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Peek into the art of Chinese red paper-cutting to usher in Year of the Tiger

Wong Li Za

THE STAR – It’s not a complicated activity but some patience and dexterity is required.

The art of Chinese red paper-cutting is a folk art that has been around for over 2,000 years.

Known as jian zhi, it is one of the oldest and most popular folk arts in China. Although its exact origin is hard to pinpoint, some believe the art form dates as far back as the 2nd Century AD when paper was invented by Cai Lun, a court official of the Eastern Han Dynasty, in 105 AD.

Archaeological records show that Chinese paper-cutting began later, in the 6th Century, and gained more popularity from the 7th to the 13th Centuries.

During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Chinese paper-cutting was declared a national art in China.

Traditionally, the cut-outs are made using thin red paper, as red is an auspicious colour associated with good fortune and happy occasions.

Designs usually consist of Chinese characters, flowers, animals and various other patterns used for decorations during special occasions like the Lunar New Year, weddings, birthdays and other festivals.

As they are popular as window decorations, the cuttings are also referred to as zhuang hua, or “window flowers”. However, they can adorn walls, doors, pillars, mirrors, lamps or lanterns.

Wherever they are placed, the cut-outs always represent good luck, prosperity, happiness, good health or longevity.

Teo is a self-taught paper-cutting artist with over 10 years’ experience in the art form. PHOTOS: THE STAR
Chinese opera headdress and tiger design with floral embellishments by Teo


In Malaysia, there are currently only a handful of artists who are preserving the art form.

One of them is 32-year-old Kajang, Selangor-based self-taught artist Eten Teo, who is regularly invited to conduct workshops and share his knowledge on paper-cutting.

His work ranges from intricate portraits to landscapes, and zodiac animals to buildings like the Petronas Twin Towers and old Chinese temples.

The art of paper-cutting has also evolved into 3D pop-up versions and mixed media art forms.

Teo, for instance, has collaborated with other artists and crafters to combine his cut-outs with paintings or dried flowers and plants.

He added that nowadays, many people prefer to buy the printed, mass-produced type of paper-cutting decorations for their homes.

But he believes that engaging in the art form is a great way to cultivate patience among adults and children alike.

“If you do it together with kids, you can show them how to transform a plain piece of paper into an artwork. So for young children, it can be a very beneficial activity,” said Teo.

He hopes that Chinese paper-cutting can be introduced in schools.

“That can instil in children a love for the art form and hopefully, help to preserve it in the long run,” he said.