Turning the page

Updated: 2012-08-15 09:40

By Zhang Zixuan (China Daily)

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Turning the page

1. An enclave covered with bamboo forest in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, Zeya is known for its traditional papermaking, which involves more than 100 steps. 2. Fresh bamboo is first soaked in lime water. 3. Soaked bamboo is mashed by trip hammers. 4. A villager dips a bamboo curtain model in and out of a sink filled with bamboo pulp. Then pulp forms sheets of paper on the model. 5. Paper is spread on the road and dried in the sun. 6. Paper is cut into various sizes and is ready for sale. Photos by Zhang Zixuan / China Daily

Zeya mountain area has a 1,000-year-old tradition of bamboo papermaking. Zhang Zixuan visits 'Paper Mountain' to learn how it is made.

Villager Zhou Lianxiang dips a bamboo curtain model in and out of a sink filled with bamboo pulp. As she is doing that, the pulp spreads evenly onto the model, forming a filmy piece of material. It is a delicate process. Any slight deviation in the angle of the bamboo curtain or the speed in which it is dipped into the sink, will cause pulp cluster. And that means Zhou will have to start all over again. But the 47-year-old papermaker is an old hand and rarely makes mistakes.

Zhou is the sixth or seventh (she has lost count) generation of papermakers in her family. They live in Zeya mountain area - an enclave covered with bamboo forest - in Wenzhou's Ouhai district, Zhejiang province.

The area, with an approximately 1,000-year-old tradition of bamboo papermaking, is dubbed "Paper Mountain". Compared with other papermaking families in Zeya, the Zhou family has a short history of papermaking.

Throughout the generations, they have religiously followed the 109 steps of producing paper manually.

In short, fresh bamboo is first soaked in lime water to destroy the fiber, and then mashed by water-powered trip hammers. This is followed by dipping a bamboo curtain model into the bamboo mixture and by doing so, pulp forms wet sheets of paper on the model. Finally, the paper goes under steamy iron boards to be flattened before they are dried in the sun.

"There used to be 555 water-powered trip hammers and more than 5,000 pulp sinks in Zeya in the olden days," says Shi Chengzhe, director of Ouhai's cultural heritage bureau.

Another villager, Pan Chengshou, is the fourth-generation inheritor of his family's papermaking craftsmanship in Shuiduikeng village.

Pan recalls the grand scene when the village's more than 150 households were involved in papermaking.

The production sound was music to the ears with paper models making a rhythmic tapping sound against the pulp, joined by the sound of water gushing and trip hammers knocking.

He also remembers vividly the mountain shining in a golden color from afar as millions of pieces of bamboo paper dried gloriously under the sun, which was how the reputation of "Paper Mountain" originated.

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