1999 / 10月
Tsai Wen-ting /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by David Mayer
Paper is one of China's four great in-ventions. For a long time, everyone agreed that paper had been invented by Cai Lun during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). Early this century, however, a series of archeological finds revealed that something regarded by many as paper already existed as far back as the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). There is now a great debate over the question of whether the invention of paper should be credited to Cai Lun.
Are you interested in finding out about the invention of paper, the history of papermaking in Taiwan, and watching a demonstration of traditional papermaking techniques? If so, you should plan a trip to the Su-Ho Memorial Paper Museum!
Section 2 of Changan Road in Taipei is a canyon of closely packed low-rise office buildings and shops. Amidst the hustle and bustle, it's easy to pass right by the unassuming four-story building at #68 Changan Road without noticing anything special, but it houses a fascinating paper museum where you can learn all about the history and techniques of papermaking.
Chen Ta-chuan, a specialist in the history of paper, met here early this past spring with Pan Jixing, a counterpart from mainland China, and the two got into a debate about whether paper had been invented by Cai Lun.
Many who argue that Cai Lun invented paper point to a passage in the Hou Han Shu, an ancient history of the Later ("Eastern") Han dynasty which states that it was actually very fine silk, not paper, that was used prior to Cai Lun's time. Since 1933, however, artifacts from the Western Han dynasty unearthed at archeological digs in Xinjiang, Xi'an, Inner Mongolia, and elsewhere have spurred furious debate in the academic community about Cai Lun's place in the history of papermaking.
Chen Ta-chuan, a consultant to Su-Ho Memorial Paper Museum, still considers Cai Lun the inventor of paper. According to Chen, the "paper" dating back to before Cai Lun's time was either plant fiber pressed into thin sheets, or in some other way had not been through the four basic phases of true papermaking-bark stripping; retting and boiling; beating into pulp; and dipping. The older "paper" is extremely coarse. It is useless for writing purposes, says Chen, and can only be considered a predecessor to paper. He argues that it was Cai Lun who drew from the experience of those who went before him, refining his techniques to the point where paper could be used for writing. This advance constituted a great leap forward in the progress of human civilization.
Now, at long last, Taiwan has a paper museum to tell the story of this fabulous invention that has changed the course of civilization.
A determined dreamer
The story of Su-Ho Memorial Paper Museum begins with Chen Su-ho, who spent his entire life in the making of paper. As a young man he had engaged in traditional papermaking in Puli, and he eventually developed a process for making various specialty papers. At the age of 59, however, his doctor informed him that he only had ten years left to live due to a chronic heart problem. The news spurred a thought-the books say paper was invented by the Chinese, so why should Japan have all sorts of paper museums both large and small, while Taiwan should have none? Time and again he told his daughter about his dream of opening a paper museum.
"My father spent his whole life developing specialty papers," says Chen Ruey-huey. "He was always trying to find ways to bring out the maximum potential of paper. He continually sketched papermaking machinery on pieces of paper; when he filled up one side, he'd start sketching on the other." According to Ms. Chen, her father even thought about moving an entire papermaking process from the factory into the museum.
Unfortunately, just as plans for the museum were nearing completion in 1990, Chen Su-ho and his wife were killed in an airplane crash in Guangzhou. His unfinished project was taken up by his daughter, who finally succeeded in opening the Su-Ho Memorial Paper Museum five years later.
The paper museum is a much more lively place than most museums. It stresses the importance of live demonstrations as well as hands-on participation by visitors. It is one of the best museums in Taipei to take children to. During the past summer vacation alone, more than 2,000 children from throughout Taiwan visited the museum.
From the first floor though the fourth, every nook and cranny in the museum (even the bathroom!) is filled with exhibits explaining the production, preservation, and recycling of paper. You can also learn about the raw materials used in papermaking and the history of paper, and you can carry out little experiments. Children are always excited to have the opportunity to create their own handmade paper. By watching demonstrations and getting a hands-on tour of the papermaking process, visitors practically get the feeling that they have entered a "paper toy factory."
