Putting the knife in

The “Paper-Cut County” of Yu in Northern China’s Hebei province is holding its second Chinese Paper-cut Art Festival tomorrow to celebrate the folk art, which has been passed on from generation to generation for more than 200 years.

Last year, the festival’s debut saw hundreds of folk artists, paper-cutters from other provinces and countless tourists from home and abroad come to appreciate the Yu style, which is distinguished by the colors and knives used, instead of scissors. 

A family business 

“China is a big country with lots of intangible cultural heritage that needs to be protected,” said Zheng Yimin, chairman of the Folk Literature and Art Society of Hebei province, at the festival’s press conference in Beijing last week. “Holding such festivals can introduce folk art, such as paper-cutting, to a larger audience, so as to better promote its value and development a market for it.”

Craftsman Zhou Shuying was born into a family of cutters and started to learn when she was only nine. Her late father Zhou Yongming was apprentice to Yu’s paper-cut founder, Wang Laoshang.

Now a respected artist and successful businesswoman who owns her brand of paper-cut products, Zhou is grateful to the local government’s promotion of its culture through activities such as the paper-cut festival.

“Our ancestors gave us something we can start with our career but through art festivals, we can introduce it to more people,” she told the Global Times.

“Last year, I was invited to demonstrate my skill during the festival and many foreigners showed their surprise,” she said. “I think most people know about paper-cutting but what they know is very vague, [even] including the Chinese. The festival can help them to have a clearer understanding.” 

Cutters first carve white paper with sharp knives and then dye them with different colors. Traditionally, men usually took care of cutting and the women dyed. According to Zhou, Yu coloring is so complicated and delicate, it is impossible for machines to reproduce.

There are five basic colors –yellow, pink, green, purple and carmine – and the rest can be mixed from them, she said.

Products such as frames, calendars, envelopes and stamps can be purchased on the “Paper-cut Street,” which was opened at last year’s festival to boost the local tourism economy.

The street also sells works from other areas, such as the Shaanxi window paper-cut and the Fengning Manchu minority. More than 1,200 pieces by 160 artists form one of China’s biggest paper-cut trade centers.

International cooperation

This year’s festival targets a more international audience, since the town’s products are already been sold in over 100 countries. During the press conference, six foreign students from the University of International Business and Economics made a commitment to study under two Yu paper-cut masters. 

Artists from other countries are also expected to display their works and exchange skills with the locals. Also invited are employees of UNESCO’s offices in Beijing, foreign students and students from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“Going international means the scale this year is getting bigger,” said Zhou. “The foreigners who participate are not only students but also artists and business people… which is good for us.”

Zhou is only one of the 30,000 Yu people in the industry, together producing five million pieces annually. Yu’s paper-cut economy has a value of 200 million yuan ($30.93 million) and was made a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009, in a move which also recognized Ansai in North-West China’s Shaanxi Province and Yangzhou in East China’s Jiangsu province as bases of the folk art.

Source: Global Times

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