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  • Writer's pictureYiyu Chen

Flowers on Fingertips -- Intangible Cultural Heritage of China

Do you love flowers? Are you displaying them in your home or keeping them with you? Have you ever imagined the sight of everyone on the street having various flowers on their heads? In ancient China, both men and women had the custom of pinning flowers and would change the varieties of flowers according to the different weather conditions of the seasons. In the ancient Chinese legends about the flowers, the twelve months of the lunar calendar are represented by twelve kinds of flowers called Twelve Flora, the goddess of flowers. They are:

  • The Plum Blossom in the first lunar month;

  • The Apricot Blossom in the second lunar month;

  • The Peach Blossom in the third lunar month;

  • The Peony in the fourth lunar month;

  • The Pomegranate in the fifth lunar month;

  • The lotus in the sixth lunar month;

  • The Jade Hairpin in the seventh lunar month

  • The Osmanthus in the eighth lunar month;

  • The Chrysanthemum in the ninth lunar month;

  • The Hibiscus in the tenth lunar month;

  • The Camellia in the eleventh lunar month;

  • The Daffodil in the twelfth lunar month.

Ancient cultivation techniques did not guarantee an adequate supply of fresh flowers. As a result, many artificial flower-making techniques were developed, most of which are now endangered or even lost. Today I would like to introduce a few related techniques, which are now included in China's intangible cultural heritage.


This is a picture of a pink rice paper flower against a black background.
Rice paper flowers are complex, yet beautiful.

This image is sourced from Weibo. For additional information, please visit this link.

“Rice Paper Flower” 通草花[tōng cǎo huā] is a handicraft made from Tetrapanax papyrifer or “rice paper plant,” whose history can date back to the Qin Dynasty, more than 2,200 years ago. The Rice Paper Flowers have a soft texture and elegant colors, which are comparable to real flowers. Excellent works have a high appreciation, collection, and cultural and artistic value.

The process of making Rice Paper Flowers is very complicated. The first step is to make the Rice Paper, which is also called Pith Paper. This kind of paper is not made by the usual pulp method; it is cut from the pith of the stem of the Tetrapanax plant. First, we take out the inner stem while it is wet, cut it into sections, then spin and slice it into pieces by hand. After drying these sliced stems, we get the Pith Paper. Before making a flower, it is necessary to cut Pith Paper into petal shapes of the right size and then moisten the un-styled petals and keep them in a damp towel to keep them moist. Rice Paper has a unique feature in that after it dries, it will retain the shape it had when it was wet. The artisans make the petals look like real flowers by cutting, engraving, twisting, pressing, rubbing, and dyeing. This step is the most difficult. The craftsman needs to accurately grasp the shape of the petals and imagine how they would look if they grew naturally. At the same time, the petals can not be identical and look rigid. They also need to know the characteristics of Pith Paper very well and grasp the brief moment when it can be shaped before drying. Then they carefully glue the petals together one by one and make other parts of the flower. The coloring often takes place after the flower has been composed, and the artisan uses oil-based paints to color it, as the water in the water-based paints would disrupt the shape of the flower. Some artisans prefer to color the pith paper at the beginning. So when to color the work is more a matter of personal preference. It takes several days to make a flower, and the movements should be slow and careful at every step.


This is a picture of two velvet flowers, one in orange and one in yellow.
Velvet flowers represent important parts of Chinese culture.

This media is derived from Bilibili. For more information, please visit this link.

“Velvet Flower” 绒花[róng huā] is a representative traditional handicraft with local characteristics, having similar pronunciation to 荣华[róng huá], which means honor and splendor, and it’s a representative of the culture of expectation and pursuit of wealth and prosperity, which is part of China's diverse culture.

The process of making Velvet Flowers is tedious and complicated. It takes about three days to complete a fist-sized flower.

Material preparation:

  • First, boiling silk: the main material of velvet flowers is silk. The original meaning of the character 绒[róng] is “boiled silk.” The silk becomes soft after it's boiled in alkaline water. And then, it's ready to be made into Velvet Flowers.

  • Second, dyeing: according to the main color of Velvet Flower, dyeing boiled silk into different colors.

  • Third, producing brass wire: charcoal fire will burn brass wire until annealed so it will become softer. Brass wire specifications vary in size according to the type of flowers.

The process of making Velvet Flowers:

  • Step 1: Since the boiled silk threads are tied into a large bundle, first split them. Divide them into small groups, then fix them to a thin bamboo pole and let them form a row. After that, comb them through with a hairbrush.

  • Step 2: Cut the long brass wire into short pieces approximately five times the width of the threads row. Fold them in half and sandwich the silk wire in the middle. Use both hands to gently twist it in the opposite direction to roughly fix it to the threads row.

  • Step 3: Cut off the desired part with scissors, twist it in the opposite direction with both left and right hands, and then rub the copper wire with the upper and lower wood plates. This step forms the most basic part of making a Velvet Flower: the Velvet Strip.

  • Step 4: Process the Velvet Strip with scissors and process the cylindrical velvet strip into various shapes such as obtuse, acute, spherical, and oval.

  • Step 5: Use tweezers to combine the punched pile strips with auxiliary materials such as wire, leather, paper, pearls, and gemstone beads to form the final product.


This is a picture of a burgundy flower next to a cream-colored flower on a dark background.
Silk-wrapped flowers need many special skills to make.

