Chinese Paper Cutting

“Don’t eat the glue, Marius”, “This looks horrible, Marius” and “Mrs. Lex, your son is utterly untalented… in an endearing way, of course” are quotes from my pre-school days I will never forget. Not because they described me very well, but because they shaped my stance on arts and crafts more than anything else in my life. My teachers concluded I was incurably untalented, after I had made a photo frame to give to my Mom for Christmas. While the other kids had garnished theirs with glitter and bedighted them with beads, I had glued uncooked noodles to my frame.

Even though I realized my teachers had clearly given up on me, I still tried to create something unique, every time we did arts and crafts. A feetless flamingo, a chiseled chestnut and many hours of whacky weaving later, however, I too accepted that I would probably never be good at this. Following this realization, I started, you know… eating glue and stuff.

After pre-school, I went on to elementary school, secondary school, high school and eventually to university and didn’t have to do arts and crafts for a very long time… Until today!

The art of paper cutting is China’s oldest and most popular art. Shortly after paper was invented in the Han Dynasty about 1900 years ago, and became more and more accessible to people, this beautiful folk art emerged. Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, a variety of new techniques was applied and perfected by the Chinese. Nowadays, paper cutting is still very popular and not only in China. In many parts of the world it is a common type of arts and crafts.

In China, the paper cutouts or “剪纸 (jianzhi)”, are used as decorations, especially at weddings and childbirths. They are usually red and symbolize love and health.

Since no one in our class was pregnant or wanted to get married, we just crafted for the heck of it. It was hard, it was precision work but most of all it was fun. I was still horrible at it, because… let’s face it, it was still me doing it, but our Chinese teacher lied about it being “beautiful” … yeah, right. For the first time in many, many years I had fun arts and crafting:

Depending on how you fold and cut, you can achieve lots of different forms, sizes, kinds, colors and even Chinese characters. When you get the hang of it, you can even cut out large, connected patterns, which do not only look great, but also give you a feeling of achievement. The cut outs make great presents and are very nice to look at, as well. In many regions of the world, they were taped to the exterior of a window, so the light from the inside would shine through the negative space of the cutouts.

These are a couple of our creations. They took me only thirty minutes:

Alright, everybody. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, so get out your green paper and a pair of scissors and start cutting out dancing Leprechauns!


PS: Remember to be as weird as you can possibly be.

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