Chinese paper cutting

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Chinese paper cutting
Paper cutting with the symbol for Spring ()
Traditional Chinese剪紙
Simplified Chinese剪纸
Chinese paper cuttings in a shop.
A cut-paper "window flower" during Chinese New Year

The art of paper cutting (Chinese: 剪紙; pinyin: jiǎnzhǐ) in China may date back to the 2nd century CE, when paper was invented by Cai Lun, a court official of the Eastern Han dynasty.

Chinese paper cutting is a treasured traditional Chinese art dating back to when paper was developed. Paper cutting became popular as a way of decorating doors and windows as paper became more accessible. These elaborate cutting designs are created with scissors or artwork knives and can include a variety of shapes, such as symbols and animals. As paper became more affordable, paper-cutting became one of the most important types of Chinese folk art. Later, this art form spread to other parts of the world, with different regions adopting their own cultural styles. Because the cut-outs are often used to decorate doors and windows, they are sometimes referred to as "window flowers" (窗花; chuāng huā) or "window paper-cuts". These cut-paper decorations are often glued to the exterior of windows, so the light from the inside shines through the negative space of the cutout.[1] Usually, the artworks are made of red paper, as red is associated with festivities and luck in Chinese culture, but other colours are also used. Normally cut-paper artwork is used on festivals such as Chinese New Year, weddings and childbirth, as cut-paper artwork is considered to symbolize luck and happiness.[2]


Chinese paper-cutting originated from the practice of worship of both ancestors and gods, a traditional part of Chinese culture dating back roughly two millennia. According to archaeological records, paper-cutting originates from the 6th century, although some believe that its history could be traced back as far as the Warring States period (around 3 BC), long before paper was invented. At that time, people used other thin materials, like leaves, silver foil, silk and even leather, to carve negative-space patterns. Later, when paper was invented, people realized that this material was easy to cut, store and discard, and paper became the major material for this type of artwork.

Tang dynasty[edit]

Although paper was officially invented during the Han dynasty, techniques for cutting and carving thin materials such as gold foil, silk, and leaves were developed for decoration prior to the invention of paper. During the Tang dynasty, paper cutting developed rapidly and became popular in China, which typically combined paper cutting with painting to illustrate spiritual ideas. Paper-cutting as an artform matured during the Tang dynasty, where it became considered not only a type of handicraft, but also a type of artwork, as ideas and concepts were expressed through the pattern cut into the paper.[3]

Song dynasty[edit]

During the Song dynasty, Chinese papercutting developed into a more advanced technique, with trained artisans creating more complex artworks. The technique was used to decorate ceramics and make shadow puppets. By carving patterns onto oily cardboard and scraping patterns onto the fabric, blue-printed fabric came about.[4]

Ming and Qing dynasties[edit]

In the Ming and Qing dynasty, paper-cutting reached a developmental peak. Folk paper-cutting spread to a wider range of people and expressed an abundance of artistic expression. Paper-cutting was used to decorate doors, windows, and walls, to show happiness and celebrate festivals. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, papercutting became a more popular Chinese art form. There are a variety of uses, including lantern and fan ornaments, needlework patterns, and window flowers. The imperial family also utilized papercutting, with the Forbidden City decorated with papercuts during the emperor's wedding ceremony. Its continual appeal reflects the Chinese people's creativity, with designs expressing cultural ideas and values.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1912), this artistry witnessed its most prosperous period. For over a thousand years, people (mainly women) created cut-paper artworks as a leisure activity, creating different types of paper-cutting and passing this traditional craft onto their children, resulting in the art form becoming more popular. Paper-cutting is still practiced as an art form in modern-day China as a result.

As a material, paper mildews and rots easily. In the southeast of China, where it typically rains in May and June, this causes paper to mildew and rot especially quickly; as a result, people in the southeast typically did not engage in paper-cutting art, making it hard to find cut-paper artworks from previous centuries. In contrast, the weather in the northwest of China is usually dry, making it possible to find cut-paper art made in the Northern dynasties in Turpan, Sinkiang province.


Paper-cutting is one of the oldest and the most popular folk arts in China. It can be geographically divided into a southern and a northern style. The southern style, represented by works from Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province and Yueqing in Zhejiang Province, features ingenious and beautiful designs, exquisite carving and interesting shapes. The northern style, mainly from Yuxian and Fengning in Hebei Province, and best represented by works from northern Shaanxi, features exaggerated shapes, vigorousness, vivid depictions and diverse patterns.

Cut-paper art designed for windows is usually cut in a freeform manner, except for the flower pattern found in the corner. The theme of cut-paper window decorations varies widely, the most popular of which are based on the stories of traditional Chinese opera. As cut-paper window decorations are typically bought by farmers, the content of their designs usually describes farming, spinning, fishing and poultry farming.


A symmetrical cut

Chinese papercutting is an art form from the Chinese cultural legacy that displays a wide range of designs, from simple basic designs consisting of a single image to symmetrical, which are created by folding the paper into proportionate portions before cutting, so that when unfolded, it forms a symmetrical design, and are usually folded into an even number, such as twice or four times. Typically, the designs are freeform and depict scenes from daily life.

Red paper is the most prevalent because it is connected with happiness and good fortune in Chinese culture. Thus, it is popularly used to celebrate important events such as weddings and festivals. Paper cutting is consistently evolving and has developed beyond China, with artists developing new techniques and materials to keep this art form alive.


