World Intangible cultural heritage: Guangling paper cutting wins worldwide recognition
By Sun Qingzhao
Chinese paper cutting is one of the oldest handicrafts in China. It varies from animals and plants to the vivid scenes of our everyday lives.
Guangling paper cutting, in northern China's Shanxi province, is one of the country's most renowned craftsmanships, and thanks to the efforts of Zhang Duotang, a descendant of its founder, the concept has now developed into a lucrative industry.
Zhang Duotang is the fourth generation of the founder of Guangling paper cutting. Now 62 years old, he began to learn this skill at the age of eight.
The Guangling paper cutting has been listed in the catalog of nationally protected intangible cultural heritage.
With bright colors, vivid models, delicate lines, dynamic forms of expression and skillful engraving, it is regarded as a "Unique Chinese Folk Art" and was added to the list of World Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2009.
There are 38 procedures involved in making paper cuts — it's a pure handicraft that cannot be replaced by modern machines.
But as more and more young people are leaving Guangling to find work, it's an art that is slowly dying.
However, Zhang has decided to do something about it. He organized his family members, brothers and sisters, trying to explore new ways to revive this traditional skill.
In 1999, with the support of the local government, Zhang began to promote Guangling paper cutting. He hired many paper-cutting artists, and they started to produce according to market demands.
Meanwhile, with the help of computer design, there is now more content available. Besides keeping up with the market demand, Zhang Duotang has also improved his production techniques.
Now, their paper cuttings depict cultural relics, scenic spots, characters, and famous paintings. Other products include stamps, scroll paintings and picture frames.
In 2007, Zhang began to build the Guangling paper-cutting cultural industry park, investing more than 45 million yuan or 6.7 million US dollars into the project. He also built China's first Guangling paper cutting art museum and a vocational training school, setting up a paper-cutting industry chain in the process.
It attracts half a million visitors every year, and he exports products worth more than 1.5 million US dollars.
“Without the market, culture cannot be called culture, nor can it be further developed or passed on. Paper cutting is my life. We research how to make better paper cutting from morning to night. As the descendant of the Guangling paper cutting founder, it is a duty for me to pass on this skill. It has to keep up with modern times,” said Zhang.
More people have joined his team since the establishment of the Industry Park. This is how many villagers in the Guangling County are now making their living.
So far, the Guangling paper cutting products include more than 50 series and over 8,000 varieties. The brand has won worldwide recognition and allows people to learn more about Chinese culture and the ingenuity of its people.