The Production Background, Raw Materials, and Craftsmanship of Oil Paper Umbrellas

Traditional handmade oiled paper umbrella

The oil paper umbrella, an essential symbol of traditional Chinese culture, has been a practical tool for protection against rain and sun since ancient times, as well as an emblem of grace and elegance. The production and usage of these umbrellas have a rich history and entail the application of intricate materials and traditional craft techniques.


The creation of the oil paper umbrella can be traced back to over a thousand years ago during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). Originally, these umbrellas were used as a shelter against sun and rain, but they quickly became popular among nobility and scholars for their aesthetic and symbolic value. Over time, oil paper umbrellas spread to other parts of Asia, such as Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, with each region developing its unique style and interpretation. Today, they are often seen in traditional ceremonies, festivals, and as decorative pieces in modern homes.

Raw Materials:

The oil paper umbrella is made from natural materials, each chosen for its specific properties. The primary materials include bamboo, paper, tung oil, and sometimes various pigments for decoration.


Bamboo is used to make the umbrella’s ribs and handle due to its strength, flexibility, and lightweight. The bamboo must be properly aged and treated to ensure it does not warp or rot over time.


The canopy of the umbrella is made of handmade xuan paper (rice paper), chosen for its durability, translucency, and excellent absorbency.

Tung Oil

Tung oil, extracted from the seeds of the tung tree, is applied to the paper to make it waterproof. It gives the umbrella a distinctive shine and a slightly translucent effect when viewed against the light.


To add artistic elements to the umbrella, natural pigments are often used to paint traditional Chinese motifs such as landscapes, flowers, birds, and other auspicious symbols.


The production of an oil paper umbrella is a labor-intensive process that requires great skill and patience. It involves numerous steps:

Framework Creation

The umbrella’s skeleton is crafted from bamboo. This process involves splitting, shaving, and bending bamboo into ribs and a handle.

Paper Attaching

The prepared xuan paper is then cut into the shape of the umbrella canopy and attached to the bamboo frame. This step requires precise craftsmanship to ensure the paper fits tightly and evenly.

Oil Application

Several layers of tung oil are applied to the paper. Each layer must dry before the next is applied. This process makes the paper waterproof and gives it a shiny, semi-transparent finish.


Finally, the umbrella may be hand-painted with various designs. This step is not merely an application of art but a display of the painter’s skill and understanding of traditional Chinese art and symbolism.

Traditional handmade oiled paper umbrella

The creation of an oil paper umbrella reflects the charm of traditional Chinese handicrafts. Each umbrella, crafted with precision and care, stands as a testament to the culture’s rich history and the craftsmanship’s profound depth. Even in the modern world, the oil paper umbrella continues to be a cherished cultural artifact, representing a timeless link to China’s past

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