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Hainan Seen Through the Lens of Culture: Life Between the Paper and the Knife


In Ledong’s Da’an Town, which is known as the “Hometown of Folk Art”, Lin Wensheng has made his name as a local papercutting artist. Delighted that his son Lin Chongjing is following in his footsteps, Lin often shares his hard-earned wisdom with his son.

Legend has it that long ago, before the start of the Han Dynasty period, the ancient Li people living in what is now Ledong took banana leaves and tree bark, and bit and cut them to create many patterns showing elements of their daily lives, creating a rough record of their lives, their work, and the living things and natural landscapes that surrounded them.

At first, the Li people used blades to carve leaves, and dyed patterns onto tree bark. Then they wove the patterns from the tree bark into Li Brocade. When paper appeared, they found that cutting their patterns into paper had an even better effect.

From its beginnings as bite marks on leaves, through its development into papercutting, this art has not depended on geometrical proportions, nor on conventional models of composition. The art of Li papercutting instead comes solely from the imagination and skillful fingers of the artists creating it. The fields, the homeland of the Li, the coconut dance... all of these symbols appear in the abstract lines of Li papercuts, passing down the rich imagery of their simple lives, as well as the pure, traditional aesthetics of the Li people.

Between the paper and the knife, each piece of papercutting art becomes a living story of the Li, an easy to read depiction of the lives of this minority group. This unique art form of the mountain homeland of the Li people has been passed down through the ages, taught by one to the next, and continues to put forth bright new blooms in the fertile soil of the Li culture. Now, in order to help more people learn about the beauty of this ancient art, both father and son continue to teach it in the village and in schools, passing the papercutting knife into the hands of the next generation of artists.

“I’ve taught over 10 outstanding papercutting students. As soon as they graduate from high school and get into college they give it up. So we spend time teaching them but they don’t keep it up, that’s our biggest problem,” explained Lin Wensheng.

“We still need fresh young talent to keep the art of papercutting alive. The tourism industry is the best way for us to provide motivation. The ancient art of Li papercutting still has a long road ahead of it,” said Lin Chongjing.

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