The lobby of the Maple City Cultural Center was crowded with people on the afternoon of January 1. A Canadian Youth Paper Cutting Competition was being held here. All contestants got busy when the organizer declared the theme of the competition to be “prosperity for all the years to come.”
Niu Ben, an honors sophomore majoring in computer software engineering at the University of Waterloo, was the first to get his paper cut done. Both the quality of his work and the time it took caught the judges by surprise. All other contestants, except for several who failed to complete the project, turned in their work in the last few seconds of the allotted 30 minutes. In the end, all five judges rated his work 100%.
Chairman Wu of the competition review committee walked on stage to display the awarded work, a circular window pattern featuring two chubby kids, a boy and a girl, each holding a leaping red carp in their arms symbolizing joy and an uplifting spirit.
Just then, one of the contestants in the audience suddenly raised his hand. Chairman Wu immediately stopped and motioned him to speak.
“I’m Ma Chi,” the young man stood up and said, “I happened to see something fishy about Niu Ben’s scissors that causes me to suspect that it’s attached with an electronic device. Would that be considered cheating?”
“Contestants are required to use their own scissors and paper-cutting knives. No other specific requirements apply.” Niu Ben immediately rose to his feet and responded gently.
“Please answer my question directly. Did you have an electronic device on your scissors or not?”
Niu Ben nodded his head. “I did resort to an AI app that I developed personally to increase efficiency. I’m currently in the process of getting it patented.”
The response sparked off a storm. Chairman Wu looked stunned, and the other judges were at a loss what to do as well.
“Please be quiet, ladies and gentlemen! My name is Niu Jianguo, Niu Ben’s grandfather. Now that this has happened, we need to figure out a solution. For the sake of fairness, I suggest that Chairman Wu give him another chance by having him cut a new work in a different theme using Ma Chi’s tools,” a senior in the back row rose from his seat and said in a loud voice.
Niu Ben and Ma Chi nodded in assent. The five judges also agreed to the proposal upon consultation. Chairman Wu beckoned the two young men to the stage. Niu Ben strode quickly upstage while Ma Chi followed with his scissors and a paper-cutting knife in hand.
Chairman Wu knit his eyebrows and came up with an idea. “How about a papercut on the theme of ‘Chang’e flying to the moon?’”
Niu Ben immediately went to work. Within about a dozen minutes, he skillfully produced a picture on the required theme plus four Chinese characters in running strokes, namely, Zhong Qiu Jia Jie (Mid-Autumn Festival).
The five judges all gave him thumbs-up. “You are a true winner!” Chairman Wu said excitedly.
Ma Chi took the lead clapping, followed by waves of loud applause.
“May I ask if you’re from Foshan, Guangdong Province?” When the crowd started leaving, a middle-aged man charged forward and asked Niu Jianguo. Niu said yes and the man became excited. “Then you must be the paper cut king that I know! I was your student for a couple of weeks 20 years ago,” he said.
“Sorry, I don’t recall that,” Niu Jianguo tapped his head and said, “’cause I had hundreds of students in Foshan back then. Here in Canada I have only taught my grandson over the last decade.”
“No wonder your grandson is so good! He must have mastered the essence of your craftsmanship!” The man said as he gave a thumb-up.
“Like teacher, like student! You are a papercut king for real!” Chairman Wu said.
“That title should be conferred on the younger generation now. With the help of IA, the prospect of the papercut art is immeasurable!” Niu Jianguo pointed to his grandson and said.
“AI, not IA,” Niu Ben said.
“Whatever you call it,” Niu Jianguo nodded his head and said, “Papercut as a traditional art form will have to be inherited and boosted by you young people through the use of high technology.”
“May I have the honor of appointing you consultant of our papercut association? We want you to be on board to promote this intangible cultural heritage,” Chairman Wu said.
“You mean an old man like me still has a role to play?” Niu Jianguo said laughing.
“In this day and age, 70 is just the beginning, 90 is not a rarity, and 100 is a possibility!” Chairman Wu said.
“All right then. I’ll take that offer. It will be a good opportunity for me to promote Foshan paper cutting which began in the Song Dynasty,” Niu Jianguo said heartily.
“I want to join the association too,” the middle-aged man said ecstatically, “I want to be Mr. Niu’s student again!”
“Is there any age limit for joining the association?” Niu Jianguo asked.
“Well, from 3 to 80. All qualify!” Chairman Wu said.
“Looks like I need to work harder from now on, ’cause I want to be the next papercut king!” Niu Ben who stood beside whispered to himself clenching his fists.
Selected from Chinese Flash Fiction, complied by China Flash Fiction Society, and published by New World Press.