Who would have guessed?
On the first floor of the museum just past the front desk is an honest-to-goodness paper factory. Mounted on the red brick wall are an old-fashioned wooden frame and bamboo screen. A museum employee shows how such a screen is used. First it is dipped into a pulp vat and shaken a few times. When it is removed from the vat, a thin, even layer of pulp lies atop the screen. Once this pulp is dried, the papermaker skillfully places the screen on a drying table. A drying brush is used to smooth the pulp into a sheet of flat, smooth, handmade paper.
During the demonstration the guide challenges the children: "See the screen he's holding now? Guess how much it weighs!" After several wrong guesses, the guide explains: "Before the screen is dipped into the vat it weighs three to five kilos, which is about what a new-born baby weighs. After the screen is taken out of the vat, though, it weighs 25 to 30 kilos, which is about what a first-grader weighs. A papermaker has to lift the screen from the vat about 1,500 times a day!"
"Wow! They must be strong!" "Huh?! I would die!" The kids grasp immediately the difficulty of papermaking. "Besides teaching about papermaking techniques," says museum director Chen Ruey-huey, "we also want to use these demonstrations to show people what life is like for the people involved in papermaking."
Reams of paper, scads of plants
After the papermaking demonstration is finished, the visitor climbs the stairs. Outside the glass wall on the landing, planted in a tiny little garden are several trees that provide raw material for the papermaking process. The mulberry tree, for example, was used in centuries past to make money, while the canescent wikstroemia has long been used for the high-quality Gampi paper favored by painters and calligraphers. The garden also features a malabar chestnut, which is best known to people in Taiwan as the tree that you tie bows to in hopes of becoming rich. The papermaker has a different use for this tree-the root extract is used throughout Taiwan as a pulp additive. Once this additive has been put into the pulp vat, the pulp fiber floats to the surface, where it spreads out evenly. The slippery consistency of the additive also makes it easy to separate individual sheets of paper.
On the second floor the visitor learns about the impact of paper upon mankind. The first exhibits recap the relationship between paper and human civilization throughout history up to the present day. Several interesting exhibits hang on the wall, including bark from Mexico that has been pounded thin and woven into a sheet of something similar to paper, papyrus from Egypt, and a palm leaf from India. All of these things have been used by various cultures for writing, but none constitutes "paper" as we define the term today.
To make paper you must take plant matter, completely separate the fibers, and recombine them, otherwise you haven't made paper. Pressing or rolling bark or tree leaves alone does not result in paper.
Before the invention of paper, people wrote on many types of materials, including metal, stone, tortoise shells, and bones, but it was a difficult task to write into such hard materials. Strips of wood were also used, but these were heavy and difficult to transport. The first emperor of the Qin dynasty, for example, reviewed large numbers of documents every day, and the total weight often came to over 100 catties (50 kilograms). Then there was Hui Shi, the famous scholar from the Warring States period who was widely praised for having "a library to fill five wagons." A personal library at that time consisted of wooden strips, however; Hui Shi's five wagons probably only held about as much writing as a junior high school student today stuffs into his backpack every morning! Tree leaves and bark were used, too, but they had a rough surface and were too brittle to withstand much folding. Silk was an ideal writing medium, but it was also extremely expensive, and far beyond the reach of most people.
Today, 2,000 years after the Chinese invented it, paper has become smooth, light-weight, and flexible. Furthermore, it can be produced inexpensively and in mass quantity. It is highly portable, and the ready availability of it has spurred the development of printing, thus making reading an activity for the common man.
According to museum employee Lu Yu-hua, many people express surprise that there should be an entire museum devoted solely to paper, but when you really think about it, there's really nothing strange about it. When paper was first invented, the raw materials from which it was made differed from one region to the next. A single sheet of paper spoke volumes about local climates and vegetation; its very existence enabled the spread of knowledge, and could record the history of an individual or an entire nation!
