Did you know that around 100 BC, during the Han Dynasty, the smooth white paper that you write on every day originated in Ancient China? People could write on papyrus and parchment before the invention of paper as we know it, but it was expensive and difficult to make.
In addition, expensive silk was used in China, but only the very wealthy could afford it. That implies that it was not promptly accessible to everybody.
Since its invention, people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have been able to read and write.
It made carrying a book so much easier and made forgery harder because it absorbed ink. It is much lighter to carry a single stack of paper sheets across town than a dozen hand-chiseled tablets. Teachers needed to be strong and smart!
After being soaked in water until they turned into a pulpy mush, plant fibers and rags were mashed and pressed onto screens of varying sizes so that the water could escape.
The paper was lighter and simpler to use once dry than its heavier predecessor.
Since we don’t have as much access to bamboo and other plant fibers as we did in 100 BC, we’re going to make do with what we have and make paper from supplies we already have so we can still learn how to make paper.
Chinese Paper Making Activity
For this activity you will need:
- art paper or construction paper
- Hardware screen/window screen
- a blender
- plastic tub
You can buy paper making screens or you can make a simple one like we did here, by making a simple frame of wood scraps and stapling a square of hardware cloth to the back.
You could also do the same with a piece of window screen and the backside of a picture frame.
Tear your paper into smaller pieces, about 1” square.
Now we are going to hurry along our paper dissolving process by adding water and paper to a blender.
Run the blender until you get a nice watery pulp, add water as needed to make sure it purees up well, you can’t have too much water as it will drip off.
I used white drawing paper and one small piece of blue construction paper to get a very light blue shade.
In ancient China this process would have been done by a long soak of bark, hemp, bamboo, and other plant materials rather than a blender!
Lay the frame in a tub large enough to hold it and pour the mixture from the blender onto the screen, flatten it out with your fingers so that it is as smooth as you can get it.
The trick is to pour slowly and move it rather than pouring a giant pile in the center.
Let most of the water drain off your screen until it is just a slow drip then carefully flip your screen to release the paper onto an absorbent surface, I used a sheet of craft felt for mine.
Press a stack of several paper towels or napkins on top and press to absorb some of the water.
Place a block of wood on top and press or even stand on it to press it flat and squeeze more water out. Allow your paper to dry completely- it may take a day or two depending on how much water is left in your paper at this point as well as the humidity in your area.
Once your paper is completely dry you can trim it with scissors if you like to make it a more uniform shape. Still not flat enough?
Lay it under a couple of heavy books for a few days and it will be smooth and flat for your writing.
Use a small paintbrush to paint a few basic Chinese characters as part of your studies.
Experiment with different types and colors of paper, brown paper bags make a nice parchment style paper, add a little color, and cut some into various shapes.
Ancient China Paper Making Fun Facts
- Paper making hasn’t changed much in all these years, basically the process is the same with new technologies and methods added in.
- China tried to keep the art of paper making a secret but it eventually spread.
- A Chinese government official, Ts’ ai Lun, is credited with starting the paper making industry.
- It was another 1000 years before paper making spread into other parts of Eurasia.
- The original paper making was originally done with mainly hemp.
- The oldest record of paper making that we have is dated 105 AD.
- Combined with the invention of woodblock printing in 600 AD China was able to print its first newspaper in 740 AD.