Papermaking is one of ancient China’s greatest inventions. There has been more than 2000 years of history since Cai Lun invented paper in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 BC – AD 220). Although now a computer era, there still exists ancient papermaking workshops in remote parts of China with the paper being put to different uses in daily life. The ancient papermaking workshop in Caijialing village, Xianxi town of Yueqing city in Zhejiang Province is one such surviving tradition.
Papermaking as a tradition has a very long history in China. In 1637, Song Yingxing, a Ming Dynasty (AD1368-1644) scientist summarized the Chinese papermaking technique using bamboo and bark with pictures in his book, Exploitation of the Works of Nature. His record of the ancient technique was the most detailed in the world at that time.
In his book, the author referred to the technique of making bamboo paper. Bamboo was first cut into pieces, then soaked in a pool of lime and boiled for several days to soften them. After ridding it of impurities, it was placed in a fermenting pool. Several days later it was pounded with a pestle and mortar and mixed round in water to make a paper pulp. The pulp was then extracted through a sieve leaving a flat fiber that was repeatedly compressed through a sieve; a sheet of wet paper was the result. The final process involved compressing a pile of paper and drying it. The paper was made.
The papermaking technique in Caijialing is basically the same as what was described in the book of Song Yingxing. The villagers told a reporter from China Daily, from the raw material of bamboo to paper, it needs several processes: cutting, soaking, pounding, making the pulp; dredging the paper; cutting the edges; drying and packaging. Now all except the pounding, which is done by machine, still follow ancient techniques.
According to the villagers, the paper made in Caijialing still has its market as it can be used as rough-straw paper (or toilet paper), paper money for the dead and paper for packaging.
(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, April 14, 2003)