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Paper cuttings are one of the main decorations used during Chinese New Year, making for beautifully decorated houses. They are a traditional Chinese art form that can still be appreciated up until this very day.
Paper cutting is an artwork that was first used in China in the 6th century. At this time, people used leaves, foil, or other thin materials to make beautiful pieces, and it wasn't until the invention of paper that it was realized how easy it was to make these types of art using paper instead.
Paper cuttings are traditionally put up during festivals, and Chinese New Year is one of the main occasions when you'll start seeing them around. The paper cuttings are red, as this is the color symbolizing happiness, and decorate doors as well as windows. Windows are especially beautiful as the light shines through, displaying the intricacy of the paper cutting.
There are many different themes that you will often see on paper cuttings, but most represent wealth, good fortune, and happiness. You'll find they are often square or symmetrical, and follow the themes of Chinese New Year. Read on to find out more about these themes and their representation.
One of the main characters often represented in paper cuttings is fu (福 fu/foo) which means happiness or blessing. This is one of the main paper cutting decorations for Chinese New Year. You will see that many Chinese people put their 福 (fu) upside down, no matter whether on the doors or on the windows.
This interesting tradition came from a mistake...
One Chinese New Year’s day (the exact year is not known now), a family attached their 福 (fu) upside down as a careless mistake. On the first day of Chinese New Year, their first guest came to visit, and saw the upside-down 福, and kindly shouted to them: "你们的福倒了!" ('Your fu is upside down!').
倒 (dao /daoww/) means 'upside down', but has the same pronunciation as 到 (dao /daoww/), which means 'to arrive'. So "你们的福倒了" could be understood as ‘Your fu (blessing) has arrived’ (你们的福到了).
People liked the alternative meaning so much that they started fixing their fu decoration upside down to "invoke" an arrival of blessings.
Read on to find out how to make your own fu papercutting!
The Chinese Zodiac is also a common theme in paper cuttings, and in 2020 you'll see a lot of rats throughout as it is the Year of the Rat. The year after, in 2021, you'll see the ox appear as a theme throughout paper cuttings at Chinese New Year, as 2021 is the Year of the Ox.
Another important theme in paper cutting is chun (春 chun/chwnn), meaning spring. Because a lot of the positive messaging surrounding Chinese New Year is related to spring, newness, and growth, (even its alternative name, Spring Festival), you'll see this character on paper cuttings during Chinese New Year frequently.
In terms of visual representations, many Chinese New Year paper cuttings tend to have fish on them. This is because fish, in Chinese, is yu, which sounds similar to fu, good fortune or surplus.
Fish are a common theme throughout Chinese New Year. They are also frequently on the menu at dinner because fish are considered to be a lucky food because of their connotations with good fortune.
Chinese New Year paper cutting is an indispensable part of Chinese New Year decoration, so if you'd like to have a go yourself at decorating your door, here is a guide for how to make your own 福 (fu) Chinese New Year paper cutting.
1. Make sure your red paper is a perfect square shape by measuring it.
2. Fold it three times and crease the edge really well, following the steps below, so that you can make the decorative patterns on the four sides the same.
3. Draw the decorative patterns on the folded paper (remember which part is to be cut or carved off — maybe shading it in). Staple (along the edge that you will cut off) to force the eight layers of paper together tightly.
4. Use your sharp scissors or craft knife to cut off or to carve out the design and create a beautiful decorative pattern. Cut off the stapled edge last. Open it only after the cutting is finished.
5. Rotate the paper by 45° before you draw the 福, so it looks like a diamond. Pencil the outline of the fu character in the middle.
6. Lastly color in the fu character in black, and your Chinese New Year paper cutting is done!
Chinese New Year is a great time to come to China to experience the festivities and China’s winter.
However, it’s by far the busiest period transport-wise in China, especially up to a few days before Chinese New Year and from around 8 days after. Book your tour as early as possible if you are looking to be in China during Chinese New Year.