Chinese Paper Cut- Artistic Creations from Nimble Fingers

China paper cut, also literally called window flower or cutting picture in Chinese, refers to handicrafts made by cutting paper with scissors or knives to form different patterns and pasting them on walls, windows, doors and ceilings.

 

History

The art of paper cutting has a long and rich history. Prior to the invention of paper, the cutting art had already been practiced on leather and gold and silver foils.

Chinese Paper Cut It is generally believed that the craft of paper cutting emerged soon after paper was invented during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-221 CE). As paper was highly precious in the early days, the art of paper cutting first became popular in the royal palaces and houses of nobility as a favorite pastime among court ladies. Later, during the 7th through 13th centuries, paper cutting was immensely popular during folk festivals and celebrations. By the 14th century, the art had spread to the Middle East and Europe; and by the 15th century onward, paper cutting art works had become an integral part of the everyday life of the people. Throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644CE-1912CE) many paper cutting skills, including drafting and the use of smoked papers, were developed.

However, the art of paper cutting was on the verge of dying out during late Qing Dynasty as old China experienced successive years of the disaster of war brought on by domestic turmoil and foreign invasion. Amidst a myriad of changes in their lives, most people had no leisure time to engage in the study of the art of paper cutting. The Republic of China later tried to revive the art in the 1980s. The art of paper cutting has again received a great deal of attention because of heavy publicity, resulting in even more innovative artwork.

 

Usage

 

The early paper cutting might be related to worshipping gods, evocation and sacrificing to the dead. In the past, paper was cut into images of people or things such as money and clothes, which were buried with the dead or burned at funerals. This is a superstition that these things burned or buried would accompany the dead in another world. Paper cuttings were also used to decorate sacrifices.

Chinese Paper Cut

Chinese Paper Cut

Today, paper cuttings are chiefly decorative and still widely used today at important festivals, especially during the New Year. They are usually made with red paper, which is the most popular and propitious color in Chinese culture. They ornament walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps and lanterns in homes and are also used on presents or are given as gifts themselves. Entrances are decorated with paper cut outs are supposed to bring good luck. In addition, they can be used as embroidery patterns for clothes and lacquer works.

 

Handmade Paper Cut

 

Paper cut are all handmade. There are two methods of making paper cuts, one use scissors, the other use knives.

Chinese Paper Cut

In the scissor method, several pieces of paper — up to eight — are fastened together. The motif is then cut with sharp, pointed scissors.

Knife cuttings are fashioned by putting several layers of paper on a relatively soft foundation consisting of a mixture of tallow and ashes. Following a pattern, the artist cuts the motif into the paper with a sharp knife which is usually held vertically. Skilled crafters can even cut out different drawings freely without stopping. More paper cuts are made with the knife-cutting technique rather than scissors since it is less time consuming.

In rural areas, paper cut is traditionally a handicraft for women. In the past, every girl was supposed to master it and brides were often judged by their skills. Professional paper cutting artists are, on the other hand, usually males who earned guaranteed incomes by working in workshops.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Chinese Shadow Puppet Play

Chinese shadow puppet play wins the heart of an audience by its lingering music, exquisite sculpture, brisk color and lively performance and gets a name as “a magic, lighting-like art”.

 

Music

Music accompaniments are four string and south string instrument, bowed instrument, four-string moon-shaped instrument, drum, gong, flute, hand allegro and horn.

Nicknamed the business of the five, a shadow puppet troupe is made up of five people. One operates the puppets, one plays a horn, a suo-na horn, and a yu-kin (a kind of Chinese folk musical instrument), one plays banhu fiddle (a kind of Chinese folk musical instrument), one is in charge of percussion instruments, and one sings. This singer assumes all the roles in the puppet show, which of course is very difficult. That is not all; the singer also plays several of the over 20 kinds of musical instruments in a puppet show. These ancient musical instruments enhance this ancient folk art.

As shadow puppet plays are popular all over China and in the long-time evolving process in different areas, the styles and rhythms of the singing tunes absorbed the essence of operas, folk art forms, ballads and music. Therefore, various schools of shadow puppet plays have been formed.

 

Lively Performance

 

shadow puppet

A balladry from Shaan Xi Province described how the shadow puppeteer works.

