One of the most celebrated Chinese traditional art forms, paper cutting requires skill but surprisingly few materials – perfect for trying yourself at home! While it may seem simple, paper cutting is surprisingly challenging – requiring the artist to both have excellent carving skills and to compose the shape such that a monochrome cutting can represent the details of the scene.
The origins of Chinese paper cutting actually predate paper itself – dating back to the silver foil art of the Warring States Period (around 3 BC). Paper cutting art boomed during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1912) and is still very popular today.
During the 6th century AD, metal foil cuttings were particularly featured in temples and sacred rituals, decorating both the building itself and being a popular jewellery item for women showing off their bling! In other situations, they were used to represent the objects sent up to heaven with the dead – the idea being that burning paper cuttings of the items would send them into the afterlife.
More recently, paper cutting has become a popular decorative item during festivals such as Chinese New Year. Common designs incorporate characters for good fortune and prosperity alongside lucky animals and patterns.
There are three major styles of paper cutting according to different regions where they developed. Each style has unique design features and techniques, resulting in a fascinating diversity of traditional paper cutting arts across China.
North School (北方剪纸 běifāng jiǎnzhǐ)
Norther styles of paper cutting are typical of the Shanxi, Shaanxi and Shandong provinces. Thist style tends to have a relatively simple and symmetrical design, focusing on abstract shapes, animals and patterns.
Jiangzhe School (江浙剪纸 jiāngzhè jiǎnzhǐ)
Originating in the Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in Eastern China, the Jiangzhe school of paper cutting is the most famous internationally. It tends to feature natural forms such as flowers, birds, fish and fruit, as well as more traditional scenes.
South School (南方剪纸 nánfāng jiǎnzhǐ)
Represented by the traditional paper cutting arts of Foshan in Guangdong province and Fujian province, the South School style is particularly elegant and decorative.
While intricate designs featuring detailed animals and patterns may be a little challenging for beginners, even complete novices can do well at simpler paper cuttings focusing on popular Chinese characters or symmetrical patterns.
For this activity, you will need some thin coloured paper (ideally red – a particularly auspicious colour in China!), a pencil for sketching your design and sharp craft scissors.
The video below guides you through some simple, traditional patterns incorporating the character “春” (“spring” – representing the Chinese New Year festival) and a simple, symmetrical design. Feel free to get creative and come up with your own designs – bonus points if you can incorporate a lucky fish or flowers!
Congratulations on your awesome works of art! Please do share your creations with us – tag @abridgeacademy on instagram for a feature!