Paper Umbrella, an Asian Idea

China is believed to be the home of umbrellas. The earliest umbrellas are known to have existed at least two thousand years ago and were made of silk. Members of the royal family and other aristocrats were allowed to use one and it was usually carried by a servant who trailed several steps behind.

At present, umbrellas in China are made of various materials: oilpaper, silk, plastic film and nylon. As in other countries, they are used either against the rain or as parasols to give shade from the sun. Some are built on straight frames while others are collapsible.

Paper umbrella in China is a distinctive folk craftwork. When making the umbrella, every part should be carefully chosen. The rib of the umbrella should be made out of the bamboo of more than 5 years from the eastern Fujian Province, which is pliable, flexible, elastic and can prevent the umbrella from being moldy, rotten, and from woodworms after the special dealing. The surface of the umbrella is made of the specific refined tissue paper which can stand strong force. Craftsmen will paint the glutinous tung oil on the surface of umbrella and then draw pictures of flowers, birds, characters, and landscape. Paper umbrella may be used either in rain or sunshine.

The prettiest Chinese umbrellas, however, are those covered with silk, and the silk parasols of Hangzhou are veritable works of art which also serve a practical purpose. The silk, as thin as cicada's wing and printed with landscapes, is also fixed on a bamboo frame. A parasol of Hangzhou, usually 53 centimetres or 20 inches long, weighs only 250 grams or 8.8 ounces, is very handy and makes a welcome souvenir for tourists. Local girls like to carry parasols to protect themselves against the sun, which have long become part of the female attire.

Umbrellas or parasols, apart from their practical uses, have also become part of the paraphernalia of the stage artist. A notable example is the wire walker who uses a parasol as a balancer to keep herself on the wire. Nowadays, paper umbrellas have withdrawn from the busy urban life due to its complicated craftsmanship. However, paper umbrellas are stilled appreciated and collected as a kind of elaborate craftwork.