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Propitious paper-cut, Xian local artwork, ShaanxiAs one of the most popular folk arts in China, paper-cuts were originally used in making sacrifices to ancestors and immortals or as the molds for embroidery and spray-paint. Later, paper-cuts were mostly used as decorations dotting walls, doors, windows, house, or presents. Some paper-cuts were even presented to others as gifts directly.

Paper-cutting enjoys a long history in the countryside of China. In the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), the invention of paper created conditions for paper-cutting. A legend has it that Concubine Li was the favorite of Emperor Wu in the Western Han Dynasty (265 - 316). After her death, Emperor Wu couldn't sleep or eat well so much was he longing for Concubine Li, so he asked a wizard to cut an image of Concubine Li in linen paper to call up her spirit. It might be the earliest paper-cut in China. Later, Cai Lun, a Chinese court official, improved papermaking based on the experience of the forefathers in 105 AD. As a result, paper-cutting was developed as a kind of art among the common folk.

During the Tang (618 - 907) and Song (960 - 1279) Dynasties, the activity of paper-cutting was centralized on the day of Beginning of Spring, one of the 24 seasonal segments of solar calendar, because it is the first day of spring, symbolizing revivification of nature and growing prosperity. On that day, people cut swallows, butterflies, and other symbols of spring to send each other as presents. In the Song Dynasty, paper-cuts were further popularized. People used paper-cuts as patterns of ceramics in Jizhou kiln of Jiangxi Province. After glazing and firing, the ceramic objects became more exquisite. In addition, people carved the skin of donkeys, cattle, horses and goats into the figures of people for shadow plays by using the form of paper-cuts as a stencil. Paper-cuts were then also used as the decorations for windows, doors, lights and so on.

Handicraftsmen using paper-cutting as a career appeared in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279). Some were good at cutting characters, and some specialized in cut flowers and other designs. In addition, the blue folk cloth with designs commonly used in the Southern Song Dynasty was made based on the paper stencils with ornamental engraving.

Paper-cuts experienced a prosperous time in the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. All of the curlicues on the illuminations, the designs on the fans and the designs of embroidery were reprocessed from paper-cuts. In the Ming Dynasty, people placed paper-cuts in-between the gauze covering a lantern, and lit a candle inside, thus the candle light mirrored beautiful designs, and then the 'shadow-picture lantern' was created. In the Qing Dynasty, paper-cuts were brought into the palace because they were a custom in the Manchu society. According to the custom of the Manchu people, the walls of the bridal chamber for the emperors were pasted with wallpaper, with black paper-cuts of ; 'Shuangxi' (a Chinese character signifying double happiness) at the four corners; the ceiling with black paper-cuts of dragons and phoenixes; the walls of corridors outside and to the bridal chamber were all pasted with paper-cuts.

Nowadays, paper-cuts are used widely in such as things as the packaging of products, brands, advertisement, upholstery, clothes design, decorative art in books, stamp design, title design in the press, serial pictures, stage art, animation, movies ,TV as well as many other areas.

 Local Paper-cuts in China

Though paper-cut requires very simple making skills, its content is rich and reveals many local Chinese customs. Patterns of moppets, gourd vessels and lotus flowers symbolize numerous offspring highlighting the belief of Chinese that the more sons, the more blessings; festival and peaceful patterns can help avoid evil spirits; patterns of domestic birds, livestock, fruits, fish and worms are closely linked with people's lives. Moreover, Chinese paper-cuts show strong regional influence. For example, Shaanxi window paper-cuts appears simple, bold and unconstrained; Hebei and Shanxi paper-cuts are graceful and colorful; while Yixing paper-cuts of Jiangxi Province feel magnificent and neat.

Fengning Manchu Nationality paper-cuts - Fengning in Hebei Province was given the name as 'Home of Folk Paper-cuts in China' by Ministry of Culture. Paper-cuts there can be traced back to the ruling period of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty. In content, they include festival paper-cuts, fruit paper-cuts, animal paper-cuts, character paper-cuts and paper-cuts of flowers, birds, fish, worms, landscape, scenery, persons, baskets, basins, dishes and bottles.

Yangzhou paper-cuts - one of the earliest areas doing regional paper-cutting in China, the custom of 'heralding spring with paper-cuts' began there in the Tang Dynasty. The people in Yangzhou also cut paper money, horses and other funeral objects to sacrifice to their ancestors. Yangzhou paper-cuts are clear and fluent of their lines, fine and elegant of their patterns and seeking freshness in a change of techniques.

Dai Nationality paper-cuts - popular in Dehong Daizu jingpozu Zizhizhou of Luxi City, Yunnan Province, it originated from the paper streamers used for sacrifices of the Dai people. Later, it was widely used in funerals, festivals, house decorations or making sacrifices to the ancestors and Buddha. Most of the paper-cuts there are relevant to the Buddhism the Dai Nationality believes in, involving Buddhist stories, folklore and frontier customs and specialties.

Ansai paper-cuts – on the festival days, women of Ansai County, Shaanxi Province, will cut paper-cuts and paste then on the windows. Ansai paper-cuts are beautiful in shape, fine in cutting skills and profound of history and culture, containing aesthetics, history, philosophy, folk-custom, archaeology, culture, anthropology and other content. They are recognized as cultural treasures and the 'living fossils' of the culture.

 How to keep paper-cuts?

Paper-cuts are patterns made up of lines and blocks through cutting and carving. To keep them in good shape does need care and skill. Here we share with you some general conservation methods:

If the paper-cut is black and white paper and small in size, the simplest way to preserve it is to place it flat in-between the pages of a book or magazine. If you want to look at it often, you can keep it in an album to avoid any destruction due to frequent flipping. For colorful paper-cuts, the key point is how to prevent them from fading, so it isn't suitable to keep them in the books whose materials are very absorbent. Copying paper and sulphite paper for drawing are your best choices, because they are extremely resistant to absorbing water and have good transparency. For those paper-cuts of large size, the ideal method is to clip them to corrugated board and then place them flat. Moreover, you should put them in an airy place, keep them from the damp, and put some mothball near them if you will keep them for a long time.