Part 1: Old Chinese Folding Books

Many western folders believe that the book of Mai-ying Sung, best known as Maying Soong [席曼英, xímànyīng] or Maying Hsi Soong [宋席曼英, sòng xímànyīng] The Art of Chinese Paper Folding for Young and Old is the first book of Chinese paper folding. It was published 1948 by Harcourt, Brace and Co. in New York, later reissued in USA, England and Taiwan, and translated into Dutch as Chinees vouwboek (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij van Breda, 1949) and later into Spanish. Our late friend and folding historian David Lister (1930-2013) wrote a very interesting article about Maying Soong and her book. You can read it here.

After previous research on the Chinese language paper folding bibliography in the PaDoRe Archive (Weimar Germany), we discovered and largely collected around 100 books published before the Maying Soong book, and near 300 books from 1948 until today. The political situation since 1949 in China undoubtedly didn’t help Western folders to find Chinese paper folding books, and therefore appreciate Chinese paper folding which would have been known about in general, but of which there were no specific details or information available.

The first published books that we know of have their origins via the influence of the Froebelian pedagogy and the introduction of Kindergartens in China. Here we will comment about this process.

During the last years of the Qing [清] Dynasty (1644-1911) North American Methodists and Presbyterians founded the first non-official Kindergarten during the 1890s in their mission in Beijing [北京]. The Methodists (primarily) founded a lot of successful kindergartens in other Chinese places such as a region called Jiangnan [江南], including the Provinces of Jiangsu [江蘇], Shanghai [上海] and Zhejiang [浙江], in Fujian [福建] Province (Fuzhou [福州] and Xiamen [厦門]), in Jiangsu [江蘇] Province (Nanjing [南京], Xinghua [興化] and Suzhou [蘇州]), in Jiangxi [江西] Province (Nanchang [南昌]), and also in the cities of Tianjin [天津] and Shanghai [上海], where German women worked as educators. In the beginning, some female Chinese educators studied in USA or in Japan, and led new kindergartens. Later, Kindergarten teachers studied for two years (with a third in practice) in the Chinese College for Women (Union-Frauenschule) in Beijing [北京], where seven Kindergarten teachers and four Kindergarten helpers found an nearby kindergarten where teachers could practise. At this time Volkskindergarten (free Kindergarten for poor people) existed in China, as well as some educational centres for poor Christian children. In the Elemental Children Schools pupils exercised two hours every day using Froebelian occupations (including paperfolding).

For the Froebelian occupations foreign material was used, but soon the educators saw that the material made in China was cheaper than the imported material, and things changed. The Chinese industry started to produce Froebelian material with their own elements such as bamboo or raffia. Chinese sheets of paper were thin and durable folding material compared to the stiff German folding paper. The kindergarten teachers in China varied in their opinion about the size. Slowly, the teachers began to think about the possibility of founding a publishing house to edit all the Froebelian books in China (in the Mandarin language).

Children folded in Chinese Kindergarten rice shops, trains and ships to represent rice transport and rice selling. So, beside the German, American or Japanese models, the books introduced more and more models from the existing Chinese folding tradition, like zhēnxiànbāo [針線包], yuánbǎo [元寳], and many others.

A similar process took place in Japan too. Between 1871 and 1873, the Japanese statesman and educator Fujimaro Tanaka [田中 不二麿, 1845–1909] travelled with the Iwakura Mission (岩倉使節団) to Europe and America and was very impressed by the ideas by the German pedagogue Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). When he returned in 1874 he became the Vice Minister for Education. The first director of the Tokyo Women’s Normal School’s kindergartens Shinzo Seki (1843–1880) translated the books Kindergarten Diary (1876) [幼稚園記, yōchienki] and Kindergarten Manual: the 20 different types of toys (1879) [幼稚園法二十遊嬉, yōchien-hō nijū Yūki], written by the American educator Karl Daniel Adolph Douai (1819–1888) into Japanese. On the 14th November 1876, in Tokyo, Seki organised the first Japanese Kindergarten as part of the Tokyo Women’s Normal School [東京女子師範学校, tōkyō joshi shihan gakkō]. The first teachers were the German Klara Matsuno [松野クララ, 1853–1941, born in Berlin as Klara Zittelmann], the Japanese Fuyu Toyoda [豊田芙雄, 1845–1941] and Hama Kondo [近藤濱].

As part of the promotion of the new-style education from Zhidong Zhang [張之洞], the viceroy Duanfang Tuoteke [托忒克·端方, 1861-1911] organized the first officially-established preschool (or kindergarten) in China in 1903 autumn. It was called Hubei Youzhiyuan [湖北幼稚園] and located in Wuchang (武昌, a sub-region of Wuhan [武漢]) in Hubei [湖北] Province. Michie Tono (戸野美知恵) and two other people were recruited, both Japanese nannies [保姆, bǎomǔ] to help organise the kindergarten. It was a colonial nursery with a Japanese curriculum, where children of wealthy Chinese families could learn Japanese. The kindergarten was called youzhiyuan [幼稚園] at that time. The same Chinese characters (meaning ‘gardens of children’) read as youchi’en [幼稚園] in Japanese and were used in Japan. In the same year, a kindergarten in Beijing [北京] was established and called as No. 1 Imperial Kindergarten of Peking [京師第一蒙養院]. The kindergarten there was called mengyangyuan [蒙養院], which means ‘courtyard for pre-education’. In January 1904, the Qing [清] government made a rule that all the preschools were to be named as mengyangyuan [蒙養院]. So the name of the kindergarten in Wuchang changed into Wuchang Mengyangyuan [武昌蒙養院]. In 1905 Chinese women were sent to Japan to learn kindergarten techniques.

The reformist Chinese translator Xiū Yán [嚴修, also called as Fànsūn Yán 嚴範孫 (1860-1921) founded Tianjin [天津] the private ‘Nannies Teaching & Training Institute’ [保姆講習所, bǎomǔ jiǎngxí suǒ] in 1905 for the development of “nannies” for Kindergarten. In 1910 there were already a dozen of Kindergartens in cities like Beijing [北京], Shanghai [上海] or Tianjin [天津], that needed bibliographic support. So publications on Froebelian occupations (including folding) appeared that were translated from Japanese into Chinese. The folded models were from the German Froebelian pedagogy, including models from the Japanese folding tradition.

Already in the 1920s, during the Republic of China (1912-1949), reformist pedagogues such as Xíngzhī Táo 陶行知 (1891-1946), Hèqín Chén 陳鶴琴 (1892-1982) or Xuěmén Zhāng 張雪門 (1891 -1973), who were influenced by John Dewey (1859-1952) from the teaching school at Columbia University (USA), reacted to Japan’s influence by including many Chinese traditional folding models in their publications.

During the early years of the People’s Republic of China (1949 until today), the publication of educational paper folding books continued. However, it was during the so called ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1966-1976) that a dearth of Chinese publications on paper folding exists. After the recognition in 1979 of the Peoples Republic of China by the United Nations, Chinese publishers started to increase the number of paper folding books, which since the 1990s have seen a rise in the number of titles.

The influence of the Froebelian pedagogic on Chinese folding books at the end of the 19th century is clearly in evidence and we will continue to analyse this as deeply as possible. We know that a folding tradition was clearly present in China before the influence of Froebel’s work during the preceding centuries, but we know of not further, older witness of Chinese folding publications. This obliges us to continue this subject of research!

by Xiaoxian Huang [黄晓娴] (Nanjing, China) and Joan Sallas (Weimar, Germany)

First published 18th April 2017