Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chinese Paper Cuts

The history of the art of cutting decorative cuts in paper would naturally begin where paper was invented. Paper's origins are thought to be in ancient China during the Han Dynasty around 105 A.D. At least that is the tradition and it says that Cai Lun, an official attached to the royal court, made a sheet of paper out of various fibers, old fish nets and hemp waste. But there is a piece of paper found made of hemp that dates ca. 170 B.C.E.   Before this there existed papyrus, but it was not paper as we know it as it was a lamination of plant fibers as opposed to paper which is made from fibers that have been broken down.
The earliest examples of paper cuts date back to the 4th century A.D. in the southern provinces of China. The art form became popular as a decorative item in the homes and palaces of royalty, especially at times of festivals and holidays. The art eventually spread to other parts of the world such as Japan, India, and Jewish culture. The art is different in each country it was produced in, according to traditions and art culture of the country.  China is the country with the longest known continuous tradition of paper cutting.  In the rural countryside in China paper cutting was traditionally a female activity.  But many professional paper cutters are now males that work in shops.

The designs cut into paper are varied. From traditional Chinese decorations like Dragons, Phoenix, Cranes, but the subject matter is only restricted by the paper cutters imagination. Many times the paper cuts are in red paper, but there are also multi-colored cuts made with different colored papers and paint. They are all made with simple hand tools, a very sharp-pointed pair of scissors or a very sharp small knife. The paper is sometimes folded and cut, sometimes cut without folding according to the design. It is an exacting art that takes a deft hand, strong fingers and an imaginative eye.

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Worked in a steel mill for 30 years. Amateur chef, piano player, book reader, letter writer, gardener, peace advocate.