Sheets of paper, rivers of ink
Paper occupies a prominent place in the everyday life of the Chinese people. The warm candle light of a Chinese lantern dances against the paper in which the lantern is wrapped. The shadows of courtyard bamboo flicker across rice-papered windows, creating a picture as beautiful as anything the most accomplished artist could put on canvas. Children fly paper kites in late spring. In the middle of Ghost Month every summer, when paper money is burned to send the ghosts back to the netherworld for another year, the glowing ashes flit gracefully into the air like butterflies. All of these scenes would be impossible without paper.
Papermaking techniques gradually improved to the point where the Chinese were producing handmade Gampi paper- smooth, white, flexible, and strong. This outstanding paper had a profound impact upon Chinese calligraphic instruments and propelled calligraphy and ink painting to the pinnacle of perfection.
When the famous fourth-century calligrapher Wang Xizhi wrote a poignant description of the fleeting happiness of a reunion of literati at Lan Ting Pavilion, he left behind a piece of writing that has stunned generations with its fluid brush strokes. The fame of Huai Su, too, has lived on for centuries, all because of the beauty of his calligraphy. Without smooth writing paper, however, these artists' brushes would not have been able to "dance across the paper" no matter how their spirits might have willed it.
Why is it that Chinese painting prior to the Han dynasty only consisted of sparely sketched inks, while calligraphers and painters emerged in such great numbers in the Tang dynasty? Improvements in paper quality were almost certainly the main factor behind the evolution of Chinese calligraphy from regular script to running hand and increasingly free versions of cursive script. Calligraphers and painters were especially fond of Gampi paper for its white color.
Besides its white color, the superiority of Gampi paper also derives from the fact that it is supple yet tough at the same time. If you pick up a sheet of Gampi paper and shake it vigorously, it doesn't make much sound because it is so soft. Fold it dozens of times and it still doesn't tear. Even after it is soaked in water you can still pick it up without hurting it. Painters and calligraphers need not worry about damaging Gampi paper even when they execute heavy strokes using a brush fully laden with ink.
For calligrapher and painters, the best type of paper is one that will enable them to achieve subtly shaded half-tones. In a traditional Chinese ink landscape, the artist must be able to show the gradually increasing faintness of successive mountain peaks. It isn't enough to be skilled with a brush; you have to have high-quality paper, too.
This paper's got brains
After the guide finishes the historical presentation on the second floor, the group continues to the third floor, where each child receives an "experiment kit" that contains dozens of different types of paper-newsprint, cotton paper, photocopier paper, yellow paper, blue paper, and more. The room has six lab tables. On one table you can use a microscope to see how the structure of handmade cotton paper differs from that of machine-made paper. On another table you can poke at a manila envelope and a sheet of handmade cotton paper to see which is stronger. When you place the blue and yellow sheets over something with printed text on it, you will understand why aerograms are all blue-paper of this color is less transparent, so it keeps strangers from reading your mail. How quickly does each kind of paper absorb ink? With what kind of paper are strands of fiber most likely to come loose from the surface? The children find the answers to these questions and more at the lab tables.
There are also some very fun exhibits hanging on both walls. On one wall you find paper used for rust-proofing, anti-odor shoe inserts, and paper tags for laundry services (useful because they can go through the wash unscathed). There's no limit to what you can do with paper!
On the other wall hang ten display cases that quiz the visitor about paper. How do they make watermarks on paper? Why does paper turn yellow over time? The questions are printed on the case, and there is a button next to each question. When you press the button next to question #1, for example, the display case lights up to show the corresponding answer. Says Hsieh Ming-chu, who has brought a group of kids from Po-ai Elementary School to tour the museum, "This museum is very lively and fun. It's got a lot of activities you can take part in."
