Paper has been used by humans in a variety of ways since its development by the Chinese in 105 A.D. We see paper in a variety of forms and purposes at the office, at school, in shopping malls, on flights, and even in the restrooms. It’s astonishing to think that one of the first applications of paper for the Chinese was as a medium for cutting out shapes and forms.
Cutting elaborate designs out of paper became a custom throughout the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386 – 581 A.D.). This was the start of the Chinese paper cutting art known as Jian Zhi. The early practitioners of this craft reflected their modest lives, goals, and beliefs in their paper cut works. Objects that represent good fortune and pleasure are a beloved topic. During the Tang Dynasty, people used these paper cutouts to adorn their homes during festivals and even as hair decorations for ladies.
The Song Dynasty made significant improvements to the paper-making process and created new paper colours. The colourful paper was put to good use by the paper cut artists of the period in their paper cut outs. Paper cutting art reached its pinnacle during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, when it became a needed talent for ladies before they could marry. The subjects of Chinese Paper Cut works grew to include flora and animals, scenes from traditional stories and folklore, and even reproducing portraits of great heroes and mythological Gods.
Many paper cut artists specialise in paper cut outs in China nowadays. Typically, generations of paper artists in their family or hometown passed on their knowledge. Every province of China has its own manner of presenting paper cuts. Previously, only traditional Chinese themes were included, but today, several paper cutouts feature western imagery and modern art touches.
Paper cutting has also appeared in other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, where it is known as scherenschnitte, Denmark, where it is known as papirklip, Mexico where it is known as papel picado, Poland where it is known as wycinanki, the Netherlands where it is known as papierknipkunst, Japan where it is known as kirigami and katagami, and even Lithuania where it is known as papel picado.
Zhong guo Jian zhi (Chinese Paper Cut) is a Chinese paper cutting technique that involves either cutting with scissors or sculpting patterns and forms with a scalpel-like tool. Xuan Paper is the most usually used paper for Jian Zhi. This paper is created from pine tree fibres and is from Anhui province in China.
Scissor cutting entails folding and cutting the paper, with the folds frequently resulting in symmetrical designs. Scissors can also be used to make non-symmetrical cuts. Chinese Paper Cut experts can create the most elaborate designs on paper just by using scissors as a tool. Knife sculpted paper cuts are generally larger in size and scale than scissor cut paper art.
Paper sculpture with a knife is now popular in China. Even the tiniest and most delicate lines on paper can be sculpted by the extremely adept paper cut artists. In China, there is a paper cut art style known as Xi Wen style, which approximately translates to “thin line” style. On a square inch of paper, thin line paper cutters may carve up to 50 lines. On a one square centimetre piece of paper, a fine line paper cut master once carved out 100 flowers.
Various locations in China have developed their unique Jian Zhi styles. Colored hand painted paper cut art is a specialty of several counties in Hebei province, such as Yu County. Each regional style has its own unique features. Even the type of paper used in the Zhan Pu form of paper cutting from Fujian province differs. Instead of Xuan Material, they utilise a glossy paper called la guang (wax paper). They also have a unique cutting instrument known as pai jian, which is similar to a fork and can carve out hair-like designs on paper.
Paper cutting is a Chinese custom and part of everyday life. Every residence must have some jian zhi decorating its walls, windows, or doors during festivals and holidays like the Chinese New Year. In the Western culture, this is comparable to having a Christmas tree with mistletoe at home during the Christmas holidays.