Museum of Handcraft Paper in a Yunnan village

Located in a field next to Xinzhuang village at the foot of Gaoligong Mountain in Northwestern Yunnan province, the Museum of Handcraft Paper looks different from any other construction in the village, but in accord with the local environment and landscape.
Designed by Beijing Trace Architecture Office (TAO) and completed in early 2012, the museum is conceived as a micro-village, a cluster of several small buildings. All the buildings are designed with the traditional Chinese wood structural system featuring nail-less Sun Mao (tenon) connections, which can be skillfully built by local builders. Local materials such as fir wood, bamboo, volcano stone and handcrafted paper were used for the exterior finish - the roof, floor and interior finish, respectively. As time passed, these materials became worn and faded into a more harmonious color with the landscape, suggesting a time worn feel to the buildings.

The museum functions like a window into the village, in the sense that the whole village functions as a big museum, because each open building shows an aspect of the papermaking process.
The village has a history of 700 years of handcrafted paper making. More than 10 years ago, almost every family ran a papermaking workshop after completing farm work. Along with the development of the modern paper industry, handcrafted paper withdrew from the main paper market gradually because of its high material and labor costs. Now, only seven to eight families still insist on making handmade paper. Most of the paper made is low cost and of general quality. It is used for packing Puer tea or burning as an offering to the dead during religious ceremonies or sacrificial activities.
According to Long Desheng, owner of a handcraft paper workshop, his sales of handmade paper are well enough. However, compared to some of the migrant workers in the village, his income is still less, but life is busier.
"To me, there is no obvious decrease in handcrafted paper sales in recent years. We can make more than 10 different kinds of paper, different in size and thickness, and earn 70,000 to 80,000 yuan ($11,011 to $ 12,584) from my business each year. Meanwhile, we have to farm. My daughter helps me a lot. She works with us on weekends and vacations. Life is always hard, but it could be better and better, I suppose," he said.
"It's a pity that fewer and fewer people here are engaged in papermaking. You know, it can't make a lot of money, so most of the young villagers prefer to work in the cities. Although we earn less than some migrant workers in our village, I'd rather stay here to take care of my daughter, and run my own business. Maybe I'm too lazy, but that's my choice," he added.
Liu Kankan stands on the road outside the village, gazing at the museum

Liu Kankan stands on the road outside the village, gazing at the museum

Against such a background, the construction of the museum is just in time. This project was launched by Long Wen, an editor at Intellectual Property Publishing House and an expert in traditional culture protection, graphic designer Yi An and architect Hua Li. It is a part of the plan for preservation and development of traditional resources, in which papermaking can be preserved as a cultural heritage and contribute to community growth. To exhibit the history, technique and product of paper making, this museum consists of exhibition space, work space and guest rooms for artist and visitors.
Long Zhanxian, a Xinzhuang villager as well as the former and first curator of the museum, also contributed to the construction of the museum. He persuaded the surrounding villagers to give free usage of farmland to project sponsors, supervised the museum's construction and maintained daily operations for a couple of years.
"I'm totally in favor of building such a museum in my village. It's not only a commemoration of our honorable traditional technique and our ancestors, but also a valuable chance to combine our tradition with some fashion elements. That's why I overrode all objections and tried my best to help launch the project. I'm happy to see that up to now, the staff members keep a wonderful relationship with our villagers. It also boosts tourism industry in this area, especially since 2012," he said.
Since last July, younger and more knowledgeable people have joined the museum's operation and development team. Li Yijiao, a master of arts graduate from Yunnan Arts University, decided to work in the village museum. As a Yunnan local, she grew up in a village not far from Xinzhuang village. Although she studied and worked in Kunming for 10 years, she gave up city life a year after a two-week research trip in Xinzhuang, and started to lead the rural life she desired.
"For many people, rural life might be a little bit poor, dull and inconvenient, but to me, it's sweet, free and quiet as it is in my childhood memory. I'm also fond of old things and traditional techniques very much. When I studied in Kunming, I always went to the antique market to clean out treasures, such as ancient books and embroidered pieces. I made handwork, such as ceramics and wood carving, in my spare time as well. So it's a natural choice for me to work in the museum," she said.
After five years of working as a translator in Canada, Liu Kankan, who has long been concerned about China's rural cultural construction, has been in charge of the daily work at the museum since last December. Although normally taciturn, she got along well with the locals.
Children use Wi-Fi and chat near the museum on weekends

