The Public Paperfolding History Project

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Multiple Layer Collapsible Boxes (Zhen Xian Bao)

This page attempts to record what is known about the history of Multiple Layer Collapsible Boxes aka, in Mandarin, as Zhen Xian Bao) / Chinese Sewing Kits / Thread Books. 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.

As the name suggests, Multiple Layer Collapsible Boxes are made from multiple layers of collapsible boxes, of various kinds, each successive layer being made of smaller boxes than the one below. The layers are generally glued together. In the finished design each of the collapsible boxes can be opened independently. The top layer of boxes are sometimes of a more complex, decorative design.

Multiple Layer Collapsible Boxes are mostly known through surviving examples. Survivals are always difficult to date with any degree of accuracy, even when they occur with other artifacts.


In China (and in publications by Chinese authors)

Chinese Zhen Xian Bao were first brought to the attention of the paperfolding community in an article in British Origami 280 of June 2013 by Ruth Smith which can be read in full here.

The article states that 'Such paper containers form part of the traditional needlework equipment used by minority groups such as the Miao, Dong and Yao, to produce their elaborate festival dress and are ingeniously crafted and decorated in distinct local styles. They first came to the attention of visitors to the remote farming communities in the mountainous Province of Guizhou, southwest China in the 1990’s.'

A photograph (see below) in the article shows that the top layer of boxes are Twist Boxes.

However, the article goes onto say that 'The zhen xian bao tradition is much more widespread that was first thought. In 2009 Chris Hall, well known in the textile world for his extensive collection of Chinese Imperial pieces and unusual items, extended our area of research by alerting us to a style of zhen xian bao said to come from northern China. The three Han Chinese examples in his collection were similar in construction to those found in Guizhou Province, but the top pockets were quite different. I call these ‘star fold’ pockets, because of the distinctive pattern produced.' ('Star fold' pockets are known on this site as 'Chrysanthemum Boxes'.)

Ruth Smith subsequently wrote a book 'A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao' which was published by Occidor in 2012. I have not seen a copy of this book.



As far as I am aware the only surviving example of an old Zhen Xian Bao that can be dated with any degree of accuracy is an example acquired from France in 2015 by Joan Sallas for the collection of the Padore library. A letter accompanying the Zhen Xian Bao states that it was made in Paris by Laurent Sui as a gift for Madame Burgot. The letter is dated 28th August 1866. In this case the top layer of boxes are Chrysanthemum Boxes.


In Japan (and in books by Japanese authors

'Oru Kokoro', the catalogue of an exhibition on paperfolding history held in Tatsuno City History and Culture Museum in 1999 contains several illustrations of Muliple Layer Collapsible Box designs from Japan. No specific dating information is given but these appear to probably be from the Meiji period (1868 - 1912)