Folk Shadow Play
Speaking behind paper partition screen,
Expressing variable feelings by shadows,
One shadow play actor can tell thousand years stories,
Both hands can operate millions of soldiers.

shadow puppet

The stage for shadow puppet is a white cloth screen on which the shadows of flat puppets are projected. Shadow puppet looks similar to paper-cut except that their joints are connected by thread so that they can be operated freely. The scene is simple and primitive; it is the consummate performance that attracts the audience. For example, a puppet can smoke and breathe out a smoke ring with operator help. In one drama, as a maid sits in front of a mirror, her reflection matches her actions.

 

Roles of Shadow Play

 

shadow puppet

Roles in shadow plays are the same with the Peking opera. Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo, Chou all can be found in shadow play. The difference is that every ‘player’ consists of 11 parts including head, two body parts, two legs, two upper arms and lower arms as well as two hands. Drawn by the performers through controlling bars and threads, ‘players’ can do various kinds of vivid movements. Shadow play demands for high performing skills. The operator plays five puppets at the same time, each of which has three threads. Ten fingers handle 15 threads. No wonder the operator is compared to the 1000-hand Kwan-yin. Besides control three or four ‘players’ at a time, performers have to catch up with the tempo and musical accompany as well as pay attention to dialogue and singing. Hence, it is not an easy job to train a mature shadow play performer.

 

Popular Plays

 

The wonder of the shadow puppet play based on Chinese History and culture. If one is unfamiliar with the customs of northwest China, the value of the art is abated.

shadow puppet shadow puppet

In terms of the content, shadow puppet plays feature historical novels, folk legends, legal cases involving swordsmen, love stories, mythological stories, fables and modern costume plays. In terms of the length, there are highlights of plays, single-section plays and series, etc. Popular traditional plays include the Tale of the White Snake, the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl, Outlaws of the Marsh, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and The Creation of the Gods, etc. Modern costume plays and fairy tale or fable plays created between the revolutionary wartime and 1949 include the White-Haired Girl, Liu Hulan, Sea of Forest and Land of Snow, The Red Lantern and Mr. Gongguo, etc.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Miao Hmong Silver Jewelry Showcase

A saying of the Miao goes like this “The beauty of golden pheasant lies in its feather, and the beauty of Miao Hmong girl lies in her silver jewelries.” The sparkling and clanking silver jewelries are stunning and are highlights to the landscape of the Miao Hmong village.

Miao women love to dress in unique silver jewelries from head to toe. Here are just a few kinds.

 

Silver Headdress

 

Miao Hmong silver headdresses are quite a sight and are worn only on very special occasions, like weddings or significant festivals. They include five different parts: the horn, the crown, the comb, the flowers and the hairpin.

 

Silver Horn

 

Miao Hmong silver horns are crafted to mimic the horns of an ox. The two horns can be as much as three feet apart! And they’re quite tall, almost doubling the height of the wearer.

An image of two dragons playing with a pearl is often engraved, symbolizing wishes for an auspicious future. But each silver horn is unique. Some women adorn the horns with different kinds of silver pendants like phoenixes, birds, and butterflies. A pair of white feathers is usually put on the horns to make them even taller and more attractive. Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Crown

 

A silver crown is the base of the headdress and can be a foot tall and quite heavy. There are three kinds of silver crown.

The first kind is a hat completely covered with silver flowers, birds, animals, bells, and tassels. There are twelve pieces of silver feathers hanging behind the hat and reaching to their waist. This type is popular in the Huangping area of Guizhou province. Miao silver jewelry

The second kind is usually seen in Leishan, Guizhou province, which has no top and a piece of 10-centimeter wide silver with three parts. The first part on the top features 29 silver flowers. The second part in the body has warriors riding horses. The silver fringes make up the last part. Miao silver jewelry

Another type is worn by Miao Hmong women in Shidong area of Guizhou. Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Comb

 

Miao Hmong women wear silver combs on their heads as ornaments. Patterns of flowers, birds, dragons, or deer are carved on the silver ornaments. Some combs feature the image of a Bodhisattva, with several layers of silver chains dropping down. Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Hairpin

 

The design of Miao Hmong silver hairpins varies, but they usually feature birds, butterflies, and flowers. The most striking designs feature 10 silver flowers which look like a Chinese fan. Some hairpins look like chopsticks decorated with silver bells or long tassels.

Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Earring

 

Tiny Miao Hmong earrings are often shaped like flowers, birds, butterflies, dragons, or plants. Miao Hmong women usually wear 3 or 4 pieces of silver earrings at one time. In some areas a single silver earring can weigh 200 grams, and reach all the way down to their shoulders. But many small earrings have threads which are as thin as a piece of paper.

Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Necklace

 

A Miao Hmong silver necklace is wide and heavy, and has many pendants hanging from it. Smaller silver necklaces are rarely worn.

There are many kinds of necklace popular in the Miao Hmong areas. One kind of dragon silver necklace is quite impressive. It features two dragons playing with a pearl and has 11 silver tassels dangling from the bottom. Another kind of necklace has 14 silver rings linked tightly together, while silver birds or butterflies hang down from each ring. Miao silver jewelry Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Bracelet

 

The Miao Hmong silver bracelets are engraved with the images of flowers, fish, or dragons. Some bracelets feature wide band which is like the cuffs worn by warriors in ancient times. Miao Hmong women usually show off 4 or 5 silver bracelets at one time, sometimes more during festivals or holidays. Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Ring

 

A Miao Hmong silver ring is usually quite small and has fine pieces of silver bent and shaped into flowers, birds, or plants. In some Miao Hmong areas, women have rings on all eight fingers except their thumbs. Some rings are big enough to cover half the length of their fingers!

Miao silver jewelry Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Costume

 

A silver costume in Leishan area normally has 44 silver pieces sewn onto the fabric. Each silver piece has vivid patterns like flowers, butterflies, tigers, lions, and dragons engraved on them. Whereas in Shidong area, silver costume have as many as 380 silver pieces sewn onto the costume. When they walk and dance, the silver ornaments make beautiful sounds.

Miao silver jewelry Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Waistband

 

A silver waistband displays tens or even hundreds of silver images of Bodhisattvas sewn on a piece of cloth. The Miao Hmong wrap it tightly around their waist, and they sparkle when the Miao Hmong dance.

One famous waistband displayed in a Miao Hmong museum features 105 unique silver Bodhisattvas images, each of which has different facial expression and gesture, reflecting the incredible imagination and creativity of the Miao Hmong artisan. Miao silver jewelry

 

Silver Anklet

 

Last but not least are small but sturdy silver anklets that clasp above the foot. Silver anklets are usually worn by children to drive away evil spirits and bring them a bright future.

Miao silver jewelry

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Tradition Surpass Generations

The unrivalled craftsmanship of Miao Hmong silver jewelry has progressed constantly in history. Although the individual step in making silver jewelry may seem easy to manage, like burning, blending, hammering, engraving, cutting, and twining, but in fact each masterpiece shows silversmith’s great persistence, patience and painstaking efforts. However, for these silversmiths, nothing can make them happier than creating a set of delicate silver jewelries.

 

A Father’s Love

 

Miao silver jewelry Tongju Wu, one of the best silversmiths in Taijiang county of Guizhou province, who is known throughout the county for his delicate craftwork, began to follow his father in making silver jewelry when he was 15 years old. Living a simple life and doing farming, Tongju Wu devotes all his life to making silver jewelry. He has created many new patterns into the traditional designs.

Currently, the major task for Tongju Wu is to make four sets of splendid garments for his four daughters. He recently completed the first for his oldest daughter, Guomei Wu, whose splendid silver decorated dress cost more than 30 thousand Chinese Yuan, which is the whole family’s savings for over two years. It took Dongju Wu three months to make the jewelries and ornaments for the dress which weighs more than 20 kg.

Guomei Wu believes she is an ideal model for her father’s work and hopes that this beautiful and gorgeous clothing can help her catch attention and praise. As for Tongju Wu, the happiest moment in his life was to see his daughter wear the clothing in which he wove his love and hope. He strongly believes that with time and the accumulation of his family’s savings, his other daughters’ outfits will be even more delicate and charming.

