About Rice Paper

A Brief History Of Rice Paper

Prior to the Invention of rice paper Chinese people used to write on bamboo sticks or tortoiseshell. Rice paper was invented a town called Xuan Cheng, in Anhui province between 618 AD to 907 AD.

In China rice paper is actually not called rice paper but paper of Xuan where it’s originated. Despite of its thinness, the translucency and the lightness, rice paper (paper of Xuan) is actually very strong, doesn’t deteriorate, or yellow.

How Is Rice Paper Made?

Rice paper is made from the branches and barks of Pteroceltis tree and rice straw. In later ages, mulberry, bamboo, and linen were added to the ingredients.

The traditional way of making rice paper involves 108 processes, of which drip-drying is one of the most crucial stages as it determines the form and shape of the end product. Shengli Mao, shown in the video below, a rice paper worker dedicated to drip-drying, tells us about the process, which contains 7 steps: stacking, hanging, watering, whipping, shaping, drying, and collecting. There is no exact formula of how to make the perfect paper: all is dependent on the worker’s skills and experiences. 

What are the Types of Different Rice Paper?

Rice paper is highly absorbent of water. Therefore some rice paper has alum added to it to prevent water dissolving on paper and help control the water flow. there are three types of rice paper:

  • Raw: untreated, highly absorbent of water and best to use with thick ink. It is often used for the freestyle painting and calligraphy with expressions and flow;
  • Fully treated: alum is added to the paper to prevent water from infiltrating. This type of paper is best used for the meticulous style of Chinese painting. However the disadvantage of this type of paper is that alum can be rubbed off from the paper by oil and perspirant on skin.
  • Sami treated: as the name goes this type of paper is in between the previous two.

All these types of paper are excellent in their own right. It’s down to the artist to take the advantage of the characters of the type of chosen paper to create the art.

How To Care Chinese paintings on Rice Paper

All the rice paper is thin and soft it can stand for thousands of years because it’s easy to care and doesn’t breakdown. However I have three tips for people who possess a Chinese painting on rice paper:

Since rice paper are absorbent of water, it’s better to store the painting in a dry place to avoid moulds building up on paper. In case of the paper getting damp it’s better to air dry in a ventilated place instead of placing it under direct sunlight.

Rice paper does not like UV light therefore it’s better not to face the painting in the direct sunlight or stay at least a metre away from any indoor lamp which has UV light. UV light will cause yellowing of the paper over the years.

For alum treated rice paper, it’s better to hold it or touch it wearing a pair of cotton gloves to avoid rubbing off the chemical.