Editor's note: GoKunming was recently invited by WildChina to explore the countryside in southern Yunnan. This article from the WildChina blog is reposted with permission.
During a recent visit to Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan Province we stopped by the small but industrious village of Manzhao (曼召), which is known throughout the region for its papermaking tradition.
The people of Manzhao are uncommonly friendly and were invariably willing to let us come in and take a look at their homes and watch them make paper. In just a half hour, we were able to walk through the village and catch each step of the papermaking process.
The paper is made from the bark of mulberry trees which grow in southern Yunnan and northern Myanmar and Laos. A pile of 100 kilograms of mulberry bark – which grows back after being harvested from the trees – can yield 2,000 large sheets of a rough but attractive paper that is often used to package tea. Not surprisingly, many Manzhao residents also grow and process tea.
The traditional papermaking process practiced in Manzhao is fairly straightforward:
Cook until soft
Manzhao residents cook strips of mulberry bark in large vats, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking. The vats are heated by wood-burning fireplaces, which make the hot 'Banna sun even hotter.
Clean and shred
After being cooked until reaching the desired softness, the bark strips are then removed from the vats, washed clean and then shredded. Shredding was once done by hand with knives, resulting in extremely tired arms, according to the Manzhao residents we interviewed. Today, most people use gas-powered shredding machines to get the job done quickly. Enterprising families who own their own shredders typically provide the service to other neighbors for a fee.
Spread onto Screens
Once the bark has been reduced to a pulp, it is spread on screens, which not coincidentally are also made in Manzhao. Every bit of pulp is used – the runoff from the screens is filtered for any remaining pulp, which invariably finds its way onto a screen.
Dry and peel
On sunny days, which are most days in Manzhao, it only takes one afternoon in the sunshine for a screen to dry. The finished sheet of paper is then peeled off before going into storage and awaiting the next paper buyer to come to Manzhao.
A big "Yingliga!" ("Thanks a lot!") to the friendly Dai people of Manzhao Village for letting us into their homes to view the papermaking process. © Copyright 2005-2023 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.