The Spirit and Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers

The Spirit and Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers Book Cover
The Spirit and Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers Book Cover

The Spirit and Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers explores the philosophy, history, folklore and fabrication of the six broad groupings of Chinese spirit papers. This two hundred-twenty five page book describes these six varieties of papers, indicating their origins, uses, and religious and philosophical significance. I describe in detail some of the various crafts involved in producing these papers – papermaking and foilmaking and other crafts like woodblock printing, paper cutting, ink manufacture and printing, all essential to the development of some of the papers.

The book abounds with real paper examples and annotated pictures. I combine historical and descriptive text along with my own voice, which narrates my personal journey into the papers. My voice plays in and out of the text and chronicles my interest and exploration in Chinese papers, as a reminder to the reader that this is as much a journal to understanding the papers as it is a product of historical investigation.

Sacred ceremonial papers have been used in China since the invention of paper itself, which dates back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, 206 B.C.-220 A.D. Making offerings to deities and ancestors is a much older practice. Before the invention of paper, and as far back as Neolithic times, ritual inscriptions and ceremonial vessels and artifacts were crafted from stone, clay, jade, bronze, cowrie (not inscribed), silk, and other available materials.

I include over one hundred-fifty original examples of the papers with annotated descriptions of their use and meaning. The text sheds light and insight into the ancient Chinese folk practice of using and burning Chinese ritual papers in order to bridge the gap between life on earth and the otherworld. Reading, looking at and touching this book offers a visual and literary feast. Format 11×17. Asian binding with a slipcase.

In 2001 the British Museum requested to purchase a copy of the book. Two of the five copies were in individual collections and I approached one of the collectors to see if she would consider me re-acquiring it so it could be placed in another public institution. The following is a quote from this collector. The British Museum purchased the book and archive collection June, 2001.

“Jocelyn, I took one last look at the book before I wrapped it up. It took my breath away-it is truly a work of art. I’m sad to see it go, but know that more people will get to see it and feel the same about it.” Kristee Rosendahl

The Spirit & Craft of Chinese Ritual Papers, and accompanying archive collection of 400 additional papers can be found in the British Museum, London, England, Lilly Library at Indiana University;  the Marriott Library, University of Utah and Harvard University, Harvard-Yenching Library