I had some days off last December and used the opportunity to visit Xishuangbanna in Yunnan's south. In a little village close to Menghun - Manzhao (曼召) - I could witness the processing of traditional paper making. This trip helped me to get more understanding of Menghun's handmade paper production, which is actually well known throughout the region for its paper-making tradition.
The people of Manzhao were unexpectedly friendly and were invariably willing to invite us to come in their houses and take a look at their homes to watch them make paper. In just half an hour, we were able to walk through the village and observe each step of the papermaking process.
Since it was cloudy and rainy that day, the villagers were free from work as the final step of papermaking is drying it in the warm subtropical sun. Pretty handy, as like this they had enough time to tell and show us everything how to make paper by hand.
The paper is made from the bark of mulberry trees which primarily grow in southern Yunnan and northern Myanmar and Laos. Already from 100 kilograms mulberry bark – which grows back after being harvested from the trees – 2,000 large sheets of a rough but good quality paper can be produced.
It is mainly used for the packaging of tea. Not surprisingly, many Manzhao residents also grow and process tea.
The traditional papermaking process practiced in Manzhao is fairly simple:
1. The bark of the mulberry trees is cooked in a big pot upon a fire until it's soft.
2. Then the softened bark is being dunked into a pool filled with water. To bring the thick liquid in form, it is stretched within a wooden frame.
3. Afterwards the paper is dried in its wood frame open air in the hot sun.
4. The ultimate result looks like this:
The paper is not only for wrapping tea but also for paintings, like the ones below, it's very big. Tailor-made for the painter.
The frames with the fresh paper are placed outside the buildings and along the roads when it's sunny...
...or under a porch roof if the weather isn't suitable for paper drying.
If you are interested in visiting Menghun in Xishuangbanna and need any support please let us know, we are happy arranging a visit for you.