Due to the lack of space, the museum had to put an extra structure on the roof to house the activity that children look forward to the most-making paper by hand. One by one, the children roll up their sleeves and dip a small screen into the pulp vat. One by one, they experience the feel of the stringy pulp slithering over their skin. They hand their screens to the guides, who quickly set about the drying process so as to have the paper ready by the time the children leave the museum. The children are also presented with a certificate to serve as a memento of their visit.
Since opening in 1995, the museum has never used advertising or publicity, but has relied instead solely on the quality of its exhibits and the entertaining nature of its demonstrations to attract visitors. Word about the museum has spread especially quickly among elementary schools, kindergartens, and even an qin ban (a combination daycare center and cram school that many elementary school children attend after school). Over 1,000 schools have sent groups to the museum already. Third-grade teachers especially like to take their classes here after they get to the lesson where children learn that Cai Lun invented paper. Some schools from as far away as Hualien and Tainan have sent classes to the museum.
Besides schools, many public and private museums from both Taiwan and abroad have sent visitors to have a look at this small jewel of a museum. Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs even considers the paper museum an important stop for state visitors!
Unfortunately, the Taipei Municipal Government's Bureau of Education notified the museum last May that it was in violation of the city's building codes and would have to close down. This turn of events immediately brought the issue of private museums to the fore. Taiwan has never had any legislation on the books to deal with private museums, thus the many such museums that have popped up all over Taiwan in the past ten years have had to meet the same requirements that apply to large public museums. The requirements contained in this legislation are clearly too stringent for many of them.
It is an extremely expensive proposition for a small private museums to add elevators, reinforce the floors to increase the load capacity, and do other necessary renovations to bring their buildings into line with building codes. The museum decided to reorganize itself as a foundation, and it was renamed the Su-Ho Memorial Paper Cultural Foundation. Anyone interested in visiting must first make an appointment, and the foundation admits the visitors as "special guests."
Hitting the road
This change has not in any way diminished the organization's presence, and in fact the museum has begun to take advantage of the nimbleness that comes with its small size by taking its exhibits on the road.
Working in cooperation with the provincial government, the museum has organized several traveling exhibits that have been to such places as Ilan, Taichung, Hualien, and Kaohsiung. An exhibit entitled More Than Meets the Eye emphasized the versatility of paper, while Paper is Forever focused on the theme of recycling. More recently, the foundation has organized My Home, My Museum. In this exhibit, the many things you find in the home are all made of paper, and the home is likened to a museum, with different parts of the home serving the same functions as different parts of a museum.
The study, for example, is likened to a museum's collections and research department, while the living room is likened to an exhibit area. As for the kitchen, that's where a museum prepares its publications. The function of the garden, where you can chat and exchange ideas, is kind of like the role a museum plays as it attempts to communicate its message to society.
The paper museum has already weathered one serious storm in its short existence, and it has proved to be a hardy survivor, organizing a number of outstanding temporary exhibits. There truly is something special about the Su-Ho Memorial Paper Museum. Expect this beautiful gem to be a fixture on Changan East Road for a long time to come!
A stunning variety of handmade paper has added a note of spice to everyday life in China-witness the beauty of paper windows, Chinese lanterns, and Chinese calligraphy.
A long, narrow space that once housed apartments has been renovated into a small but fascinating paper museum in the middle of bustling Taipei.
A museum employee shows young visitors how a screen is used to turn out handmade paper.
Tree bark, mulberry trees, and various other fibers can all be used as raw materials in the papermaking process. At the Paper Museum you can watch paper being made, and you can also put your hands on the raw materials.
At the Paper Museum, visitors learn about the history of paper, participate in experiments and games, and try their hand at papermaking. Before leaving, these children receive "graduation" certificates from the museum.
Scholars disagree on the question of whether Cai Lun invented paper during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD), but none will deny that he made a huge contribution to papermaking.
The Paper Museum has recently begun to take advantage of the nimbleness that comes with its small size by dispatching traveling exhibits to other parts of Taiwan.
When a museum acquires a new item, the first thing to do is to categorize and make a record of it so as to avoid collecting too many duplicate pieces.