Traditional red paper industry thrives

By Zhao Ruixue in Jinan| (China Daily)| Updated : 2024-02-21

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Red paper products such as couplets and paper squares bearing the Chinese character fu, which symbolizes good fortune, used during the Lunar New Year have driven the development of a town in Shandong province as villagers integrate tradition with innovation.

People in villages in the town of Xiazhuang in Gaomi produced 8,000 metric tons of red paper products last year for the Year of the Dragon, including traditional couplets, the town government said.

Production is centered in the village of Donglijia, which has been making red paper products since the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Sixty percent of the village's 200 households are engaged in the business of crafting the traditional items, showcasing a deep-rooted heritage and a thriving local industry.

"We had to work overtime to produce and sell the products during the two months ahead of the Lunar New Year," said Wang Gang, the head of Shandong Dongmo Cultural Co, which makes red paper products in Donglijia.

During the week before Spring Festival, searches for Spring Festival couplets and fu in China were up 218 percent compared with the previous week, according to statistics from food delivery platform Eleme.

"Despite the decline in pasting couplets on doors due to urbanization, the practice of displaying fu remains prevalent in every household," said Li Zhaocheng, 67, a villager who has been involved in the red paper products business for over 40 years.

The well-received couplets and fu have also undergone changes and become more diverse in recent years.

In Donglijia, couplets have seen a shift from traditional red paper with black characters to include various styles such as large red paper with gold embellishments, embossed couplets and holographic printed designs.

"For the Year of the Dragon, we have created a series of products that incorporate dragon motifs, which have proved to be particularly popular," Li said.

The village is home to factories that use modern machinery and also traditional family workshops that rely on manual printing techniques.

Wang, 35, has introduced innovative fu designs, including ones with sound and light features.

"In addition to mass-producing traditional items, we also offer custom-designed gift sets comprising couplets, the Chinese character fu, red envelopes and dragon-themed window decorations," Wang said.

The company started designing products for the Year of the Dragon a year in advance.

"We developed more than 100 dragon-themed red paper products and they have been well-received, garnering orders from over 10 provinces and municipalities across the country," Wang said.

Li Ran, deputy director of the county's cultural research association for red paper couplets, said, "The evolution of these traditional decorations not only reflects the preservation of cultural heritage, but also demonstrates the adaptability and innovation of artisans in response to changing societal trends."