Circa 6th Century CE
Paper cutting is the art of cutting designs in paper (black, white, or colored), then gluing them to a contrasting surface or a transparent surface. Paper cutting is intended to be decorative, i.e., a thing with which to adorn something else, not as a free-standing work of art, though today they are of course framed, in much the same way that a painting would be framed, by lovers of papercuttings worldwide.
Though the art of paper cutting evolved differently in different cultures, it appears to have originated in China – since paper itself originated in China* – possibly as early as the 2nd century CE, or shortly after paper itself was invented. The oldest example of a papercutting is from the 6th century CE and stems from Xinjiang Province in China. This uniquely Chinese art remained a secret to the outside world until around the 8th or 9th century CE, where it appeared in areas of West Asia and in what was once called Asia Minor (the area comprising modern-day Turkey). From there it spread to Europe and then to the rest of the world. The art of paper cutting remains one of the most popular traditional arts in China.
The themes involved in the art of Chinese paper cutting are as diverse as they are colorful, reflecting a multitude of regional and national motifs. The themes vary from scenes of everyday life, with which people are quite familiar, to scenes of a future life of good fortune to which people aspired – or at least dreamt of – to symbols suggesting good health, prosperity, etc. The art of paper cutting originated – and continues to this day – as a true folk art immediately accessible to the masses. The subject matter of these works of art provide an insight into the simple, unadulterated feelings of working peoples everywhere throughout time, having evolved uniquely in different parts of the world to meet the needs of the local culture.