Jian zhi – a cut above the rest


  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 28 Jan 2020

Highly detailed: Tan showing his paper cuttings at a recent workshop in Bandar Hilir, Melaka. — Bernama

MELAKA: He was once a mechanic who was all about the nuts and bolts of his job.

Now, Ray Tan Aik Leng has traded his spanner for a scalpel.

He has picked up the skills of creating jian zhi (Chinese paper cutting) works of art.

“Jian zhi can be created from all kinds of paper, even plastic, as long as you have a pen or pencil to draw a design, and a pair of scissors or a scalpel to cut out the details, ” said Tan, 42.

He said the craft requires patience and perseverance – apart from artistic ability – to come up with a good idea for a design.

“A strong interest in jian zhi made me resolute to learn it when I was 24 years old, but there weren’t many who were good at it, so I taught myself, primarily through books, ” he said.

Now he is a sought-after jian zhi artist able to secure commissions from government departments and private firms, and overseas too.

He said that when he first learnt the craft, he practised every single day so that he could improve.

From taking over an hour to finish a design before, now it takes him just 15 minutes.

This determination to succeed was what pushed him to start his business in 2006 with just RM7,000 in his pocket. It was money saved from his salary earned as a mechanic for six years at an Ayer Keroh tyre shop.

“After I opened the shop, there were many challenges to overcome, including days without a single sale although there was a monthly rent of RM750 to pay. But that did not kill my passion for jian zhi, ” said Tan of Red Handcrafts.

The devotion to his craft made him take action and start paper cutting classes for a fee of RM5 per person or payment in kind.

“The kitchen provisions that were given weren’t for me, instead I donated them to welfare homes around Melaka and people in need, ” said Tan, who is from Tengkera, Melaka.

Good deeds always come back to the person, so his classes started to become known among the locals and even tourists from Singapore, Indonesia and Africa who purchased his pieces of art.

He does not charge them too much, even when he gets a big order for Chinese New Year. His request ranges between RM5 and RM300 depending on the intricacies of the detail.

He said he derived satisfaction from keeping the folk art alive.

“This traditional art is becoming popular in Malaysia with not just the Chinese producing it, but the Malays and Indians, too.

“This year, many designs feature the Year of the Rat theme, ” he said of the craft which originated from the Han Dynasty and which can be found around the world. — Bernama

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