The Ancient Chinese Art of Paper Folding
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The Ancient Chinese Art of Paper Folding

This art form is often referred to by its Japanese name of Origami but evidence shows that it may well have been popular in at least three other locations long before this craft developed in Japan.

This ancient art form dates back to the very beginning of the use of paper and it is believed to have started soon after paper was first invented by the Chinese. Many people throughout the world when thinking of paper folding automatically think of the word Origami. This Japanese term for the craft leads people to think it was indeed a Japanese invention.

Evidence suggests that paper folding was an art form in China many years before the first paper travelled across the China Sea to Japan when it was first given to the Japanese as a gift by Chinese monks. Due to paper naturally deteriorating over time no records exist today to clarify where this ancient art began.

Chinese paper folding is known as zhe zhi and it is believed to have begun as far back as the 2nd century AD, this was around 400 years before paper first arrived in Japan. The first recorded use of paper folding or origami in Japan was not until the 17th century, and evidence suggests it was popular in central Europe for a period from the 15th century and this was thought to have been an art form passed on along the ancient silk road, a popular trading route at that time.

In China paper folding was traditionally used to create objects such as boats or hats and would often be created for funerals. In Europe boats were popular as well as a folded paper box from the mid 15th century. Other shapes made popular in China were those of the traditional pagoda. Japanese paper folding tended to develop more with the traditions of animals and in particular one animal the crane.

When what is today Spain was invaded by the Moors or Berbers in the 8th century and then mostly under their control for the next 800 years, especially the south of the country these invaders from the east brought this art form with them.

It is not my intention in this article to claim one or other area began or should take credit for this art form, they each have their own style and much of the Chinese and Japanese skills have developed using some of the others skills. I first witnessed this while working at a school in Sichuan province in China in 2008. The students were on their final evening in the school, the next day these mostly 18 year old students would formally complete their education and be let loose to find their way in the real world. The final night party for many of these students was spent in making paper cranes, they hoped between them to make 1,000 of these during the evening, I was instructed how to make these simple designs as they called it. Using pieces of paper measuring just 2 inches by 2 they made it look very easy, after a few failed attempts I left it to the experts.

Many of these paper cranes would have messages written on the paper before they were folded into shape, messages wishing good luck. The idea is to unfold the paper, read the message inside then refold it back into what it once resembled. Sadly after reading the message I had to pass it back to the experts to refold it once again, not quite what was intended but enjoyed by all those who thought paper folding was an easy pastime. As I left them to complete their task of reaching 1,000 I was left to wonder how many final night school parties would be considered a success in the west if this was the entertainment.


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Comments (10)


Very informative!

Such wonderful new information, thanks to your Article I realised that Paper Folding didn't originated from Japan.

Yes, wonderful

I can just about make a paper crane.... but Origami when done properly is beautiful. Great write-up!

I have always admired this true art. thank you for sharing your wisdom. Promoted.

Returning with a well deserved vote up.

Thank you for this informative article. Well done. Voted up.

voted, very nice work.

Very interesting article about Chinese. Thanks for sharing.