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  Folk Art
Paper-cuts (Jianhui)

The making of paper-cuts is another popular folk art in China. A piece of paper can be turned in the hands of an artian, with the help of a knife or a pair of scissors, into any of a wide variety of patterns-landcapes, flowers, birds, animals and human figures. These simple works of art may be displayed in wall frames or pressed under glass and grace the room with their elegant lines and pleasing images. Paper-cuts fall into two categories:

1 ) The monochrome scissor-cut: This is cut from a single piece of paper with a pair of scissors. It requires imagination and dexterity on the part of the artist. A master in this field is Wang Zigan, member of the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Research Institute, who has practised the craft for more than 50 years since the age of 13. It is a delightful experience to watch him at it turn the scissors this way and that, cutting through a large piece of paper and producing, in a matter of minutes, a picture of a crowing cock with a group of grazing lambs. To cut such a picture or any other from a vast repertory, he needs no draft or model, but his work is always done in smooth and flowing lines and with expressive figures.

2) The patterned paper-cut : For this, patterns or models are first made by the master, and then the workers do the cutting accordingly, not on one sheet of paper but through a pile of some two dozens, producing as many paper-cuts at a time. The cutting tools used are knives of various sizes, some as long as cm, others as thin as needles.

It is difficult to tell when the art of paper cutting began in China. Excavations made in 1949 at the ruins of the ancient city of Gaochang in Turpan, Xinjiang, unearthed paper cuts showing a pair of horses and a pair of monkeys. They date back 1,500 years to the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (120-589). They are the earliest specimens of ancient paper cuts that have been discovered.

In the old days, people of certain regions used to cut red paper and imitation fold foil into chickens, dogs, sheep, pigs, cattle and horses or pictures of "peaches of immortality" and "high ranking person on fine horse" and decorate their offerings to the gods with these by way of praying for prosperity and happiness. Today, on festivals or festive occasions such as a wedding, paper-cuts are still made and pasted on doors, windows, walls, rice jars and stoves to brighten up the house and add to the jubilance.

There is yet another kind of paper-cuts especially made as patterns for embroidery work.

The art of paper-cutting has experienced considerable development since the founding of New China. Research societies have been set up in a number of areas and the number of paper cutting lovers has been on the increase. Indeed, the folk art seems to have a splendid future in store.

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