Decorative use[edit]


Chinese papercutting is mostly used for decoration nowadays. Many Chinese people decorate their windows with paper cuttings to express enthusiasm for the new season or new year. Paper cuttings are also used in homes to decorate walls, doors, lamps, and lanterns and are often presented as gifts. Furthermore, paper cuttings pasted near entrances symbolize good luck. This traditional habit festively decorates houses and special occasions. Today, paper cuttings are chiefly decorative. They liven up walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes and are also used on presents or are given as gifts themselves. Paper cut-outs pasted on or near entrances are supposed to bring good luck. Paper cuttings used to be used as patterns, especially for embroidery and lacquer work. Cut-paper artworks are used by young people 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 hopes, gratitude and other emotions. The vivid designs depicting on paper-cuttings have different meanings. Some express wishes for a harvest or a wealthy life, shown through the imagery of a golden harvest, thriving domestic animals and plants, as well as good fortunes, a carp jumping over a dragon gate (a traditional Chinese story, indicating a leap towards a better life), polecats, lions, qilins (a mythical Chinese creature), jade rabbits (an animal taken from Chinese legend), pomegranates and peonies. Other designs feature legendary figures, or scenes from traditional myths or stories, such as designs of the Yellow Emperor, the meeting of [[The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl|Cowherd(牛郎; niúláng) and Weaver Girl(织女; zhīnǚ)]], and the 24 stories of filial piety. Designs may also show people's gratitude towards life, such as paper-cuttings of a doll with two twisted hairs on each side of the head, or fish swimming through lotus plants.

Symbolic use[edit]

The most popular papercutting Chinese characters are the characters (meaning 'lucky') and ; (meaning 'double happiness'). The character 福 is a symbol of good luck and is often displayed during Chinese New Year celebrations to bring fortune and prosperity for the coming year. The character 囍 is commonly used for weddings, symbolizes double happiness and the hope for a fulfilling marriage. These papercuts are important Chinese cultural symbols and are cherished for their aesthetic beauty.

Spiritual use[edit]


Chinese paper cuttings' designs are often used to express hopes, appreciation, and other spiritual emotions. Common Chinese papercutting motifs include representations of harvests, animals, and mythical stories such as the carp jumping over the dragon gate. Chinese people express cultural heritage, values, and beliefs through the art of papercutting, making it a significant element of their spiritual expression.

Window paper-cuttings have a close relationship with the beginning of spring, and it is traditional to decorate windows with paper-cuttings to welcome spring. In many areas of China, especially in the north, paper-cuttings are pasted to windows to express happiness for the new season, a tradition that has been practiced since the Song and Yuan dynasties.

Educational use[edit]

Chinese papercutting has educational uses that teach children about traditional Chinese art and culture and the beauty of papercutting while learning Chinese papercutting history. Practicing paper cuts also helps children enhance their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, cutting and creativity.[6]

Construction methods[edit]


There are two methods of manufacturing Chinese paper-cuttings: one method uses scissors, the other a sharp knife. In the scissor method, several pieces of paper – up to eight – are fastened together, before the motif is then cut with sharp, pointed scissors. Chinese papercutting involves cutting intricate, exquisite designs from a single or multiple layers of paper with scissors or artwork knives.[7] It is passed down through generations because both procedures demand a great deal of talent and skills. The construction methods of papercutting involve several steps, including the selection of paper materials, specifically types and colors depending on the desired effect. The selected paper is then folded multiple times, and the pattern is drawn onto it. Next, cut the design out carefully, either with scissors or an art knife. Finally, the paper cutout is opened up to reveal the exquisite design, which can be further enhanced with additional details such as coloring and shading. The construction of papercutting requires patience, skill, and carefulness, as well as the creativity and artistry of artists.

Scissor construction method[edit]

The scissor construction approach involves taping multiple sheets of paper together and then cutting off the designated shapes using sharp scissors. This cutting of multiple paper layers at the same time enables a more consistent pattern.[7]

Knife construction method[edit]

On the other hand, in the artwork knife construction approach, the design is carved out with a sharp knife, commonly following a pattern, but expert artisans can alternatively cut varied shapes freely. In the knife method, several layers of paper are placed on a relatively soft foundation, consisting of a mixture of tallow and ashes. Following a pattern, the motifs are then cut into the paper with a sharp knife, which is usually held vertically. Skilled artisans can cut different designs freehand, without following a pattern.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yang, Crystal Hui-Shu (2012-04-01). "CROSS-CULTURAL EXPERIENCES THROUGH AN EXHIBITION IN CHINA AND SWITZERLAND: "THE ART OF PAPER-CUTTING: EAST MEETS WEST"". Source: Notes in the History of Art. 31 (3): 29–35. JSTOR 23208592.
  2. ^ Meng, Meng; Zhao, Mingtian; Zhu, Song-Chun (2010-10-25). "Artistic paper-cut of human portraits". Proceedings of the 18th ACM international conference on Multimedia. MM '10. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery: 931–934. doi:10.1145/1873951.1874116. ISBN 978-1-60558-933-6.
  3. ^ "中国剪纸的历史渊源及主要流派 – 中国书画网". Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  4. ^ "中国剪纸 – 东方印象". Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  5. ^ a b "剪纸文化价值体现在哪儿?剪纸文化的价值_中国历史网". Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  6. ^ "剪纸艺术的丰富内涵 _光明网". Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  7. ^ a b c "中国剪纸 – 中国非物质文化遗产网·中国非物质文化遗产数字博物馆". Retrieved 2023-05-13.


  • Zhang Shuxian. Chinese Folk Paper-cutting[J]. China Today (Chinese version), 2005,(05)
  • Zhuang Zhiyun. Folk Paper-cutting[J]. Chuang Zuo Ping Tan, 2006,(02)

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