Wuji paper-cutting boasts a long history and has become a folk art treasure for generations. It consists of three divisions: women paper-cutting, craftsmen paper-cutting and literati paper-cutting.
Paper-cutting works are widely used as decorations for holiday celebrations, weddings, birthdays and funerals. It prevailed at the beginning of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when lantern shows were also popular during the Spring Festival. It became a fashion to paste paper-cuttings on lanterns.
On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, also known as the Lantern Festival, people would select the best lanterns and formed lantern group consisting dozens or even hundreds of people to parade around. During the event, people not only enjoyed the display lanterns, but they also admired the paper-cutting works on the lanterns. The best would win praises and respects from neighbors. The celebrations lasted till the "cultural revolution" (1966-76).
Currently, the works of Yang Sumiao, an inheritor of Wuji paper-cutting, such as the fish lantern pattern, rabbit lantern pattern and frog lantern pattern, are the epitome of the event.
At its peak, the popularity of lantern festival in the past attracted many people to join paper-cutting groups. Most of them were women who were good at needlework, professional craftsmen and literati painters. A large amount of outstanding works were created thereby promoting the development of Wuji paper-cutting.
However, since it was in the remote past, many paper-cutting artists and their works are difficult to identify. The only one that was documented is Li Rongjie (1854-1926), a native of Dong houfang village in Wuji county. She was a master of needlework born into a rich family and married Yang Lazao who was good at painting and calligraphy. Their combination enabled Li’s paper-cutting skill to reach a high level and generally developed her unique style. Li’s son Yang Gengzhong, daughter-in-law Wang Xiuting, and her granddaughter Yang Sumiao inherited the skill and spread it nationwide.
Yang Sumiao (1908 – 2000) was able to cutt flowers and birds at the age of six. She created nearly 10,000 works in her lifetime, some of which not only won awards at provincial and national exhibitions, but also were collected by the National Art Museum of China, and many overseas collectors. In the past 150 years, the works of Li Rongjie and Yang Sumiao have had significance and far-reaching impact in promoting the development of Wuji paper-cutting.
Research on Wuji paper-cutting began in 1998. It was added to Hebei provincial intangible cultural heritage list in 2006. Since then, the government has put more emphasis on the study of Wuji paper-cutting and reorganized the literati paper-cutting skills through discussions with local artists and the collection of historical materials. Some exquisite copies of Yang’s literati-style works were made and exhibited, wining wide approval.
It is hard to identify the category of current paper-cutting artists’ skills and works. But they all reflect the style and characteristics of the old art. Presently, representatives of Wuji paper-cutting art include Ren Licong, Wang Zhiru, Yu Weiling, Zhao Yuqin, Niu Shimin, Wang Fenmian and Li Zhi. They boast high-level skills of paper-cutting and have introduced the culture to Macau and South Korea.