Xuan Paper Trip: Zha Ji, Paper Making, and Xiao Zhu

(For more information about Xuan Paper, please visit inkston Xuan Paper page , where you can find detailed classification of Xuan Paper.)

For details of different types of Xuan Paper, please read Xuan Paper Buyer Guide.

Xuan Papers Shop

2016-March-01
Old House in Zha Ji 2 In afternoon, we drove to Zhaji, a small beautiful water village near Jing Xian. Unluckily, the village’s electricity was cut off because the local wine factory was updating its power station. After 8:00 p.m., electricity finally came. We invited Xiao Zhu and Jiji to have some flowery rice wine in our room. After a couple of wines, we started talking about Xuan Paper.

Xuan Paper has to be made by hand, and is very much threatened by the modern mechanical production line. Modern production lines can produce a large volume of paper with low cost. However, production volume of handmade Xuan paper is very low. Since everything must be done by hand, labor cost is also very high. Although at the moment, modern machines cannot produce Xuan Paper, local paper makers fear that modern machines will make Xuan paper as good as handmade papers sooner or later. If this day comes, it will be the death blow for Xuan region paper industry. What’s even worse, making Xuan paper is a 108 step process and requires a lot of hard work, while the profit margin is extremely low, so many people have switched to other industries. Xiao Zhu told us that there were 1,700  to 2,000 Xuan paper workshops, and of these 70% – 80% workshops have been closed down. The remaining workshops are also on edge of being closed down.

In fact Xiao Zhu’s family workshop has also been closed several times due to economic issues. However, they always managed to reopen it when the economic situation became a bit better. In total, they have closed down the workshop three times. Xiao Zhu said that his father has spent all his life making Xuan paper, and so did his grandfather. Before his grandfather’s generation, China was at war and he isn’t sure of the history past that point.

Xiao Zhu’s father raised up Xiao Zhu and his sister alone and has spent his whole life making paper. He is too ‘stubborn’ to give it up. One year ago, he managed to reopen the workshop. At the moment, as they are not able to afford an extra worker, Xiao Zhu’s father is working alone in the workshop. Every day he gets up around 4:30 a.m. and goes to bed no earlier than midnight.

Chinese people want all things start with an auspicious beginning. Xiao Zhu’s family establised that 1 of March in 2016 would be a good day to start working, so they decided to make this day the first day of paper making after Chinese new year. On this day, Xiaozhu’s father got up every early in morning to get ready the first day of the Xuan papermaking year. He lit some incense first. Then at 9:00, he punctually lit the fireworks to mark the official opening of the working year 2016. When we saw him, he had already made a small pile of Xuan paper while the puppy, “Diudiu” wagged his tail next to him. “Diudiu” was found by Xiaozhu in street last year and is now a family member.

(In the photos, Xiao Zhu’s father is making Xuan Paper. He has been doing the same thing for all his life since he was a teenager.)

下午开车来了查济,但是因为村里的酒厂拉电线,所以整个村子都停电了。晚上过了8点终于来电了,叫来小朱,吉吉来我们屋喝桂花米酒。米酒是天黑前在村里的酒肆买来的,买了两斤,甜甜的但不腻,有股幽幽的桂花味道。一杯酒走完,大家开始聊起来宣纸。宣纸是手工纸,受机械制纸冲击挺大。虽然目前机器还没法做出传统宣纸的拉伸力,但是机械的挑战倒是实实在在地让宣纸匠人们担忧。机械纸产量大,成本低,人工纸产量有限,凡事必靠人力亲为成本必然是降不下来。虽说在宣纸的制作上目前机械无法取代人工,但在宣城的匠人们看来,早晚有一天机械是有办法做出来好的宣纸的。要是这一天到来,宣城千百年来的手工纸行业将会受到致命一击,加上手工制作宣纸工序繁琐艰苦,利润微薄,很多人都早已转行刚起来别的行当。小朱说以前这里有起码1700-2000家宣纸作坊,现在基本70-80%都关闭了,似乎剩下的几家也在艰难为生。

Xuan Paper Workshop
Xiao Zhu Father’s Xuan Paper workshop

其实小朱家也曾关过厂,关了又开开了又关,前前后后开了三次。小朱说他爸爸做纸,爷爷也做纸。再往上面就是兵荒马乱的年月,也没法考证上辈们是不是也是做纸。小朱的爸爸一手抚养小朱和姐姐成人,花了一辈子在做纸上。就是不服输,一年之前第三次重新开厂。现在厂里就他一个工人。3月1日是黄道吉日,厂里正式开工。小朱爸爸早上早早起床等到9:00到了,点了鞭炮,就开始上工了。见到他时,他已经捞了半寸厚的一打纸起来。去年家里捡来的小狗”丢丢”在一旁摇着尾巴陪伴着小朱爸爸。

Dog at the Workshop

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