Xu Yang: An open-minded Chinese paper-cutting master

Paper-cutting master Xu Yang Photos: Billie Feng

Sitting in front of his worktable in his studio, he can create various patterns with a piece of paper and a pair of scissors without the need to draw a sketch beforehand. He works silently, but cannot stop when he talks about anything related to the art of paper-cutting.

A modest master

Xu works on a paper-cut

As a master and inheritor of a world intangible cultural heritage, Xu Yang (徐阳) has been making paper-cuts for nearly 40 years. On the walls of his studio in Beijing Bai-gong-fang (京城百工坊) hang a variety of paper-cuts. Among them, a paper-cut portrait of Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, catches visitors’ eyes. Xu said this kind of modern pattern was created only for business purposes. He insists that the real Chinese paper-cutting should reflect Chinese folk customs.

Xu was born in Beijing and was sent to Sichuan province during the Cultural Revolution period (1966–76). After the revolution ended, he started to work in a cultural center in Mianyang, Sichuan province. During this period he came into contact with a few experts in paper-cutting. “In fact, I made paper-cuts long before I met the experts, but l got the idea from them what real paper-cutting means,” he said.

The solo exhibition he held in Mianyang in 1990 was a critical point in his career. “It seemed that I became well-known overnight and started to be invited to various activities,” he laughed. He was listed among Top 10 Paper-cutting Masters of China in 2004. There are many people making paper-cuts across the country, but Xu said the honor affirms his achievement and encourages him to create more. “No matter how much I have achieved in paper-cutting, I think there is always room for me to improve my personal skill,” Xu said.

Extensive exchange

Xu's paper-cuts

As a matter of fact, paper-cutting is not a handicraft that is unique to China. Many countries have their paper-cutting artisans, but the styles are totally different. Xu said he is making every effort to promote exchanges between China and other countries. “We can learn a lot from each other and I want people all over the world to get a better understanding of Chinese paper cutting. That’s exactly what an inheritor should do,” he said.

Xu has visited a lot of countries for cultural exchanges. He recalled that he and another three paper-cutting artists held an exhibition on behalf of China in Zurich, Switzerland in 2008. The paper-cuts on display were not about Chinese folk customs; instead, they travelled around Switzerland and made paper-cuts based on what they saw in this northern European country which was strange to them. For example, he cut the scenery of the Alps through the eyes of a Chinese artist. “The exhibition was a great success and welcomed by local people. They were subsequently exhibited in the Art College of Tsinghua University and the China Academy of Art,” Xu said.

 Two paper-cuts Xu created in Switzerland

Xu also mentioned an ongoing exhibition of paper-cuts held at the Chongwen Children’s Palace (崇文少年宫) in Beijing. All the paper-cuts were made by a group of artists led by Xu during their trip to Taiwan in 2013. According to Xu, these paper-cuts will be moved to Taipei and exhibited there in July.

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