History of Paper Cutting

The earliest Chinese paper-cutting

Paper cutting has a long history. It is originated from China. The first paper cutting art was found in Sinkiang, a province located in northwest of China, around 6th century. Chinese people invented paper around 2nd B.C., and it became affordable after Cai Lun improved the paper-making process. It makes paper cutting become one of the most important forms of Chinese traditional art. Later, this art form spread to other parts of the world, with different regions adopting their own cultural styles. In China, paper cutting is also known as chuāng huā (窗花), which means window flower, because Chinese people would stick the cut out patterns on doors and windows.

Ancient Chinese Bride

The Origin of Chinese Paper Cutting

In Han Dynasty, 156 B. C. to 87 B.C., the favorite wife of Emperor Wu passed away, and the Emperor missed her very much. One of the minsters used the paper to cut out the wife's image and put it on the window of this wife's previous room. When the night came, he lighted the candle, and the emperor in another room can see the outline of the paper-cut on the window that looks like his favorite wife. It consoles the Emperor in grief.

Materials for Paper Cutting

Before the paper was invented, at that time, Chinese people used other thin materials such as leaves, silver or gold foil, silk, and leather to carve hollowed patterns. After the invention of paper, people realized that this material was easy to cut, store, and discard, and then paper became the major material for paper cuttings. The most common cutting tools are scissors and knife.

Cutting Technique

Using scissors or a craft knife is the most common way of paper cutting. There are a several different techniques of paper cutting, including carve, engrave, and winkle. They are all basic skills in Chinese paper cuttings. Even cutting paper with scissors and knife can create different results.

Pattern Meanings

Chinese Paper-cutting: Blessing

The contents of Chinese paper cutting involves people’s daily life, architecture, and landscape. In Chinese paper cuttings, farming civilization had a big influence on the formation of traditional patterns. Chinese people, for a long time, created paper cuttings to worship, express good wishes, and depict beautiful things. Usually, a traditional decorative Chinese paper cutting has a certain meaning behind it. For example, butterfly means double for all the good things; lotus with fish means the continuation of wealth for the next year; pomegranate indicates a wish for family prosperous with lots of offspring. Chinese characters also have been used very frequently in Chinese traditional paper cuttings. The most common 5 characters are “福(Blessing)”,“禄(Career)”,“寿(Long life)”,“喜(Happiness)”, and“财(Wealth)”. These characters direct represent ordinary people’s aspiration for those five aspects of life.

In addition to the contents, there is a constituent element that makes Chinese paper cutting unique - color. Chinese people believe that color is attached to forms; however, forms cannot be seen without color. Therefore, Chinese people create a relationship between the paper cutting patterns and colors. Chinese paper cutting has been regarded as a folk art; its color also exhibits the features of folk art. However, in Chinese paper cutting, color must reflect time (era, season, day and night, and weather), location (indoors, suburbs, mountains, water, and desert), emotion (happy, sorrow, desire, hate, appreciation, and despise), and ritual (wedding, birthday banquet, funeral, and sacrifice).

Moreover, in traditional Chinese paper cuttings, people only use five colors (cyan, red, yellow, white, and black) to represent every thing in the world. These colors are symbolic for specific things.

  • The five elements: cyan represents wood, red represents fire, yellow represents the Earth, white represents metal, and black represents water.

  • The five flavors: cyan represents sour, red represents bitter, yellow represents sweet, white represents pungent, and black represents salty.

  • The five ancient pentatonic scale: cyan represents mi, red represents sol, yellow represents do, white represents re, black represents la.

  • The six directions: cyan represents east, red represents south, white represents west, black represents north and below, yellow represents the up sky.

  • Four seasons: cyan represents Spring, red represents Summer, white represents Autumn, black represents Winter.

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