Roots in Royalty: paper-cutting traced back to times of ‘Han’

Chinese paper-cutting has been a continued practice since the Han Dynasty. (SOURCE:
Chinese paper-cutting has been a continued practice since the Han Dynasty. (SOURCE:

China has been credited with many things, from inventing the first astronomical seeing device, traveling the world, even being the first to discover North America. They also created several of the ancient art forms we use today in natural society. Paper-cutting is one such craft that the ancient Chinese invented.

The practice of paper-cutting can be traced all the way back to when China invented paper during the Han Dynasty, between 206 B.C. to 221 A.D. As paper was new, it became a royal pleasantry, an expense only the most wealthy could afford to use. Often a popular way to pass the time between court ladies, it became popular among civilians during folk festivals in the 7th and 13th centuries of China, when paper was available to everyone.

Paper-cutting has always been seen as a major part of China’s art history, and China has been making a movement to implement paper-cutting back into it’s culture since the 1980s. While it was used by noble women as a leisurely past-time, paper-cutting was used by the average citizen in China for festivals and gifts. As the centuries moved on however, more and more ways of using the art of paper-cutting were found for all sorts of things, such as window decorations or symbols, patterns for shoes, and clothing material-stencils.

The traditional way of paper-cutting is using small scissors for trimming and knives for various carvings. After the physical shape is created, a paper-cut is finished by adding layers of color, individual folding and pasting (usually with symmetry), and engraving that tends to be unique to each artist or to gain a certain style or message. These processes are all used for a single paper-cut, and can take extreme lengths of time, or none at all.

By the 14th century, paper had made it’s way through the Middle East and Europe; from the seventh century onwards, paper-cutting can be tracked through the countries Japan, Taiwan, the Middle East, and Europe. It took hold and has been staying with the world ever since China first brought the art into existence in the Han Dynasty. Remember kindergarten? Paper-cutting is a favorite ‘arts and crafts’ past time for children in America, though it has been vastly westernized.

Famous paper-cutting artists today include:

Kang Zhan Jie, using the Yu Xian art style. Jie is most famous for his paper cuts of Chairman Mao Zhe Dong, and at one point in his career, for creating a 50-meter-long paper-cut that has been displayed in several Chinese art exhibits. He is most known for creating his pieces by using simple nature in his cuts, such as fauna, flora, fish and animals.

Fu Zuo Ren, known for his Hailun art style, was born in 1935 in the Helionjiang Province. Considered a paper-cutting master in China, he has won numerous local and international awards for his cutting pieces. His style, difficult to classify, has been described as his own ‘unique’ front to paper cutting. Ren’s work is famous for it’s intricate detail, and the depictions inside of China’s cultural revolution.