Chinese paper cutting
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Chinese Paper Cutting or Jianzhi (剪纸) is the first type of papercutting design, since paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. The art form later spread to other parts of the world with different regions adopting their own cultural styles. Because the cut outs are also used to decorate doors and windows, they are sometimes referred to "chuāng huā" (窗花), meaning Window Flower.
Paper-cutting originated from ancient activities of worshipping ancestors and gods, and is a traditional Chinese culture. According to the present archaeological records, it originated from 6th century, however people believed that its history could be traced as early as the Warring States Period (around 3 BC), long before the paper was invented. At that time, people used thin materials, like leaves, silver foil, silk and even leather, to carve hollowed patterns for beauty. Later, when paper was invented, people realized that this material was easy to cut, store and discard. Thus paper became the major material for them to use, and people habitually called this artistry paper-cutting, or Jianzhi in Chinese. During Ming and Qing Dynasty (around 1368 – 1912), this artistry witnessed its most prosperous period.
Paper-cutting is one of the oldest and the most popular folk arts in China, and can be geographically divided into southern and northern style. The southern style, represented by works from Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province and Leqing in Zhejiang Province, featured ingenious and beautiful design, exquisite carve and interesting shape. However, northern style, mainly from Yuxian and Fengning in Hebei Province and best represented by works from northern Shaanxi, featured overstatement, vigorousness, vivid depiction and diversity.
There are basic cut outs, that are a single image. And there are symmetrical designs that are usually created by some folding over a proportioned crease, and then cutting some shape. When unfolded, it forms a symmetrical design. Chinese paper cuttings are normally symmetrical. The paper cut outs are usually in an even number series of 2, 4, 24 etc.
Today, papercuttings are chiefly decorative. They ornament walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes and are also used on presents or are given as gifts themselves. Entrances decorated with paper cut outs are supposed to bring good luck. Papercuttings used to be used as patterns, especially for embroidery and lacquer work. Papercuts are used by younger generation as a decoration for their kits and books. Paper-cutting was and is mostly used as a decoration, or an aesthetic way to express people’s wishes, gratitude and other emotions. With a pair of scissors cutting through a piece of red paper, the paper-cuttings are endowed with a simple but exaggerated beauty. The vividly-depicted paper-cuttings have different meanings. Some express the wish for a harvest or a wealthy life, such as paper-cuttings of a golden harvest, thriving domestic animals, good fortunes, a surplus year or a carp jumping over a dragon gate (a traditional Chinese story, indicating a leap towards a better life); some depict animals and plants, such as paper-cuttings of polecats, lions, kylins (Chinese mythical creature), jade rabbits (animal from a Chinese legend), pomegranates and peonies; some illustrate legendary figures or scenes from traditional myths or stories, such as paper-cuttings of the Yellow Emperor, the meeting of Niulang and Zhinv and 24 stories of filial piety; and others show people’s gratitude towards life, such as paper-cuttings of a doll with two twisted hair on each side of the head, fish swimming through lotus and dishes. (a strong passion for life can be easily seen from the paper-cuttings of the women) The most famous paper-cutting characters in Chinese are “福” (fu, meaning lucky) and “囍” (xi, meaning happiness). Even to this day, Chinese people love to hang paper-cutting of the two characters at their doors. “福” is usually used during the Chinese New Year’s Festival, indicating people’s wishes for a lucky year. “囍” can often be seen at the windows or door of the newly-weds, indicating the happiness of a wedding.
There are two methods of manufacture: one uses scissors, the other uses knives. In the scissor method, several pieces of paper — up to eight — 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 is usually held vertically. Skilled crafters can even cut out different drawings freely without stopping.
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