Fascinating Tradition of Uyghur Paper Making in Hotan | Xinjiang: Far West China

Fascinating Tradition of Uyghur Paper Making in Hotan

January 28 | 41 Comments

Uyghur paper making in Hotan Xinjiang

The tradition of Uyghur paper making in Hotan (Khotan), Xinjiang has been around for more than 2,000 years, and yet somehow it rarely gets a mention in most travel guides or tour packages.

The truth is, if it weren’t for government subsidies, this local tradition of making paper from mulberry trees probably would have died off decades ago.

Despite all this, it has been a dream of mine to visit one of the families that still uphold this ancient tradition. Thankfully, my opportunity came this last summer, and I didn’t dare forget my camera!

Check out the video below for a visual description of this tradition … and don’t forget to give it a thumbs-up if you enjoy!

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Uyghur Paper Making | The Process

The process of making paper from the bark of mulberry trees is both complex and fascinating. Generations of Uyghur families in and around the Khotan area have passed down the tradition that makes use of the region’s plentiful mulberry trees as well as the dry heat.

I learned that paper making using the bark of mulberry trees involves an 8-step process that takes a couple of days and at least 4 people to complete.

  1. Gathering & peeling branches: Branches from mulberry trees are gathered, and the bark is then peeled off, a painstaking task that is done by hand.
  2. Air drying: The bark that has been peeled away is then dried in the hot desert sun for 24 hours.
  3. Boiling the bark: Once the bark has been dried, it is boiled in a large iron pan over an open fire–usually one that is fed with what is left of the mulberry branches.
  4. Pounding the mixture: The soupy mixture that is the result of boiling the bark is then pounded into submission by a wooden mallet.
  5. Fermenting the mixture: After being pounded to death, this clumpy-looking bark soup is left in water to ferment. This word “ferment” is a direct translation of what I was told, but I’m not 100% sure that it means the same thing.
  6. Filtering mixture into a mold: What has now become a weird goo is then pressed into a mold that is basically a square wire mesh. The artisan carefully spreads the mixture out and presses it down into the mesh, removing any large clumps along the way.
  7. Drying in the sun: The wire mesh is placed outside where it will dry in the sun. During most of Khotan’s summer, this drying process doesn’t take long.
  8. Peeling and preparing for sale: Once dried, the paper is peeled from the wire mesh and prepared for sale.

Uyghur mulberry bark paper drying in the sun

Meet Abdukadir | Uyghur Paper Maker

Paper making has been a part of Abdukadir’s family for countless generations. Although there are a handful of paper making families around Hotan, for some reason I happened to meet Abdukadir.

As we sat in the small shop outside his courtyard, he explained with the help of photos how his father had taught him to make paper decades ago. Abdukadir pointed to a number of news clippings that had highlighted his father’s apparent skill in the paper-making tradition.

Even now, the tradition is a family affair. Outside, Abdukadir’s mother, wife, and daughter all sit in the shade, peeling away bark from the mulberry branches while chatting away. Just a couple feet away his son proudly holds a wooden mallet that is used to pound the boiled bark down.

Paper making is a family business for Abdukadir, and it’s a Uyghur heritage that he is proud to carry on.

Abdukadir, a Uyghur paper maker in Hotan Xinjiang

Uyghur Paper | An Undeveloped Souvenir

At the end of my tour of Abdukadir’s shop, he led me into his small souvenir store. Inside, shelves on every wall were lined with stacks and stacks of mulberry bark paper.

I was eager to purchase nice travel journals or simple books to give as gifts. It seemed like the perfect Xinjiang souvenir!

But the development of “souvenirs” isn’t on Abdukadir’s priority list. Loose-leaf booklets and flip books stapled together were the best I could get. Yet somehow they seemed to fit the setting.

Stacks of Uyghur mulberry bark paper in Khotan, Xinjiang

I ended up buying a number of small booklets that were easy to transport back home with me. Best of all, everything I bought was relatively inexpensive!

