Paper-crafting: ‘Uncle Man’ preaches appreciating the beauty in flaws

Paper-crafting: ‘Uncle Man’ preaches appreciating the beauty in flaws

What can you make out of paper? A plane? A heart? Our junior reporters get the chance to unleash their creativity in a workshop with Uncle Man, the King of Paper-craft


Junior reporters Cotrina Fung (left) and Tracy Wong create all sorts of shapes out of paper under the guidance of Lee Shing-man, aka Uncle Man, at one of his workshops in Tsuen Wan.
Photo: K. Y. Cheng/SCMP


Cotrina and Tracy learned a lot about the valuable process of making art and the mistakes along the way.
Photo: K. Y. Cheng/SCMP

There’s more interest in the folk art of paper tearing than you would expect. The King of Paper-craft, Lee Sing-man (or Uncle Man as he is known), runs workshops dedicated to the art.

YP junior reporters Cotrina Fung and Tracy Wong Ho-yan took part in one of his workshops to see just how easy (or hard) it is to create beautiful artwork out of tearing bits of paper.

Take time to create beautiful things out of paper

Paper crafting doesn’t have to be a fiddly process with scissors, as local artist Uncle Man taught us at his workshop.

“This is an art that anyone older than two and with four fingers can nail,” he said.

The artist began by teaching us how to create symmetrical patterns. Our thumbs and index fingers became scissors as we used our left hand to tear the paper towards ourselves and our right hand fingers to tear the paper away from us.

‘Uncle Man’ told us before he trusts in trial and error in perfecting his art

Remember the three Cs

Paper tearing seems pretty easy when there is a pattern on the paper telling you exactly how to tear it, but it’s a different story when it comes to creating the pattern yourself. During the workshop, Uncle Man said that we need to keep in mind the three Cs when making patterns.

The three Cs are called that because “thinking”, “seeing” and “tearing” are all pronounced in Cantonese like the English letter “c”. I was afraid that I would tear my paper wrong or ruin the shapes. Uncle Man did not have the same issues. Beautiful paper swans and delicate silhouettes came to life under his big, rough hands.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Once we were done tearing the paper, it was time to unfold it. This has to be done very carefully because the paper is very fragile. Uncle Man said that paper cutting can teach us patience and confidence, and not to be afraid of our mistakes.

What surprised me was that paper tearing doesn’t have to be limited to just ordinary paper. Uncle Man showed us how to create a snowflake out of a tissue – which is much more difficult than creating one out of paper because a tissue is much harder to tear.

Uncle man believes tearing by hand creates better art than clean cutting with scissors.
Photo: K. Y. Cheng/SCMP

Seeing the beauty in flaws

I asked Uncle Man why he uses his hands to tear the paper rather than scissors. He told me that we’ve used our hands as tools to make art far longer than scissors and other tools have been around. Uncle Man also said that he prefers art pieces with rough edges, as he thinks that there is beauty in flaws.

I was really moved by Uncle Man’s passion for teaching people about paper craft, even though he doesn’t make a lot of money from it.

“We should look more at the things [that are] around us,” Uncle Man said. “They inspire us to make art.” I agree with him completely. Something like paper tearing, where we notice all the little details, is exactly what we busy city people need.

Cotrina Fung

Uncle Man teaches us that paper-craft is a little like living life

When we arrived at the studio of the King of Paper Craft, I was more than a little nervous.

But when Uncle Man greeted us, a wide-eyed, little old man with a pair of sunglasses on his head, he totally eased my fears about paper crafting.

I’m not artistic. When it comes to craftwork, I like to leave it to others to create something decent looking. Before the workshop started, I shared my worries with Uncle Man, but he wasn’t worried about my aptitude.

“It’s very easy,” he laughed. “Chill out!” I gave him a dubious look. I wasn’t convinced.

Uncle man gives Young Post a little gift!
Photo: K. Y. Cheng/SCMP

Patience and persistence

Uncle Man stressed that patience and persistence are what are needed when it comes to paper tearing. After teaching us how to fold the paper properly before tearing, Uncle Man managed to create a heart out of a small sheet of paper in less than a minute using his bare hands. Wow, I thought, how am I going to be able to create a heart? I can’t even cut in a straight line with a pair of scissors.

“Let me draft the heart shape for you. Then you can follow my draft and tear it out,” Uncle Man said.

He quickly doodled a heart onto the paper. Following the pattern drawn by him, I successfully tore a heart shape. Afterwards, Uncle Man got us to try without his draft. However, when I finished tearing my second piece of paper, I unfolded the paper and got a circle instead of a heart.

“Don’t be frustrated. Next time, you may get a heart,” Uncle Man assured me. I just laughed away my failed “heart” and continued to learn how to make other shapes.

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Crafting by ourselves

“You can make it by yourself, you don’t need help.” That was what I heard Uncle Man repeatedly tell people at the workshop. Although some may question whether his hands-off approach is actually effective, it worked for me and I felt like he trusted me enough to be able to tackle crafting.

Perhaps in encouraging people to create their own pieces of paper craft with all the flaws, Uncle Man is trying to give them the courage to embrace the difficulties in life that might lie ahead.

Courage in all he does

The way Uncle Man approaches art reminds me of a Franklin D. Roosevelt quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He has never assumed that there is a limit to his own potential. To Uncle Man, there is no such thing as a dead-end when it comes to paper tearing – when he found himself stuck trying to create the asymmetrical Chinese words for “success”, he just kept persevering until he managed it. This is the sort of determination that he brings to his paper-crafting lessons, inspiring people to overcome the fear of paper tearing and the fear of adversity in their lives.

Tracy Wong Ho-yan

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Paper-craft with Uncle Man


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