Paper lanterns are beautiful decorative lanterns originally made of rice or silk paper, covering a light source. Paper lanterns produce soft light compared to the traditional lamps in homes, and are mostly used for decorative purposes. As a light source and as decoration, paper lanterns have been popular for 2000 years. They were first made in China during the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 200 BCE to roughly 200 CE. They also became widely popular in Japan under the reign of Prince Shotoku in the 7th century CE, who made tremendous strides toward incorporating Chinese culture and invention into Japanese life. Due to the thin covering used to make paper lanterns, when lit they are very beautiful, especially when they are colored. They may also carry designs, paintings or screens that show up brilliantly under a light source. The only color not traditionally used in making paper lanterns is white, the color of mourning in many Asian cultures. Though white paper lanterns glow luminously, they are not considered celebratory.
Paper lanterns exhibit various shapes and sizes. A common design is the ball or globe design, which holds its spherical shape by being stretched over strips of bamboo. It is very unusual today to see paper lanterns that hold candles, unless the paper used is flame resistant. It’s simply too easy for them to catch on fire, otherwise. In most cases, the paper lantern has an insert for light bulbs. The can be either battery powered, or connected on a string that has a central plug.