Chinese Paper-Cutting 中国剪纸 By Cao Xinxin China Culture and Standardization

China Culture and Standardization
Chinese Paper-Cutting
By Cao Xinxin 曹欣欣
Paper cutting is a popular and familiar folk art
to every Chinese. Creating a jubilant and merry
atmosphere, paper cutting serves as a symbol of
festival, happiness and brand new beginning in the
mind of Chinese.
When celebrating the Spring Festival, Chinese
families paste spring poems on the door frame and
decorate windows, walls or inside doors with exquisite
paper cuttings for joyous and cozy festival atmosphere.
The design of paper cutting used in Spring Festival
includes a magpie stepping on the branch (Chinese thinks
that magpie symbolizes happiness is coming), Chinese
characters like “福(luck)” or “春(Spring)”. When
getting married, Chinese also use red paper cuttings with
elegant designs to decorate the new home, for example,
Chinese character of “囍” which means happy events.
In old times, if someone masters the skill of paper
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Chinese Paper-Cutting
with different design styles, forming two main genres
- the northern school and the southern school. The
representatives of the northern school include folk
paper cuttings in Qingyang, Shanxi, Yuxian, Shaanxi
and Shandong, etc., in a concise and topic-prominent
style. And the southern school is represented by the
paper-cuttings in Mianyang of Hubei, Foshan, Fujian,
Yangzhou and so on, which are typically elegant and
exquisite. The different styles are estimated to root
in the different personalities of the North and the
South, i.e., northern folk people are usually frank and
straightforward and those from the South are meticulous
and graceful. Like painting and sculpture artworks, the
styles of paper cutting reflect the varied personalities and
tastes of the crafts artists.
Paper cutting techniques and standards
cutting, he will be cherished as a well-known paper
cutting craftsman and required to make a variety of paper
cuttings with different designs for festival decoration in
the neighborhood. As a kind of ancient Chinese folk arts,
paper cutting was listed into the first national intangible
cultural heritage catalog in 2006.
History of Paper Cutting
Paper cutting was originated in Han Dynasty (202 B.C.
- 220) when paper was invented and people at that time
started to design various patterns on the paper. In Tang
Dynasty, the custom of using paper cutting to call back
the spirit of the dead prevailed in the folk. Also, people
engraved designs onto thick paper and then dropped the
dye through the model board onto cloth, and created the
cloth with beautiful patterns. The paper-making industry
of Song Dynasty blossomed with a variety of papers
produced, providing a precondition for the popularization
of paper cutting. Paper cuttings in different styles were
used everywhere in people’s daily life, for instance, paper
cuttings for decorating gift packages, windows, lanterns
or tea cups. The art of paper cutting matured in Ming
Dynasty and flourished in Qing Dynasty.
Nowadays, paper cutting can be seen across China
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The material and tools of paper cutting are very
simple, including paper, scissors and knives, but it allows
larger space for creativity. So it is a skill which looks
easy to learn but hard to master.
Normally paper cuttings are made according to sketch
patterns that have been carefully kept and passed on
from generation to generation, and such sketches provide
a kind of material standard.
Though without any official standard yet, the
time-cherished art of paper cutting has indeed some
commonly respected technical requirements which are
summarized as:
Connection and severance of
paper lines
Te c h n i c a l l y, t h e
method of engraving
is required as papercutting patterns are
cut or engraved on
papers, so the paper lines
of positive patterns must
be connected and those of
negative patterns are severed.
The entire paper will be
fragmentary if any of the
lines are improperly cut
China Culture and Standardization
as it would fail to create the expected images.
Patterning of the layout and models
The design of paper cutting is mainly based on the
visualized relations of the content by adopting combined
techniques. It often utilizes the exaggeration in shape
and some techniques to make the patterns beautiful, i.e.
symmetry, uniformity,
balance, mix, continuous
and so on.
Image features: exaggerated, simple, graceful and
Limited by the tools and materials, the patterning of
the paper-cut image requires to seize core characteristics
and the connections of all elements so that the realistic
approach is inappropriate and the major visual should
emphasized to highlight the subject.
Pure and sprightly color
The color of paper cutting is required to be
sophisticated and avoid using similar or adjacent colors. It
stresses on the coordination of contrasting colors and the
proportion of difference colors.
“Steady, accurate and clever” ways of cutting
The knife skills in paper cutting may create many
features and diversified styles. When engraving more
papers simultaneously, it is required to cut rather than
scratch, so that you may have more vivid and stereoscopic
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Chinese Paper-Cutting
What makes an artistic piece of paper-cutting
There are common techniques to make paper-cutting,
and then what are the criteria for an artistic work of
paper-cutting? The paper-cutting artworks may be
appreciated simply from the follow four aspects:
Cutting techniques and paper impressions
Excellent paper-cutting works must have their unique
style and features. Paper cutting stresses on the cutting
techniques and paper impressions. Neither a paper
cutting imitating engraved prints or copying models with
scissors would make a good artwork. An excellent paper
cutting is required to use the language of paper cutting to
visualize the artistic image.
Light-admitting quality
A very important feature of the paper cutting language
is that all images are carved in the translucent model. In
addition to paper-cutting tools and material properties,
the paper-cutting is required to allow the transmission of
light due to practical needs, especially for paper-cuttings
used to decorate windows.
Decorative function
A good paper-cutting artwork should emphasize
the decorative function, which are ref lected with
symmetrical and balanced composition, elegant image,
suitable cutting lines, bright and vivid color, soft design,
etc. In addition, the materials and
tools of paper cutting create some
special cutting techniques, such
as “crescent moon pattern”,
“sawtooth pattern”, which are
also key factors that contribute
to its decorative features.
Exaggeration and
Paper cutting
emphasizes exaggerated
designing and beautiful
outlines. Despite the intrinsic
ugliness in every image, the
purpose of artistic exaggeration
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is to strengthen the outstanding beauty of the factors,
reduce and simplify ugly factors, so that the image looks
more delightful and graceful.
For Chinese people, paper cuttings are decorative
home accessories and can be pasted on the doorframes,
windows, cabinets, ceilings, etc. During the festivals or
weddings, special paper-cuts are used to decorate the
inner house, praying for longevity, happiness and good
After millennial inheritance and development, the
art of paper cutting becomes more creative with greater
vitality. Paper-cutting is constantly deemed as an
indispensable ornament for traditional celebrations as
well as a cherished treasure of the Chinese folk culture.