SAYLOH'S TREASURE
or Grandma's Happy Papercuts
Text and pictures by Daffydil

Copyright Daffydil Tan. All rights reserved.

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A boat-shaped cut, with Chinese words"favourable wind favourable waters" among plants.
It is a wish for all the best!

My paternal grandma was known to all and sundry as Sayloh. This was not her real name. Translated literally it meant "little sister-in-law" in our Putain dialect and probably denoted her status in a feudal household in old China. The name must have stuck to her because even my mother, her daughter-in-law called her that and we the grandchildren also followed suit.

When grandma Sayloh passed away at age 95, she did not leave me a treasure of gold or diamonds. A few months after her demise my paternal aunt who had been clearing up the house chanced upon a box of papercuts which was grandma's handwork. For some reason or other aunt passed the box of papercuts to me. Because of family circumstances I was not close to grandma Sayloh during her lifetime. Nevertheless this box of fragile papercuts which some may say is more precious than gold or diamonds, has drawn me much closer to her.

I did not at first appreciate the gift. The box laid in my drawer for many years and I didnt know what to do with its contents. Although I was into handicrafts myself, I still did not pay them much notice. It was only with the current buzz in heritage and cultural roots that my interest in them have been reawakened.

According to my research there are various classes or styles of papercuts. Those used for festive occasions or for decorating gifts are known as Happy Papercuts. Their themes revovle around auspiciousness and happiness, with the cuts made from scarlet paper and taking the form of circle, rectangle, flower, peach, pomegranate together with propitious patterns. There are flower-in-flower, theme-in-theme and auspicious-words-among-plants designs. During new year or weddings such papercuts would be used to decorate household applicances and indoor furniture, placed on the teapot, soap box, basin, or dressing mirror. Some papercuts were also meant to embellish gifts given at birth, (eg the red eggs distributed at the one month ceremony of babies)dowry jewellery, birthday, anniversary and numerous other festive gifts.

I believe grandma's papercuts belonged to this category of Happy Papercuts. In those far-off days of grandma's generation they did not have fancy art paper, recycled paper or acid free paper. Instead they had to make do with cheap red paper, the kind used for wrapping up 20cents angpow, and the kind that young girls used for reddening their lips when lipstick was still a scarce and expensive commodity. Conserving and storing these papercuts which could well be over 70 years old has proved to be both absorping and challenging. Strangely enough the paper has proved to be resilent to age. I show below various selections of Happy Papercuts from my Grandma Sayoh's handwork.

And, so finally to the Grandma I hardly knew, the page is dedicated to YOU !


Happy Blossoms or The Five Petal Rosette Cut

The five petal rosette cut had its origins in Chinese antiquity and is commonly used in folk handicrafts. During Ming and Qing times jade flowers were often cut in flat five petal motif. I guess these papercut flowers are the direct descendants of jade flowers where form and design are concerned. But whereas jade flowers had been used as hair and accessory ornaments these papercut happy flowers were pasted onto gifts such as cakes, candies, sweetmeats and maybe a packet of Chinese lapcheong

Roundels of Joy

The roundels cut usually consists of a round border encircling the design which may be a single auspicious word or a combination of words and phrases together with flowers or shrubs and other auspicious motiffs


"Money,Offspring, Double Happiness and Wealth" and a double coin

"Double Happiness" with scalloped border.

"Fu Lu Shou" admidst plants

"May All Things Acede To Your Wishes" with a central medallion of fruit and surrounded by shrubs and foliage.


"Peace to the whole Family"

"Favourable Wind, Favourable Water"

"Precious Box" probably to accompany gifts of jewelry


"Sincerely Seeking Blessings"

"Great Wealth" with coin design

The word shun or favorable seems to be written or cut wrongly. Was it a deliberate mistake as some auspicious Chinese words are written upside down?

" Peace throughout the four seasons" with a central medallion of a flower and surrrounded by shrubs "Keep Fit! Success Always!"

Other Miscellaneous Cuts

Besides flower shapes and round cuts, Grandma Sayloh's sissorwork also included other miscellaneous shapes such as, potted plants, lotus buds and the popular tortoise motiff.


Potted plant with the characters "Wealth, Offspring and Prosperity"

Strange shape with coin design


Lotus buds
In Fujian birthday gifts with tortoise cuts which is symbolic of longevity are popular.


Related link: Grandma's papercuts

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