Art Activity

Making Matters – Chinese Handscroll

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Make Your Own Handscroll
Students will make their own handscroll that depicts daily life and modern activities such as games, books, television, etc.
This project can be scaled up or down according to grade level. For younger students, perhaps keep the activity simple by gluing 2 or 3 pieces of paper together with scenes from daily activities in the classroom.
For older students, have them think more deeply about social hierarchy and maybe even ask them to include a rebus puzzle (a picture representation of a name, work, or phrase) like the ones discussed in the accompanying handscroll video.
This project can be an individual or a group assignment.

After completing the activity, students will be able to:

  • Work with paper and color
  • Create a scroll that is both decorative and reveals something about everyday life
  • Make the connection between art and documenting a moment in time
  • Gain insight into the connections between leisure time in 16/17th century China and leisure time today


Have students watch Talking About Art: Scenes of Women of the Palace (video located at bottom of this page)

This painting is from China and was made sometime between the 16th-17th centuries. The painting depicts various activities of women who live and work in a palace in China. This very long painting on silk is called a handscroll. It is unclear if this painting was made for the women whom it depicts to view, or if it was a glimpse into the lives of women that otherwise was unseen by outsiders and would have gone untold. Handscrolls are typically unrolled from right to left, with only about twelve inches showing at one time. As it was unrolled to the left, the right section would be temporarily rolled. The painter’s design takes this stop-motion action into account. The design provides visual resting places as well as teasers to urge your eye forward. It is an early ancestor to today’s Instastories or Facebook posts.


Q: What activities were depicted in the scroll and what do they tell us about the lives of women in 16th-17th century China?

Q: When making a scroll about contemporary daily life, what activities would you like to include? Perhaps watching Netflix, making TikTok videos or Instastories, playing sports, etc?

Q: In this painting, the ladies are painted playing weiqi (better known by the Japanese name of go). In your contemporary scroll, what games would you include? Perhaps a role playing game, a video game, etc.? 


  • Paper (newsprint paper, beige construction paper, or really any paper available)
  • Glue
  • Pencil
  • Colored pencils, crayons, or acrylic paint
  • Optional: scissors and magazines, newspaper, and advertisements – to cut out images to include in the activities on the scroll
  • Optional: Fabric – for backing the paper to make it stronger an easier to roll
  • Optional: Tacky glue – for backing the paper to make it stronger an easier to roll


  • Watch Talking About Art: Scenes of Women of the Palace (video located at bottom of this page)
  • Ask students the engagement questions listed above (additional questions are provided in the slideshow below)
  • Have students decide how many activities they would like to depict (minimum of 3 and maximum of 9)
  • Make a list of the activities to include
  • Each activity can be on its own piece of paper
  • Once students have decided how many pieces of paper they need for their scroll, glue the paper together along the short edge of paper
  • Let the glue dry
  • Using a pencil, students will then draw the scenes and color them (remember, the action should move from right to left)
  • You can get creative and allow students to cut out images of game boards, book covers, snacks, etc. to glue into the activites
  • Optional: using tacky glue, glue the handscroll on top of a long strip of fabric. Do this by applying glue along the edges of the back of the paper forming a line as well as form a zig-zag pattern in the center of the paper. This helps strengthen the paper and enable easy rolling of the scroll


Have the students show their handscrolls to the class. Revealing sections at a time from right to left.
Ask the students to compare and contrast the style of the paintings and the activities being shown.
Were their common themes in these contemporary handscrolls of daily life?
How do they compare to the Chinese handscroll?

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