Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ancient China: Making a "bamboo" scroll


Chinese Manuscript on bamboo slips dating from Warring States period (475-221 BC)
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
Have you ever wondered why Chinese writing is vertical, from top to bottom?

In ancient China, texts were written on slats of bamboo or wood. Often times, these slats were bound together with cord to create a scroll, which could be rolled up for storage. There is evidence that there was use of bamboo slips in 1250 BC, and continued as the main writing platform until around the 4th century AD, at which point the use of paper had become mainstream. 

Ancient bamboo book with a copy of "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu
Photo Credit: vlasta2
 Why not make your own ancient bamboo scroll?


We made our own bamboo slat books, using popsicle sticks, fine tipped permanent markers, and thread.

We decided to use nine slats, since 9 is an auspicious number for the Chinese. We also used this opportunity to record the Chengyus (Chinese four character idioms) we've been learning. Each slat has a different chengyu, with its four characters and an English translation. It was fun to hear the girls retell the stories behind the idioms while they were working.


First we lined up the sticks, and marked a line across them 1/4" from top and bottom. This is our mark for where our string will go to bind the slats together. Using an exacto knife, we cut notches on either side of each line. I helped Elle (11) with hers, and Pea (15) was fine on her own. Once the notches were done, we erased the lines prior to writing on the slats to ensure nothing gets smudged. These steps could be done ahead of time


The girls then wrote out their chengyus with a fine tip permanent marker. Elle wrote her four characters at the top of each stick with the translation underneath. Pea wrote her four characters on one side of each stick, with the translation on the other side.


Then came the time to bind. This part was frustrating for Elle, but they worked as a team, and that helped. I would say it definitely requires two sets of hands.


We used regular sewing thread, but I think thicker embroidery thread would have been better. I would recommend doubling up on the sewing thread, because as we learned the hard way, the thread might break. Assuming the thread is being doubled, the length of the thread should be ten times the width of your scroll. Cut two pieces that length. Fold your thread in half to double it and cut so that you now have 4 pieces of thread. Take two pieces of thread lined up together and fold in half. Put your stick so the fold of the thread fits into the notch of your stick (see photo, top left). Then tie a tight knot into the other notch (see photo, top right). Make sure it is nice and tight. Take your second stick and slide it next to the first. Make another tight knot into the notch of the second stick. This is where the second set of hands becomes helpful. One person can hold the sticks down flush against each other, and also put a finger to hold the first loop of the knot when its time to tie the second loop (making a nice, tight knot). Continue this way until all sticks are attached together. Do not cut the leftover string at the end of the scroll. Do the same thing for the bottom binding. 

And you are done!

Pea's scroll with Chinese characters on one side, and English translation on the other

You can roll your scroll, and use the leftover lengths of thread to tie the scroll closed. 


You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:

You can find more creative, educational and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:

Highhill Homeschool

17 comments:

  1. This is really neat. I am pinning it for our next time in China when daughter is older :)

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    1. Thanks, it was work but the girls are quite proud of them.

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  2. We did something similar and it was a little fiddly, but you girls did a great job. I especially like the translations!

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    1. It was nice to put together 3 aspects into one project - chinese characters, chengyus, and ancient artifacts. It is definitely a fiddly project, when it comes to binding!

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  3. Marie, I love all of your post, and this one is my favorite! I'll be pinning this for when little man gets older so we can do this together.

    Thank you for linking up at Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #7.

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    1. Thank you Frances! The project is definitely better for older kids :)

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  4. We did something very similar when we studied China. I will remember these scrolls forever. I love how hands-on activities make such an impact on the memory. http://highhillhomeschool.blogspot.de/2012/04/china-history-co-op-week-4-shang.html

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    1. I loved going over your China history co-op! And I agree, hands on activities do make such an impact.

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  5. A lovely idea I've not seen before #hobbies and handicrafts

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  6. Beautiful craft! And I love the history behind the scroll. I never knew that was why Chinese writing was vertical! Certainly wouldn't have worked with the Latin script. Thanks for sharing at the Culture Swapper!

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  7. What a creative idea! Thanks so much for sharing at the After School Linky.

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  8. Hello ! I hope you don't mind if I share this post in my blog as a reference. Thanks.

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  9. We are just starting a month long exploration of China. We've been studying idioms in English, and think this will be really fun to do for China! Thanks for the idea, and the instructions! We look forward to tackling this project. :)

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    1. Good luck with the project! I loved learning these Chinese idioms - and the kids enjoyed the story related to them.

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