Origin of Paper - Broussonetia papyrifera

Paper was invented by the Chinese about 2000 years ago.  Although humans had used other flat substances upon which to write, clay tablets, hide parchment, and papyrus, from which we get the word paper, none of these are truly paper.  Paper is made of randomly oriented (a felt) plant fibers.  According to contemporary records of AD 105, "Under the reign of Emperor Hi-Ti, Ts'ai Lun of Lei-Yang conceived of the idea of making paper from the bark of trees....The paper was then used throughout the entire Universe."  The tree was the paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera.   Although today the vast majority of all our paper is made from wood fibers, this paper was made from the bark, or bast, fibers.  While not as cheap or as plentiful, bast fibers are much easier to process.

The bark is striped from young branches and boiled until soft.  The soggy bark is then pounded to separate the fibers and remove softer tissues.  The fibers are then suspended in water.  A layer of felted fibers is picked up on a screen and dried to produce a sheet of paper. 

In many places in Asia paper craftsmen continue to produce paper using these centuries old techniques.  In the following images, paper is being made for parasols at a guild factory in northern Thailand not too far from Chiang Mai.  The Chinese called paper mulberry the Ku Tree; the Thai call it the Sa Tree. 

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A young Sa Tree, paper mulberry, to show the tourists.

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Bark of the paper mulberry.

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Pounding the boiled bark to separate the fibers.

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Felting the fibers using a silk screen.

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Row of paper on silk screens drying.


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Peeling the sheet of paper from the silk screen.

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