Each little booklet had a red stamp which proudly proclaimed that this was “和田纸” or “Hotan Paper.” Handwritten in both Uyghur script and Mandarin characters is the signature of Abdukadir.

Uyghur mulberry paper souvenirs from Hotan, Xinjiang

Uyghur Paper Making | Tourist Info

To those interested in viewing this fascinating process of making paper out of mulberry bark, the first thing I suggest is that you pick up a copy of the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide.

The small Uyghur village was a good 45-minute drive from the Hotan city center, but it was a worthwhile trip, not just for the paper making but also for the scenic tour of the Hotan countryside. You’ll need to hire a driver to take you out to the village and back, and this is the information that you’ll need:

  • What: Hotan Uyghur Paper-Making Shop
  • Where: The Puqiakeqi Village in Hotan’s Moyu county
  • Chinese Address: 和田墨玉县普恰克其乡布达村2小队
  • Who: Ablimet Abdukadir
  • Contact: 132-3981-9347

What do you think of this Uyghur tradition? Leave a comment below with your own thoughts.

About Josh Summers

Josh is a writer, musician and entrepreneur who currently resides in Urumqi, capital of China's western province of Xinjiang. He has been traveling and writing about this region since 2006 and has no plans to stop in the near future.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Thanks for the video. Ever since I took Chinese Brush painting lessons in China in 1981, I’ve been wanting to see how the xuan paper is made. Looking forward to visiting Hotan and will contact you when the planning starts. So glad you are there.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 30th, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    My pleasure, Joanne! Hope you’re able to come out here soon.

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  2. Hey Josh and all travellers,
    I appreciate how you let us discover this fascinating counrty and specially with this short video.
    If you have no time to drive outside Hotan to see a paper making factory, there is a small “family factory” near the center of Hotan at 37°7’24″N 79°55’9″E which I visited in 2012. Very nice family. I hope they still produce this superb mulberry-paper.
    Jean-Louis

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 30th, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Wow…I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing, Jean-Louis. I’ll have to check that out!

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  3. Another splendid video … I ‘ve recommneded so many of your ‘postings’ to friends. I visited Xinjiang about 5 years ago and your blog has inspired me to return. Thanks for the stimuli.
    Richard (on the west coast of canada)

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 30th, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you so much, Richard! I’m so glad to hear it’s been an inspiration.

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  4. I saw something similar in Laos, where they also put flowers in the mix. It makes beautiful paper. it’s not often any more you can get locally made souvenirs like that. I’m impressed the government supports it.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 30th, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    I agree – I’m glad that the government subsidizes his work, otherwise I think he would have to close up shop. I’ve never been to Laos but that flower paper sounds amazing as well!

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  5. Great video, Josh and your book is also very good but I’ll be pleased if you can get it published in print too.
    I liked Xinjiang very much when I visited a couple of years ago; I passed through Khotan and wish I’d seen the paper making. But Xinjiang is a magical place. Everyone I met – Uyghur and Han Chinese, were all incredibly friendly and welcoming.
    I might be in Urumqi again this year.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 30th, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I’m working on it, Robbo. It’s a lot more work than I first imagined! :)

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  6. Hi Josh. Heard that Xinjiang has just hosted the national winter games. Could you write an article about this and the general enthusiasm of residents here toward the games especially ice hockey? Thanks

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  7. hi Josh,
    I m planning to visit Xinjiang province soon especially Urumqi and Kashgar. Appreciate your travel advice and tips. Love to travel the ancient Silk Road cities and explore the culture, heritage, food and of course the great people.

    Anyway, I m Nik from Malaysia.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on March 23rd, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Glad it’s been helpful! Hope you’ve been able to check out the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide that has extensive chapters on both Urumqi and Kashgar.

    [Reply]

  8. Great video and write-up!
    What does he charge for those pads, or other souvenirs, if you remember?

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on January 17th, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks, Michael! They were super cheap, I think something like US$1-2 for a pad. I bought a ton of them ;)

    Unfortunately, I’ve heard he’s no longer able to do business out there. I don’t know for sure.

    [Reply]