The handscroll is a long, narrow, horizontal scroll format in East Asia used for calligraphy or paintings. A handscroll usually measures up to several 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 read or viewed flat on a table, in sections. The format thus allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey.
The handscroll format originated with 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 together and used to write texts on. During the Eastern Han period (25–220), the use of paper and silk in the handscroll format 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 format for paintings. New styles were developed over time.
A handscroll has a backing of protective and decorative silk (包首) usually bearing a small title label (題籤) on it. In Chinese art, the handscroll usually consists of a frontispiece (引首) at the beginning (right side), the artwork (畫心) itself in the middle, and a colophon section (拖尾) at the end for various inscriptions. The beginning of the scroll, where the frontispiece was located, is known as the "heaven" (天頭). Vertical strips (隔水) are sometimes used to separate the different sections. Most handscrolls contain only one painting, although several short paintings can also be mounted on the scroll. At the beginning of the scroll is a wooden stave (天杆), which serves as a support. A silk cord (帶子) and a fastener (別子) is attached to the stave and used to secure the rolled-up scroll. A wooden roller (木杆) is attached at the very end, around which the scroll is rolled.