peaceful patterns can help avoid evil spirits; patterns of domestic birds, livestock, fruits, fish and worms are closely linked with people's lives. Moreover, Chinese papercutting show strong regional influence. For example, Shaanxi window papercutting appears simple, bold and unconstrained; Hebei and Shanxi papercutting are graceful and colorful; while Yixing papercutting of Jiangxi Province feel magnificent and neat.

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