The folk art of paper－cuts has a long history in China. In Gaomi, Shandong Province, old people or school children, and women in particular, are immensely interested in paper－cuts.
“There is a custom in the area. After a bride goes over to the bridegroom’s house, before the bridal veil is taken off, the neighbours first look at her dowry. They want to see her handwork, mainly paper－cuts or embroidery. If her handwork is fine, she must be a good bride. If her handwork is awful, the bride is not okay,” said Lu Hong’en, folk handicraft expert.
Gaomi Paper－cuts date back to the Ming Dynasty. In the first year of the Hongwu period, a great many people from Shanxi, Jiangxi, Henan and Hebei moved to Gaomi. Among them were many paper－cut artists. They took in advantages of various styles and created the present style of Gaomi Paper－cuts. The great scholar Guo Moruo admired the paper－cuts with these lines: “I saw paper－cuts for window decorations in northern China. Their flavour is simple and vigorous. Today I see paper－cuts from southern China. Their charm is matchless. The art of scissor－cut is magic. Its beauty lies among the people eternally.”
Gaomi Paper－cuts cover a wide range of motifs, such as daily life and historical stories. They depict the outward appearances of characters as well the innermost feelings of individuals.
Artists of Gaomi Paper－cuts seek the artistry of the unity of opposites. Blocks and lines form the three essentials of black, white and grey colours. The simple and lovely paper－cuts are characterized by sharp contrast, elegant charm and exquisite craftsmanship. They are imbued with local colour.
In real life, people catch long－horned grasshoppers and keep them in cages. A paper－cut artist has adopted an original approach, keeping long－horned grasshoppers outside the cage. The two insects are holding on to the delicate cage with their hind legs, stretching out their feelers and keeping their eyes round. The long－horned grasshoppers and the cage form an integral whole.
“Gaomi Paper－cuts artists stress the clever use of scissors. It is something like the expression of hardness and strength in painting. So the paper－cuts have strong artistic appeal. They are both rustic and delicate. As a plane art, paper－cuts are impromptu works by girls, young married women and old ladies. Through these things, folk artists express their hopes for the future and their desire for beauty,” said Lu Hong’en.
With the progress of the times, modern articles for daily use have entered homes in rural areas. But Gaomi Paper－cuts are still loved by farmer families. The paper－cuts herald the approach of spring year after year.