A life­time de­voted to the art of pa­per cut­ting

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Shi­ji­azhuang

Wield­ing a pair of scis­sors, Song Baoshu looks like a ma­gi­cian, swiftly snip­ping a piece of pa­per into a work of art.

Song, 62, is a crafts­man from North China’s He­bei prov­ince who spe­cial­izes in the Chi­nese folk art of pa­per cut­ting, or jianzhi. Boast­ing a his­tory of more than 1,000 years, pa­per cut­ting was tra­di­tion­ally a craft mas­tered by women, whose cre­ations were used in ri­tu­als and for home dec­o­ra­tion.

As an art form, it has gained much at­ten­tion in re­cent decades, and was in­cluded on the UNESCO world in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage list in 2009.

Song was born in a small vil­lage and his re­la­tion­ship with pa­per cut­ting be­gan more than five decades ago when he was 8 and learned the craft from his grand­mother.

“At that time, vil­lagers liv­ing nearby would ask my grand­mother to make pa­per cut­tings for them when the Spring Fes­ti­val ap­proached,” he said.

His grand­mother would make cut­tings fea­tur­ing tra­di­tional aus­pi­cious mo­tifs and pat­terns as well as Chi­nese char­ac­ters sym­bol­iz­ing the zo­diac an­i­mals. Vil­lagers would stick them on their win­dows or walls as good luck charms.

“See­ing the vil­lagers’ faces light up when they got those pa­per cut­tings, I de­cided to also be­come a crafts­man and bring joy to peo­ple with my work,” Song said.

Decades of devotion and prac­tice have led to his dis­tinc­tive style. By com­bin­ing his mas­terly tech­nique and unique ideas, he has breathed new life into the an­cient craft.

“Ideas are the most im­por­tant,” he said, adding that he once spent a month cre­at­ing a por­trait of Chair­man Mao — us­ing most of that time just to think about how he was go­ing to do it.

In May, Song pre­sented one of his pieces to Ma­soud Soltan­i­far, the head of the Iran Cul­tural Her­itage, Hand­i­crafts and Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion. It fea­tured both Chi­nese and Per­sian cal­lig­ra­phy.

De­spite the fact that pa­per cut­ting re­mains pop­u­lar in con­tem­po­rary China, tra­di­tional prac­ti­tion­ers still face chal­lenges pro­mot­ing their art.

Song once tried to train­ing cour­ses at of­fer lo­cal pri­mary schools, but said few stu­dents showed in­ter­est.

“There are few young peo­ple who are re­ally in­ter­ested in pa­per cut­ting,” he said.

“But ac­tu­ally, learn­ing pa­per cut­ting can help make kids more pa­tient, im­prove their dex­ter­ity, sharpen their mem­ory and fire the imag­i­na­tion.”

The crafts­man’s two sons have now learned how to cut pa­per like their father and he is also teach­ing his grand­chil­dren the ba­sics.

But mod­ern ma­chines and the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of pa­per cut­ting pose a new chal­lenge be­cause mass-pro­duced prod­ucts are much cheaper and more ac­ces­si­ble than man-made ones.

“Many buy­ers choose laser­cut prod­ucts over hand­made works,” Song said.

“But they are in no way works of art. Tra­di­tional pa­per cut­ting will not be re­placed by ma­chines.”

He be­lieves that in­no­va­tion is key to keep­ing the tra­di­tional art alive.

Aside from in­no­va­tion in sub­jects and themes, he is also ex­plor­ing new tech­niques, such as us­ing mul­ti­ple lay­ers of pa­per and adding more col­ors to the tra­di­tional red.

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