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Chinese Papercut

Papercuts refer to handicrafts made by cutting paper with scissors to form different patterns and pasting them on walls, windows, doors and ceilings. With their long history, papercuts, which originated in China, have been very popular among the ordinary people of China. The first papercut can be traced back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-581) period. The initiation and spread of papercuts had a close relationship with Chinese rural festivals. People pasted papercuts on walls, windows and doors at wedding ceremonies or festivals to enhance the festive atmosphere.

Chinese papercuts are rich in content. The auspicious designs symbolize good luck and the avoidance of evil. The child, lotus and bottle gourd designs suggest a family with a large number of children and grandchildren. Domestic birds, livestock, fruit, fish and worms are also familiar objects depicted by Chinese farmers. There are some special papercuts of traditional design used as patterns for embroidering clothes,shoes, hats, pillows, bed curtains and door curtains. Papercuts made in different areas have different characteristics. Shaanxi window papercuts are simple and bold; papercuts from Hebei Province and Shanxi Province are bright in color; papercuts in southern provinces are delicate and fine.

Although papercuts are simple to make, their themes reveal many local Chinese customs. Papercuts typically demonstrate the preferred aesthetics of shape and the artistic concepts behind Chinese folk handicrafts. An understanding and scrutiny of papercuts is a good beginning to getting to know and appreciate the complexity of Chinese folk arts.

The art forms are mainly used as decorations and patterns for religious and ornamental purposes. Papercuts can also be used as ornaments on gates, windows, walls, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns. They are still widely used today at important festivals, especially during the New Year. It is very important to put papercuts at the entrance gates for good luck for the family. Papercuts can also serve as presents or as decorations on gifts and sacrificial offerings to the ancestors or gods. In addition, they can be used as embroidery patterns for clothes and lacquer works.

As an art, folk papercuts imitate nature in the shape of characters, symbols and other designs. Various paper objects were buried with the deceased or burned with other symbolic figures of the dead. This practice is still observed in some parts of China.

Paper and scissors are the usual materials utilized, but sometimes an engraving knife is used. Papercuts are all hand-made. There are two common practices for making papercuts: scissors- and knife-cutting techniques. In the first technique, about eight paper strips are fastened together to form a pattern. The artist cuts the motif with a pair of sharp, pointed scissors to attain the desired pattern. Knife cutting, on the other hand, is where the artist puts several layers of paper on a relatively soft foundation consisting of a mixture of tallow and ashes. The artist then holds a sharp knife vertically and cuts the motif out of the paper by following a pattern. More papercuts are made with the knife-cutting technique rather than scissors since it is less time consuming.

In Chinese folk culture, the art of paper cutting has a significant status in folk activities. Professional paper-cutting craftsmen have been around as early as the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Papercutting was once a handicraft that every native girl mastered. Paper-cut craftsmanship was often used to select brides-to-be. Currently, papercutting craftsmanship is mostly evident among countrywomen.

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