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Chinese Paper and Printing

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Chinese Paper and Printing

In this lesson, third grade students learn about the history of Chinese block printing. Students will then create their own family "seal", also an invention of the Chinese, along with the world's first civil service.

Chinese Paper and Printing
Suzanne York

Grade level: 2-5
Time needed: 2-3 hour periods, including 45 minutes for the seals to dry before using.

Objective: to expose students to some inventions dating back to early Chinese history, most notably that of paper and printing.

Students will make their own block print family symbol or “seal”
If time permits, students will make their own handmade paper from recycled paper “pulp”.

Materials needed:
For Paper Seal Activity: one small wooden “block” (approximately 3” x 3”) for each student (this can be fashioned by cutting off 2-3” sections of a 4 x 4 piece of lumber or be recycling jar lids or any other small, sturdy surface to attach the student’s family “seal”,
craft foam (approximately ½ sheet per student, red ink pads or dark red gouache (can purchase at better art supply stores) to make your own, nice quality bond or watercolor paper, bottled craft glue, scissors, scrap paper.

Background Information:
Paper and printing were some of China’s most important and enduring inventions. The successful manufacturing of paper, originally made from silk rags and bamboo, began in the Imperial workshops nearly 2,000 years ago. When the idea of the Civil Service began to take root in China (another notable contribution), the demand for paper increased, along with the invention of woodblock printing. Large scale printing was developed, along with mass production of paper, rapidly increasing the availability of reading material.
Block-type “seals” were the first form of printing used in China. They were impressed on personal correspondences, official documents, and works of art. They were originally carved from stone, wood, or metal, or made from ceramics.

The idea of Civil Service originated in China. Graduate civil servants had the best-rewarded and most honorable and secure jobs in China. In order to get a civil service job, candidates had to study diligently, sometimes for their entire lives! Competition to join the civil service became so intense that the odds of getting a job were as high as 1 : 3, 000! Every document in China was stamped with a seal. Each “house” had their own, making it easier to recognize where a document was from.

Ask students if they know about how people communicated before the invention of the telephone and Internet. Ask them to imagine what it was like to communicate before the invention of paper and ink!! Introduce students to the idea of the Civil Service and how that idea also began in China BCE. Make a time-line on the board to give them an idea about BCE.
Tell students that the written Chinese alphabet uses “characters” that might have very different and distinguished meanings that are different from English.
Tell students that they will be making their own family seal that will represent their own “house” or family. Ask them to think about a special “character” or symbol of their family.
Draw the symbol on a 4” x $” piece of paper.
Transfer the “character” to a piece of craft foam.
Cut it out carefully. Glue on to a hard surface that will become the stamp “handle”. Allow to dry thoroughly before using, as pieces of the foam will shift, if not secure.
“Ink” the seal with a store-bought red ink pad or add some water to the gouache, which probably closer mimics the way early Chinese calligraphers would have printed. Use to decorate book covers, poems, or cards.
Have students write about their symbol and how it pertains to their sense of self and family.

Time permitting: Tear apart any paper that you would like to recycle in small, 1 x 1” pieces or so. This can be newsprint, colored construction paper, copy paper, or a combination of materials. Note that any dyes in the paper will turn your “pulp” into that color. Put it in a blender with water until you have the right consistency to make a watery pulp. Use a piece of small screen, which can be fashioned into a frame, to drain the water. Shape your “paper” into the desired shape. It should be a very thin, even layer. Let dry. Voila! Paper!