Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage  —— Paper Cutout

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

The distinct, imaginative aesthetics of these contemporary designs 

translate the inner worlds of Miao women 

into exuberant lines and stylized patterns. 

They illustrate the lively yet 

deeply reverent relationship with nature and tradition 

that is at the core of Miao family life.

29-year-old Zhang Meiling is a well-known paper-cutting artist in the small town of Shidong, she started learning this artistic skill from her mother since 6 years old. As a specialist of classic patterns based on Miao's legends, Zhang Meiling now is a guest professor at a local vocational college's Fine Art department, where hundreds of students are inspired by her and are willing to pass on this Intangible Cultural Heritage afterwards.

Step One — Draw Pattern
Locals call these artists “Xi-gei-bang”,  most of them are also masterful embroiderers. Simple patterns can quickly be cut free-hand,  but more complicated ones are first sketched in pencil, then cut with scissors or a knife.

Zhang Meiling is just getting started at her quiet work table, spreading out the paper her expertise will transform into art. She knows countless ancient stories of Miao by heart, and draws them according to her own imagination.

With a placid gaze and a fluid hand, intricate designs effortlessly roll off the tip of her pencil.

Step Two — Sew Layers Together
When the drawing is finished, she sews together several layers of paper, so that she can cut multiple copies in one time.
Step Three — Cut
Snip by snip, with each precise flick of her scissors, gradually, the design emerges.

In Miao folk religion, these cutouts are not just tools for embroidery; they provide tangible links to the spirits of their ancestors and nature.

While some cutouts are traditional designs, handed down from generation to generation, others are personal designs created by the artists.

Step Four — Separate Layers 
Step Five — Stick on the Cloth

A finished pattern is glued to a piece of cloth

Step Six — Fix the Paper Cutout to the Cloth by thread
Step Seven — Sew the Embroidery
The rise and fall of a needle and thread  turn the flat, monochrome paper into a vivid, textured piece of embroidery.

Admirers of Zhang Meiling's work come to visit her almost everyday, asking for her advices. Buyers who finds her in the county fair always consult her on colors of the threads after purchasing the paper cutouts. Summer is the busy season for her, local women buy her works for embroideries, tourists also buy them for decorations.

Paper-cutting has been handed down from generation to generation, and it continues to thrive today.

Artists like Zhang Meiling, who combine tradition and innovation,make paper cutting a vibrant part of contemporary Miao culture.

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China
Credits: Story

In Collaboration with Riverbend Academy of Hmongology, Guizhou, China

--- Exhibition Crew ---

Culture Consultants: Yang Peide, An Hong
Project Coordinator: Cecilia Xiong
Exhibition Curator: Lin Wen (linwen@muc.edu.cn)
Chief Photographer: Austin Kramer
Other Photographers: Huang Xiaohai, Shi Kaibao, Lin Wen
Content Writer: Lin Wen
Translator: Austin Kramer, Li Yi, Liu Qing, Lin Wen
Proofreader: Austin Kramer
Video Clip Editor: Lin Wen

--- Mini Documentary Film Crew ---

Director: Lu Ying
Assistant Director: Zhang Te
Video Photographer: Zhi Yuehui, Zhang Te, Ji Xiang
Film Editor: Lu Ying, Zhi Yuehui, Suiwu Changjun
Script Writer: Yang Peide
Script Editor: Lin Wen
Color Adjust: Zhong Rujie, Zhi Yuehui
Music: Audio Jungle
Recording: Chenguang Recording Studio

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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