 

Family Tradition

 

Miao silver jewelry Another outstanding silversmith, Tonglun Wu, shares something in common with Tongju Wu. Tonglun was an orphan when he was five. However, he never gave up his hope of promoting his family’s 200-year tradition of making silver jewelry. Despite many obstacles and difficulties, Tonglun has been keeping and furthering his family tradition. With several decades’ experience in making silver jewelry, Tonglun has made over fifty types of silver jewelries in the forms of dragons, phoenix, fish, birds and other figures. Many of his works have won awards in Guizhou for their unique and exquisite design and excellent technique. As a seasoned silversmith, Tonglun Wu took many of his work to an exhibition in Beijing, on which he showed the traditional but charming skills of making silver jewelry.

Another thing that satisfies Tonglun Wu is his 16-year-old son, Guoyin Wu also inherited his skills. Young as Guolun Wu is, he is very eager to learn. Still only a high school student, he is confident one day he will surpass his father in technique. And as a father, Tonglun Wu is more than happy to see his son fall in love with this long-cherished family tradition.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Miao Hmong Silver and Tibet Silver vs. Sterling Silver and Pure Silver

 

Miao Hmong silver

 

Miao silver jewelry

Miao silver is not pure silver, but an alloy of silver, copper and nickel. It’s a traditional material for making jewelry by craftsmen of Miao Hmong ethnic tribe. The percentage of silver is about 60%. Miao Hmong silver jewelry is distinctive for its design, style and craftsmanship. Miao Hmong silver jewelry is completely handmade, carved with decorative patterns. It’s not easy to make and there is no pair exactly the same. Miao Hmong people think silver accessories have spirits. Wear it more, clean it more, it will reward you with more beautiful luster.

Miao silver gets oxidized,especially during summer when people sweat a lot. Less moisture and no chemicals will keep it shine longer. Polish it the same way as you do with your 925 silver accessories. Or just use cotton to polish it. Keep it in a sealed package when you don’t wear it.

 

Tibetan silver

 

Miao silver jewelry

The term “Tibetan silver” is applied to a variety of metal alloys used in jewelry, some of which have no silver content at all. Historically, Tibetan silver contained 30 percent of silver, but today this is rarely the case. Modern Tibetan silver is usually cast from a mixture of copper, nickel and a small amount of silver. Some Tibetan silver also contains zinc. Its overall appearance looks like aged silver, but it can be polished to give highlights on complex castings.

 

Sterling silver

 

Miao silver jewelry

Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925. Fine silver (99.9% pure) is generally too soft to produce functional objects. Therefore, the silver is usually alloyed with copper to give it strength, while at the same time preserving the ductility and beauty of the precious metal. Other metals can replace the copper, usually with the intent to improve various properties of the basic sterling alloy such as reducing casting porosity, eliminating firescale, and increasing resistance to tarnish. These replacement metals include germanium, zinc and platinum, as well as a variety of other additives, including silicon and boron.

 

Fine silver

 

Miao silver jewelry

Fine silver has a millesimal fineness of 999. Also called pure silver, or three nines fine, fine silver contains 99.9% silver, with the balance being trace amount of impurities. This grade of silver is used to make bullion bars for international commodities trading and investment in silver. In the modern world, fine silver is understood to be too soft for general use. Comparing with 92.5% sterling silver, 99.9% pure silver is much softer, whiter, brighter, and no signs of impure metals can be seen, but more difficult to craft into silver jewelry.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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A Poem Written On Silver

Miao silver jewelry Silver has unique significance in Miao Hmong culture. The Miao people have been deeply fascinated with silver since ancient times. The culture of silver was handed down since the Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC to 220 AD). The Miao’s silver jewelry are second to none in terms of quantity and varieties. The craft has developed into a unique art form.

The silver jewelry of Miao are in large varieties, which are particularly represented by that of Leishan County of Guizhou province and Fenghuang County of Hunan Province. Silver jewelries mainly include silver crown, horn, comb, earrings, necklace, bracelet and ring. These jewelry are mainly worn by women. The reason of wearing silver is primarily aesthetic, but also as amulets to ward off evil and as symbols of wealth.

