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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Immigrant Hopes To Renew Ancient Chinese Art

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Paper cutting artist Voyo Woo at work.
Paper cutting artist Voyo Woo at work.

Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English. I'm June Simms.

The Chinese art of paper cutting has a long history. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has recognized the art, called Jianzhi, on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. But, Jianzhi is at risk of disappearing. Caty Weaver tells us about a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. who hopes to bring the art back to life.

Voyo Woo loves paper cutting.

"It is called a dragon of boat racing."

And she works hard to celebrate the ancient art form.

"The first, earliest paper cutting was found in China 1500 years ago."

On a recent Saturday, Ms. Woo held a paper cutting show at a shopping center near Washington. She demonstrated the art for hours to crowds at the center.

"I really like it. I get so much fun and peace doing it. So, I am just kind of hoping that more people will learn about this art that is kind of dying and enjoy it like I do."

Voyo Woo began to study the art of Jianzhi as a 14-year-old in her hometown in southeastern China. She says all the students at school had to learn the art. But she says she discovered a special love for it. So, her teacher gave her extra training after class.

"It was actually a mandatory art class for everybody. But I just found a special passion for it. So my teacher, she was willing to give me extra tutoring after class to train me in paper cutting."

Later, she won second prize in a national painting and calligraphy competition.

"Paper is the easiest material that you can find. You can just turn it into beautiful, intricate art. I think it is like magic to me."

Ms. Woo came to the U.S. after she finished college in 2008. Soon after, she became involved in an event to support and expand understanding of Chinese paper cutting. She has been invited to demonstrate the art at a wide collection of events. She also has shown her skill at famed museums like the Smithsonian Institution's Freer and Sackler art galleries in Washington.

"I saw so many people coming to me and asking me. They were amazed. I think it is important to promote the art form to American people or anyone who is interested. Maybe it will lead to another thriving of this art form back in China."

Ms. Woo says paper cutting represents Chinese cultural values, history and stories of people's lives. She uses the art as a tool to present Chinese culture to people who know little about it.

Ms. Woo placed examples of her art around her as she demonstrated paper cutting at the shopping center. Some shoppers, like Ann Russ, took part in a workshop. Ms. Russ was struck by the finely detailed nature of the work. She said it put her at ease.

"I like to know about Chinese art, specifically because it is very delicate. And I like the focus that it requires because it takes me out of everything. And we have to concentrate on something very closely. It is almost relaxing to put that much effort into it."

Voyo Woo says Chinese art is for all people.

"It is amazing how Chinese art can resonate, can echo with people from other cultural backgrounds."

I'm Caty Weaver.

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