The Public Paperfolding History Project

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Last updated 7/12/2023


The Insect Cage

This page is being used to collect information about the designs known as Insect Cages which are occasionally mentioned in Chinese literature. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you. The information on this page was supplied by Xiaoxian Huang.



The passage from c1523 (see below) refers to paper folded into a 'bird cage shape', which suggests a cube, and the obvious candidate for such an insect cage is the Waterbomb design. However, there is no other evidence to support this possible identification. What we know of the history of the Waterbomb design suggests that it is originally a Western European design which became known in Japan after cross-fertilisation in 1876 and in China after the introduction of kindergarten education in 1903.

The earliest known clear mention of / diagrams for the Waterbomb from a Chinese source appear in 'Zhe zhi tu shuo' (Illustrated Paperfolding), compiled by Gui Shaolie, which was published in 1914, where it is called 'Firefly Lamp'. It also appears in 'Xu Zhe zhi tu shuo' (More Illustrated Paperfolding) by Yongxiang Shi, which was published in 1917 as 'Paper Ball'. This second book also contains diagrams for the Kettle which is referred to as an 'Insect Cage'. It is therefore clear that in the early 20th century the 'Waterbomb' and the 'Kettle' were being used in China as traps for insects , but this is not evidence that the same designs were known or used for a similar purpose at an earlier date.

There are alternative possibilities. Any kind of open topped box, for instance, turned upside down and laid on a table-top, perhaps one of cubical shape like the Sanbo, could have been used as an Insect Cage in the way described, in a manner reminiscent of the way that paper cones were once used in Western Europe.


The Evidence


There is a passage in a story in the book 'Hua ying ji' (or 'Flower Album'), a collection of short stories written by Tao Fu (1441~1523), which reads 'so use thin paper fold a square (or a cube) as bird cage shape catch a tick, a mosquito, a fly, a lice, a flea, put in cage inside put on table above ... occasionally see paper cage it's inside as if there's objects move take and reflect sun observe it so five insects in it' (translation by Xiaoxian Huang).