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Folk Art & Craft
Papercut

Papercut is a popular traditional folk art craft in China which originated from the 6th century. 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. Women used to paste golden and silver foil cuttings onto their hair at the temples, and men used them in sacred rituals. Later, they were used during festivals to decorate gates and windows. After hundreds of years' development, now they have become a very popular decoration among country folk. The main cutting tools for papercut is scissors or an engraving knife. Engraving knives which are necessary to enhance a sharpened effect or to make a delicate job .

One the main techniques is scissors-cutting, 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.

It is easy to learn about cutting a piece of paper but very difficult to master it with perfection. One must grasp the knife in an upright fashion and press evenly on the paper with some strength. Flexibility is required but any hesitation or wiggling will lead to imprecision or damage the whole image. Paper cutting stands out for its exacting lines and ingenious patterns which are all hand-made. To make the three-dimensional scenes pop out visually from the paper, as they are usually in monochrome, engravers must exert their imagination. They must delete secondary parts and compose the main body properly, abstractly and boldly.

The clever and deft master are remarkably good at cutting in the theme of daily life. Papercuts are rich in content, you will be amazed by the true to life expressions of the figure's sentiment and appearance, or portrayal of natural plants and animals' diverse gestures. 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. Also it has a heavy emphasis on single or a few Chinese characters often symbolizing with the Chinese Zodiac animals.

Papercuts are 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.

China paper-cuts are deeply rooted in people's daily life, people find hope and comfort in expressing wishes with paper cuttings. The bright colors of red, green or light blue papercuts provide a strong foil to set off a merry atmosphere. So they are often found in wedding ceremonies or festivals in China. Upon the birthday party of a senior, the character 'Shou' represents longevity and will add delight to the whole celebration; while a pattern of plump children cuddling fish signifies that every year they will be abundant in wealth.

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.

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