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Paper-cuts of Yu County

150 kilometer west of Beijing, Yu County claims to be the biggest paper-cut producing base. Its paper-cuts distinguish themselves mostly by colors. It is still not clear when and how this kind of style took place. Some people say that colored woodcut-prints from neighboring county that were previously used for window decorations are possibly the inspiration; whereas others say that once-popular painted window decorative mica sheets should be.

Yu people use knives instead of scissors for paper-cutting. About 50 sheets of light weight rice papers and a template are dampened to stick them together and then air-dried. To prevent the papers from moving during cutting, the batch is put into a wooden box with a piece of leather at the bottom to receive the blade. There are two groups of cutting tools, knife cutters for outlines and punching tools for particular forms. Round holes, for example, are made by pushing a curved gouge into the batch twice. A dozen of different cutting tools are necessary for a simple pattern. Because the final work is made up by colored patches, so the sketch lines are hollowed out to prevent wet paints running into each other. Delicate care is given to details. Man's beard, for example, may be up to 50 fine lines. One broken line spoils the whole. Finally the batch is separated into small parts, as many as five sheets, for coloring. Only the topmost sheet is painted to let color infiltrate through.

The most frequently encountered theme is opera figure. People here enjoy operas. Not only that local operas all find a stage here, but that this County owns an opera of its own, Yu clapper, the only one at county level. People's zeal for opera goes back to ancient times. Many old-fashioned houses that built a century ago, whose high brick walls designed as self-defense against the nomads in the north, all had a build-in open theatre. Today on holidays or during slack farming season, theatrical troupes are reorganized to perform on the stage. Those are the most hilarious days of the year.

Usually men take care of cutting; women take care of coloring. In the twelfth month of the year all sorts of paper-cuts show up at the country fairs which attract holiday shoppers and businessmen from afar as well. The samples are displayed on portable paper windows. Once a variety is sold out, the sample is torn away. Country fair would last to New Year's Eve. On New Year's Day when the world is ruled by the chill of winter, these paper crafts bring a lively spirit to the monotonous landscape of northwest plateau.

Paper cut

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