The handscroll is a long narrow scroll for displaying a series of scenes in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean painting and calligraphy. The handscroll presents an artwork in the horizontal form and can be exceptionally long, usually measuring up to a few meters in length and around 25–40 cm in height. Handscrolls are generally viewed starting from the right end. This kind of scroll is intended to be viewed flat on a table while admiring it section for section during the unrolling as if traveling through a landscape. In this way, this format allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey.
The handscroll originated from ancient Chinese text documents. From the Spring and Autumn period (770-481 BCE) through the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), bamboo or wooden slips were bound and used to write texts on. During the Eastern Han period (25-220), the use of paper and silk as handscrolls became more common. The handscroll was the one of the main formats for texts up until the Tang dynasty (618-907). Since the Three Kingdoms (220–280), the handscroll became a standard form for mounting artwork. New styles were developed over time.
A handscroll has a backing of protective and decorative silk (包首) with a small title label (題籤) on it. The front of a scroll usually consists of a frontispiece (引首) at the right side, the artwork (畫心) itself in the middle, and a colophon panel (拖尾) at the left side for various inscriptions. The right side of the scroll, to where the frontispiece was located, is known as the "heaven" (天頭). Vertical strips (隔水) are used to separate the different sections. Most handscrolls display only one painting, although several short paintings can also be mounted on the scroll. On the right end of a scroll is a wooden stave (天杆), which serves as a support to a scroll. A silk cord (帶子) and a fastener (別子) is attached to the stave and used to secure a rolled-up scroll. A wooden roller (木杆) is attached on the left end and forms an axis to help roll up a scroll.