Children use Wi-Fi and chat near the museum on weekends

"I've been fond of reading and writing since childhood, so I'm curious about everything, about paper naturally, especially traditional handmade paper. In addition, I always hope to do something for rural construction in the country. That's why I choose here. At present, I have to say it's pretty busy to get everything on track. I worked on setting up a bilingual official website recently. In the future, we may create more artistic designs with the local handcrafted paper, and try to find the balance point of tourism development and keeping the original character of the village," she said.
New changes have come to the village with their arrival. The most obvious one is more children prefer to stay in the museum when they return home from boarding schools in the town on weekends. On the ground floor of the museum, there's a rural library with hundreds of books. More important, Wi-Fi was connected to the village this June. Like a window to the broad world, children learned more about the outside world from the museum.
"In our village, there are so many left-behind children. Their parents work in other cities and go back home only once a year, even every several years. Their grandparents are aged and always busy with farming works and papermaking. I'm happy that the museum is the place where they read and play with us, with each other. As you know, company is the best gift for those kids. Maybe that's why we are accepted by the villagers," said Liu Kankan.
Definitely, rural life is not as idyllic in outsiders' eyes and imaginations, especially for people who lived in the city for a long time. Although they visited all 53 households in the village, and kept a good relationship with several villagers, due to the lack of spiritual connection, they can not be fully integrated into the village. As Li Yijiao said inadvertently: "Sometimes, when I walked back to the museum after supper with villagers, I see the museum towering at the entrance of the village, and suddenly fell into loneliness."
In this regard, Liu seems to keep an easier attitude: "Everyone has his special way to recognize the world. We can't expect others to accept and understand you totally, or do whatever in your way, especially those with a completely different education background and life experience. For me, just do what you want, and that’s enough. The result or other people’s view about me is not that important."
Li Yijiao dries the handcrafted paper she made on the terrace of the museum

Li Yijiao dries the handcrafted paper she made on the terrace of the museum

If you go:

The museum is in Xinzhuang village, Jietou town, Tengchong county in Yunnan province. Visitors can take flights or buses from Kunming to Tengchong county, take a bus from Tengchong Bus Terminal, and arrive Jietou town in 50 minutes. It is only 3.4 kilometers from Jietou town to Xinzhuang village. Visitors can walk there or take a minibus.
The museum is open every Tuesday to Sunday for free. Its hours are9 am to 5:30 pm. Visitors can make reservation for accommodation in the village through the museum.
E-Mail: papermuseum@papermuseum.cn
Website: http://www.papermuseum.cn
Long Zhanxian, the former curator of the museum, made great contributions to its construction

Long Zhanxian, the former curator of the museum, made great contributions to its construction

Zhou Shaozhi, a Xinzhuang villager, works in the museum. She shows the representatives of GreatSeed, an intangible cultural heritage online community, the traditional process of making a piece of paper by hand

Zhou Shaozhi, a Xinzhuang villager, works in the museum. She shows the representatives of GreatSeed, an intangible cultural heritage online community, the traditional process of making a piece of paper by hand

A villager works at a handcrafted paper workshop run by the museum

A villager works at a handcrafted paper workshop run by the museum

Visitors can enjoy the wonderful view of the field and mountains from the museum's terrace

Visitors can enjoy the wonderful view of the field and mountains from the museum's terrace

Entering the museum, visitors can see its designed products as well as the rural library on the first floor

Entering the museum, visitors can see its designed products as well as the rural library on the first floor

The museum launched several designed handmade paper products, such as these beautiful notebooks

The museum launched several designed handmade paper products, such as these beautiful notebooks

[Source: China Daily]

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