Traditional Kaihua papermaking craft sees revival in Zhejiang

October 29 15:44 2021

Once almost extinct, the traditional skills of making Kaihua paper are now regaining vitality in Kaihua county, East China’s Zhejiang province.

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Photo shows the opening ceremony for the Kaihua Paper Artworks Exhibition in Hangzhou, capital city of East China’s Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhang Bin/people.cn]

“In recent years, we have attached great importance to restoring the traditional handicraft and expanding the use of Kaihua paper,” said Lu Xiaguang, Party chief of the county. With a refined and stiff texture and jade-like gloss, Kaihua paper was among the most expensive court-book paper found in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Lu added.

Kaihua involves adopting a combination of modern technology and traditional craftsmanship as the major approach to reviving the paper, said Zhang Guoyou, a local official, adding that the county will put into use semi-automatic devices to produce Kaihua paper so as to reduce costs and increase production capacity.

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Photo shows an artwork at the Kaihua Paper Artworks Exhibition in Hangzhou, capital city of East China’s Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhang Bin/people.cn]

The revival of Kaihua paper is also inseparable from the unremitting efforts of Huang Hongjian, a local inheritor of the traditional handicraft, and other experts.

Huang started to study how to make Kaihua paper in 2011. After reading historical materials about Kaihua paper, Huang visited paper makers to collect information about the traditional paper-making skills, while searching for raw materials and conducting repeated tests to discover how best to make the Kaihua paper.

Huang’s story soon caught the attention of the local government. With the support of the local government’s matchmaking efforts, Yang Yuliang, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and dean of the Institute for Preservation and Conservation of Chinese Ancient Books of Fudan University, set up a dedicated Kaihua workstation to assist with Huang’s task.

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A visitor takes photos of an artwork at the Kaihua Paper Artworks Exhibition in Hangzhou, capital city of east China’s Zhejiang province. [Photo by Zhang Bin/people.cn]

Following years of hard work, they finally achieved breakthroughs in the core technology and realized the standardized breeding of a specific plant from one of the wikstroemia species, a plant that is used as the main raw material for making Kaihua paper.

“We have created paper that weighs as little as 1.6 grams per square meter,” said Yan Yue’er in Hangzhou China, Yang Yuliang’s assistant, noting that the new Kaihua paper is capable of surviving for 2,825 years.

Kaihua paper has been used in woodblock watermarking, copperplate gravure and antique book restoration. In 2019, a Kaihua paper-made gravure engraving artwork made its debut at Stockholmia, a world stamp exhibition held in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Photo shows a sheet of Kaihua paper. [Photo by Wang Xuying/people.cn]

Recently, over 100 famous Chinese artists used Kaihua paper to create over 200 calligraphy, woodblock painting and traditional Chinese painting works, demonstrating that Kaihua paper has won market recognition. Some of these artworks are being displayed at the Kaihua Paper Artworks Exhibition, which lasts from Oct. 18 to 24 in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang.

“Kaihua paper is mainly used for ancient book restoration. We hope to expand the use of Kaihua paper and facilitate its revival through this exhibition,” Huang Hongjian said.

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Photo shows an ancient book made from Kaihua paper. [Photo by Wang Xuying/people.cn]

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