This media is derived from Bilibili. For more information, please visit

“Chan-Hua” 缠花[chán huā] or Silk-Wrapped Flowers, is the culmination of many fine arts. It draws on the essence of many kinds of art. It has the fine realism of brush painting, the use of copper wire sketching similar to Cloisonné, the application of paper-cutting, and the threading technique of embroidery. It also uses weaving, which is a combination of winding and knotting thread by hand. People call it "three-dimensional embroidery" and "thread art sculpture."

The main materials used in traditional Chan-Hua are silk thread, fine copper or iron wire, cardboard, gold and silver foil paper, and some decorative accessories, such as colored Lucite, shell pieces, or various beads. The main tools are scissors, tweezers, pliers, and glue. The wire is the skeleton of the three-dimensional shape, the cardboard is the meat of the shape component, and the wire is the skin of the appearance. The silk thread used in Chan-Hua is very demanding and must be made of pure natural silk thread that is soft and hard and has an even thickness. Because the silk is bright and pulchritudinous, the resulting flowers are fanciable and have a silky texture.

The process of making a Chan-Hua:

  • The first step is cutting cardboard into different basic shapes, usually lip-shaped, crescent-shaped, spindle-shaped, etc.

  • Then, the wire is sandwiched in the cardboard and wrapped in silk around the prepared piece of paper or embryo frame. The professional movements are pinching the copper wire, silk thread, and cardboard with the fingertips of the left hand; pinching the silk thread with the index finger and thumb of the right hand; turning the small arm; and arranging the lines neatly around the surface of the petal paper pattern.

  • Afterward, use your hand or an auxiliary tool to turn or bend the leaves and petals of the flower wrapping into a rich three-dimensional shape.

  • Finally, the individual flowers and leaves are tied together with silk threads to form a complete flower arrangement.


This is an example of a gold filigree butterfly.
Filigree is made with bars of gold and silver.

This image is sourced from Weibo. For additional information, please visit this link.

“Filigree Inlay” 花丝镶嵌[huā sī xiānɡ qiàn] is one of the eight traditional arts and crafts of Beijing. A Xinhua Net report says:

With gold or silver as raw material, filigree inlay craftsmen apply complex techniques such as knitting and welding so as to shape metal wires into various forms. Then they create fluted patterns on the wires with techniques such as hollowing and cutting for gems to be inserted. Once a royal technique, filigree inlay is listed as one of the national intangible cultural heritages.

The basis of Filigree Inlay is drawing filigree. Before the filigree is drawn, the gold and silver bars are repeatedly pressed on a rolling machine until they become square bars of the right thickness. Hand-drawing is a tradition that has been carried on for centuries. The drawing plate is a tool with forty to fifty eyelets of different diameters arranged from coarse to fine. The holes are usually made of alloy and diamonds, the smallest of which are thinner than a strand of hair. In the process of pulling the coarse wire thin, the wire must be passed through a sequence of eyelets from largest to smallest. If any eyelet is skipped, it will be hard to achieve the desired effect. Sometimes, it takes more than a dozen pulls to get the required fine wire. Initially, the surface of the drawn wire is rough and requires a lot of effort, and it gradually becomes smooth after several pulls. The single wire pulled from the drawing board is called "plain wire" in the trade, and it requires two or more strands of wire to be rolled into a variety of filigree, hence the name 花丝[[huā sī]. Other than flower, 花[[huā] in Chinese this name also means "with stripes or graphics." The most common type of filigree is made from two or three strands of plain wire, which is the simplest and most basic style.


This is an example of a Kingfisher Craft piece made out of gold and painted blue.
Kingfisher Craft embellishes gold and silver jewelry.

This image is sourced from The Palace Museum. For more information, please visit

“Kingfisher Craft” 点翠[diǎn cuì] is a traditional Chinese gold and silver jewelry making process. It appeared in the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago. It is an auxiliary work in jewelry making, playing the role of embellishing and beautifying gold and silver jewelry. Jewelry made with Kingfisher Craft always has good gloss and great colors. Its high level of skill and immortal artistic value show people's pursuit of beautiful and beautiful things.

The production process of Kingfisher Craft is incredibly complicated. The gold and silver pieces are first made into a base tray according to the shape of the flower, and then a slot is welded along the edge of the flower pattern with gold wire. The middle part is then coated with an appropriate amount of glue, and the feathers of the kingfisher are cleverly cut and pasted on the metal base tray, which is made of gold and silver to form an exquisite pattern. These patterns are usually inlaid with pearls, jadeite, red coral, onyx, and other precious stones, making them more elegant and noble.

The feathers of the Kingfisher are of the highest quality. The feathers have excellent luster and color. Combined with the gold edge, the jewelry looks even more decorative. As the kingfisher is already a nationally-protected animal, Kingfisher jewelry is made with substitutes, such as dyed goose feathers, ribbons of the same color, etc. The finished products are more lustrous, easy to preserve and have better decorative effects than jewelry made with kingfisher feathers. The art of kingfisher has never been lost, and modern craftsmen have inherited the ancient method to make more refined kingfisher jewelry with different materials.

If you are interested in these lovely traditional crafts or want to learn more about Chinese culture through Mandarin, please check out our courses. At ReDefiners World Languages, we offer high-quality classes in Mandarin, English, Spanish, and Arabic. For more information, please visit our website or email us at We can't wait for you to join us!

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