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U.N. given glimpse of folk arts, crafts from central China

By Gu Zhenqiu (Xinhua)

08:26, September 21, 2012

(File Photo)

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese artist blindfolded himself, and then began to work his scissors on a piece of red paper. About a minute later, he continued the cutting behind his back, his fingers feeling the distance before he set his small shears to work.

Another two minutes later, the artist, Shen Songbai, finished the last touch, took off his eye cover and spread the paper -- a big beautiful flower amazed those watching.

The paper-cutting performance was part of the opening ceremony of "The Exhibition of Folk Arts and Crafts from Wuhan City," held here Wednesday evening. The exhibition aims to give U.S. and U.N. viewers a glimpse of what is described as "the living fossil" of history and culture of Wuhan city, capital of Hubei Province in Central China.

The show, which runs through Friday, features 118 items in 20 categories of folk arts and crafts, including paintings on tree leaves, carved wooden boat models and bamboo sculpture, crafts being listed as part of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Shen, born in 1957 in central China's Wuhan City, began his paper-cutting some 40 years ago, when he happened to be asked to produce papercuts to decorate the wedding chamber of his friend.

Currently a teacher at a college in his home town, Shen is adept at making mono-color and multi-color papercuts. Through decades of practice, he has developed unique techniques, such as working blindfolded and behind his back.

As a result, he has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as as Master of Folk Arts and Crafts.

Shen's papercuts often represent birds, dragons or other animals, things considered auspicious. Chinese characters with meaning such as "prosperity" are also often seen on papercuts. It is therefore common for red paper to be used, as it is the most auspicious colour in China.

Papercutting is one of China's most popular folk arts. Archaeologists have found traces of the tradition dating back to the 6th century, although it is thought it began a few centuries earlier.

Papercuts were used for religious purposes in ancient China. Various paper objects and figures were traditionally buried with the dead or burned at the funeral. Papercuts were part of this custom. They were also used as offerings to the ancestors and the gods.

Papercuts are still used for these purposes by Chinese nationals living abroad, although in China, these traditional uses have, to some extent, died out.

Today in China, papercuts are chiefly used as decoration. They adorn walls, windows, doors, columns, mirrors, lamps, and lanterns. They are also used to decorate presents or be given as presents themselves.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Guo Huihui, a senior official from Wuhan City, said the handicrafts on display could help U.N. staff members and people in the U.S. better understand the history and culture of Wuhan City, as well as China.

Wang Yansheng, cultural counsellor with the Chinese Consulate-General in New York, said the exhibition was conducive to promoting cultural exchanges between China and the United States.

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