Xuan Paper: A witness to millennia of Chinese history
2018-07-24 14:23:00

Papermaking is widely known as one of the Four Great Inventions of ancient Chinese civilization along with printing, gunpowder, and the compass.

Among various types of papers, Xuan paper, also known as rice paper, holds an importance place as massive ancient documents and artworks might not have survived till today if not for the paper.

Originating more than 1500 years ago, the traditional craft of making Xuan paper was inscribed on UNESCO’s the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

Xuan paper has always been valued by every Chinese generation as a source of pride since it is not only a requisite part of Chinese culture but also a witness to Chinese history for thousands of years.

‘King of All Paper’

Li Keran (1907-1989) was one of the most well-known contemporary Chinese painters, whose most celebrated masterpiece “Thousands of Hills in a Crimsoned View” was sold for 293.25 million yuan (46 million US dollars) in June 2012.

Li once toured Xuancheng City of east China's Anhui Province and insisted on paying a visit to local papermaking factories. “We leave nothing without you," said Li, and then he bowed three times, facing those handicraftsmen toiling to produce Xuan paper.

Li’s words further revealed that Xuan paper holds a dominant status in the mind of Chinese literati and artists. Since its origin, Xuan paper has been linked closely with calligraphy and painting.

As an essential carrier of Chinese culture, Xuan paper has garnered the title "King of All Paper."

Aside from Li’s contemporary masterpieces, numerous superb works by ancient Chinese calligraphers and painters are drawn on Xuan paper.

“Five Oxen” by painter Han Huang (723–787) is acknowledged as the oldest Chinese painting on Xuan paper. As one of the highlights on display in Beijing’s Palace Museum, the intact art piece, passed down by several emperors and officials in ancient China, was more than 1,200 years old.

Han’s work, vividly depicting five oxen in different poses from various angles, is universally considered one of top ten paintings from ancient China, among which “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains," created by the highly acclaimed painter Huang Gongwang (1269-1354), is another Xuan paper painting.

According to the National Library of China (NLC), there are approximately 30 million ancient paper books preserved in the library, and most of them are made by Xuan paper.

Source: CGTN Editor: Hiram