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Manual Paper-making Techniques

Manual Papermaking Techniques

The Dongba paper of Naxi is also known as Baidi paper. It is made using unique techniques that are held by Baidi Village in Naxi County, Shangri-La County in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Region. Baidi (Baishuitai) is the origin of Dongba culture, and Dongba paper is the most important writing paper popular in the northwest of Yunnan.

The raw material of Dongba paper is the local plant “Adangda” which has been identified as Thymelaeaceae Canescent Wikstroemia of Li River (Yaohua). Papermaking procedures include collecting and drying raw material, soaking then stewing it, rinsing, pounding/beating (more than once), straining the pulp, pressing it and drying it. The major tools are paper screens, wooden frames, plates for drying the paper and Mujiu, which is a very special flexible paper screen. During the drying process the influence of the paper draining and other traces of the papermaking technique is obvious. It is the result of Chinese and South Asian papermaking.

The Dongba paper made in Baidi is white, thick and resistant to damage from worms and can be stored for a long time. One study has shown that there have been over 5000 volumes of Dongba classics written on Dongba paper since the 1940s.  Dongba paper has made a great contribution to the Dongba culture. From the viewpoint of craft history, it also provides a rare opportunity to study the old ways of manual papermaking.

Traditionally Naxi papermaking techniques are only handed down to males. This practice is based on the fact that each family guards its own secret methods which they do not want to pass out of the family. The risk is that as a result much knowledge may soon be lost, particularly in view of other pressures from the expansion of modern commercial society, unless there is some intervention to help preserve these unique traditions and knowledge.