 

Significance of Silver in Miao Culture

 

It is a tradition that when a girl is born, her parents will start saving money to make fancy silver jewelry that can weigh several kilograms. On the wedding day, the girl will be wearing these beautiful silver accessories all over her body, the more and heavier the better, showing her beauty and wealth of family and adding joyful atmosphere to the event. Miao silver jewelry

 

The Origin of Miao Silver

 

In history, the Miao people live in regions of no silver resources, they had to work hard and melt almost all the silver coins and ingots they earned. This led to different levels of silver purity as currencies differed from region to region. For instance, the southeastern area of Guizhou province is divided into two parts by Leishan Mountain. In the north area, people used Dayang (a kind of silver currency) to make jewelry, so the silver purity was high, while in the south area, Erhao (a kind of silver currency) was used, so the jewelry contained less silver. Since 1950s, the Chinese government has showed great respect to Miao people’s custom and allocated certain amount of silver to them at a low price every year. Miao silver jewelry

 

Traditional Craft

 

Today’s silver jewelry with basic fixed patterns and designs are the result of years of passing down and inheritance. Casting, beating, knitting, chiseling and carving are the common techniques for making silver ornaments. The patterns adopted are mostly dragon, phoenix, flower and bird, which are lifelike and exquisite. They are largely inspired by other art forms such as embroidery and wax printing. The silversmiths continuously improve and renovate the designs and patterns while keeping the traditional designs.

Miao Hmong silver jewelries are diversified, colorful, eternal and meaningful, just like beautiful poems written on the silver worth reading perpetually.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Intricately Handmade Miao Hmong Silver Jewelry Impossible to Duplicate

While worn by women, the Miao’s silver jewelries are made by men. The unique techniques to craft silver jewelry have been handed down from generations. Don’t look down upon a small piece of silver jewelry, because it involves dozens of procedures which requires extremely patience, persistence and carefulness.

 

Melting

 

Miao silver Melting silver is the first step. Traditionally a big stove made of charcoal is used to melt silver. Today, silversmiths have invented a small, light electric tool that can heat silver to temperatures over 1,000 degrees Celsius. They melt silver in a bowl called the “silver nest”.

 

Hammering

 

Miao silver Then the seething hot silver liquid is poured into an iron slot to harden into a solid silver bar. They take the bar out of the slot with forceps and hammer it into the needed shape. Some silver jewelries are carefully crafted with paper-thin slices, while others need solid, heavy pieces of silver.

 

Pulling

 

Miao silver How do they work with such thin slices and hair-like silver threads to craft silver jewerly? Only using a pair of scissors and forceps, the Miao Hmong artisans can twist these delicate, fine silver slices and threads into elaborate patterns featuring lifelike birds, flowers, and other symbols. Some craftsmen always wear a magnifying glass just to see the fine pieces on their silver jewelries.

To make silver threads, Miao Hmong artisans use a steel sheet with 60 different round holes. The size of each hole is different. The steel board is put onto a short, round wooden post. The silversmith steps onto the board and uses a pair of pliers to pull silver through the holes. Just like that, an ideal silver thread is created.

To work with such fine silver slices or threads is very hurtful to one’s eyes. That’s why lots of Miao silversmiths have to retire before they are 50.

Silver jewelries crafted with such silver slices or threads look more charming and unique.

 

Engraving

 

Miao silver Some Miao silver jewelries have beautiful patterns engraved on their surface. Before engraving, the jewelry needs to be fixed onto a rosin board. They’ll heat the black rosin board to make the surface softer, and the silver can be easily fixed on it. The rosin then cools down, and the silver stick to the surface.

The silversmith will use a pencil to draw designs on the silver, and then he will engrave the designs using sharp steel sticks, which are about 10 centimeters long with round, flat, or pointed tops. A light hammer, made of the horn of a water buffalo, is used to strike the sticks and make the design. Engraving is quite time consuming.

Each intricate design should be engraved carefully. A slight error may ruin the whole piece of work. A skillful Miao Hmong silversmith needs many years of training and practice. Their elaborate silver jewelries are impossible to be copied by any machine.

Miao Hmong silver jewelries often combine different pieces, so the almost perfect soldering of tiny pieces is strictly demanded. Inspecting a Miao Hmong silver jewelry, you’ll never find any small, ugly bubbles of solder. The finished work looks so neat and clean.

 

Washing

 

Washing is the last step. Immersing the handmade jewelry into phosphoric acid for a few minutes removes stains from surface and makes the silver brighter and whiter.

Intricately designed Miao Hmong silver jewelries not only show Miao Hmong craftsmanship, but also reflect Miao Hmong culture. They are so unique that it’s impossible for anyone to duplicate.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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