Paper Cut: Art Happens When Paper Meets Scissors
Easiest and most popular folk art
Since paper was invented by Cai Lun in Han Dynasty, no wonder paper cutting was also originated in China around 2000 years ago. The oldest surviving paper cut out is a symmetrical circle from the 6th century found in Xinjiang, China.
Paper cutting is probably the most popular Chinese folk art because of its simple material, low cost, immediate production, broad adaptation, variety of design and vivid presentation. One can very easily get access to a piece of paper and try one’s own creativity with a pair of scissors.
Especially, in the rural countryside in China, papercutting is a traditionally female activity. In the past, every girl was expected to master it and brides were often judged by their skill. Paper cutting is one of best things for their spare time, since it’s not only for decoration but also can be practical for daily life.
Making a paper cut
1. Material. You are not limited to paper. You can use whatever sheet shape material as you like, such as gold/silver foil, bark, leaf, cloth, or leather, etc.
2. Tool. You can use scissors or knives or both to do the paper cutting.
3. Color: Most paper cuts are in simple red color (Red means life and happiness in Chinese culture). Some are combined with papers of multiple colors.
Schools of paper cut style
In the long history of paper cutting, it has developed into both national and regional themes. You can find paper cut all around China and they all have their own regional characteristics or “schools”. There are three major schools of paper cutting.
1. Southern style: Foshan (Guangdong), Wuhan (Hubei), and Fujian are representatives of southern style.
2. Eastern style: Yangzhou (Jiangsu), and Zhejiang are representatives of Eastern style
3. Northern style: Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong are representatives of northern style
Paper cutting is a very unique and rich presentation of traditional Chinese culture. Unfortunately, just like the other traditional Chinese culture, it has fell far below its peak glory in the old days because of the political and economical turmoil in last two centuries and the prevalence of modern western culture.
Lots of skilled professional paper cutting artists are aged and few young people is willing to learn these traditional arts. The government has noticed this and is taking actions to help preserve and pass this precious heritage on to next generations.
Personally, I am less concerned about losing paper cutting. Because it’s so easy to do that anyone with a creative mind can “revive” this art. The real question is how we can find a lucrative cultural market for this art and let the market take care of itself.