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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

Chinese paper cutting

By Teng Mu

August 4

One of China’s oldest traditional crafts remains popular today.

One of China’s oldest traditional crafts remains popular today.

Chinese paper cutting, called jianzhi, dates back at least a millennium and a half. Once used for ceremonial purposes, paper cuttings are now a common decoration. Surprisingly, the basics are not hard to learn, but you could spend your life trying to master it.

Chinese paper cutting originated from the early Tang Dynasty. The invention of paper in the Eastern Han Dynasty combined with Chinese people’s imaginations turned blank sheets into colorful, intricate art.

Chinese paper cutting [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Han Jiajun]
Chinese paper cutting [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Han Jiajun]
While paper cutting is simple in that the artist uses only scissors and knives to cut shapes, it requires much concentration. A small mistake can ruin days of work. Red paper is the most common canvas because red symbolizes luck and festivity.

Delicate craftsmanship [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Huang Zhengwei]
Delicate craftsmanship [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Huang Zhengwei]
There are different styles of paper cutting, the most famous being the southern and northern styles. The southern style is characterized by delicacy and vividness, with natural scenery, including birds and flowers, as the main subject. The northern style is simpler but, some would say, more expressive because of its rougher lines and designs.

Chinese paper cutting successor [Image Credit: photos-tock.china.com.cn/Han Jiajun]
Chinese paper cutting successor [Image Credit: photos-tock.china.com.cn/Han Jiajun]
Paper cutting plays a prominent role in the decoration during big events like the Spring Festival, traditional weddings, and baby showers.

Post-90s successor of Chinese paper cutting [Image Credit: photos-tock.china.com.cn/Huang Zhengwei]
Post-90s successor of Chinese paper cutting [Image Credit: photos-tock.china.com.cn/Huang Zhengwei]
In 2006, Chinese paper cutting was inscribed onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, putting it under government protection. There are still artists who devote their lives to cutting paper, developing this traditional art and carrying it into the future.

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