Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao, Post #2 Starting with the Finished Size

by Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan

This is a continuation of Part 1

The most valuable information I have found on the Zhen Xian Bao resides in this book, A Little Known Chinese Folk Art, Zhen Xian Bao by Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan. This book, hands down, gave me the most insight into the nature of the structure, however, it does NOT contain step-by-step instructions on how to construct the Zhen Xian Bao. For Ruth’s how-to manuals, click on the link to her email embedded in my first post about this structure. I don’t have Ruth’s how-books, but, judging from what’s been written by people she has taught, from the photos in the book, and what I already know about paper-folding, with an overlay of my way of understanding things, I offer here a way of beginning.

Zhen Xian Bao, belonging to Jane Paterson, source https://barleybooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/abcd-mapping/
Zhen Xian Bao, belonging to Jane Paterson, source https://barleybooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/abcd-mapping/

The one consistent feature I’ve seen, which I’d say is a defining feature of the Zhen Xian Bao, is that it is based on a double square, which is a 2 x 1 rectangle.Here in silhouette, is how its top three kinds of enclosures fit together:


The shapes above represent larger sheets of papers which have been folded down to become smaller shapes. Unfolding the shapes reveal layered inner compartments.

Being able to determine the size of the final folded structure while still making the various pieces fit together just right is what I will be writing about.

It’s important to note that there is no one way to make this: it’s a tradition of folding that has evolved differently in many different locations in China. However, with a basic understanding of the underlying origami folds, variations have a consistency that differ only in details.

Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao
Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao
page 46 of Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao
page 46 of Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao

These are my two favorite pages of Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan’s book. On page 44 Ruth Smith writes that the woman making the zhen xian bao doesn’t use measuring equipment, rather she makes judgements by eye, referencing her old zhen xian bao “to check the size of each new section and make adjustments as necessary.” The man shown on page 46 measures “the length he needed with the span from his thumb to his index finger plus the length of his index finger to the second knuckle.”

We will be using neither of these methods.

What was interesting to me about figuring out measurements is that using the traditional measuring tool, the ruler, is really truly not preferable. It is much easier to make a template of a square, which is then folded in half on the diagonal. It’s the measurement of this diagonal that is key to making properly sized pieces. Here’s how to make a square that can be any size that you choose. Even if you never make the zhen xian bao, this paper-folding method of making a square is way cool.

The template square that I make will be the width that I want the side panel to be.

 Start with a random rectangle, but, rather using standard weight copy paper, it’s helpful to use something a bit thicker.


Fold the short edge of the rectangle down to meet the adjacent edge, as shown. The reason to do this is to create a diagonal line the divides the lower left-hand corner in half.


Open up the paper. Use a pencil to make a mark on the paper that defines how wide you want the width of a panel of your zhen xian bao to be.


Now here’s the part that is wonderful, surprising and magical: to make a perfect square fold up the lower corner of the paper, lining up the point of the corner on to the diagonal line, creating a triangle whose lower point meets the mark that you made with your pencil.


Use your pencil again to define the edges of that folded-over triangle.


Unfold the paper, cut on the pencil line. This resulting square is a measuring template. TWICE the length of the diagonal of the square will be used to determine the size of the six squares needed to make the first eight boxes of the zhen xian bao. Yes, I said 6 squares to make 8 boxes. This is how that goes…

Spoiler alert: I am not going to include the instructions to make the boxes in this post. I recommend, however, that you learn how to make a masu box so well that you can do it easily. This is a well documented structure. Here, I’ve got a Pinterest board that can link you to tutorials and videos of the masu box. Go, get really good at making this.


My next step is find a piece of paper to that will become my paper measuring template. I mark twice the length of square’s diagonal on to this paper.


Using this measurement of twice the length of the diagonal, I make four squares, shown here on the left. Sorry, they don’t look like squares because of the distortion created by the camera, but, really, they are squares. On the right, though, there are two pieces of paper that are the same width as the squares on the left, but a bit, I’d say about a 1/2 inch taller than the squares. I will be folding away this extra height in the next step.


What I am looking for here is to have two squares that have an extending folded edge. I’ve put the two squares perpendicular to each other to determine exactly where the fold should be, then I fold the paper, flip the papers over and fold the other piece. This might sound complicated but doing it just feels like common sense.


 Next, these two square with the extended tab arare divided in half so that I have 4 rectangles that are twice as tall as they are wide.


Here’s the paper for the first eight boxes. The big squares will make the masu box, the rectangles will create a twist box. It may be a while before I make the next post, so if you are following this in real-time, I recommend that you become an expert at making a masu box. I will eventually be posting a variation of this box for the Zhen Xian Bao, but if you already know the basic structure you’ll breeze right through learning the variation that I will show.

Twist Box Disasters
Twist Box Disasters

On the other hand, the twist box is a bit trickier. I haven’t found any great directions that I can point you to make a twist box. My early attempts at learning this box ended in disaster. After days of frustration, I finally figured out what I think is the best, easiest, and most satisfying way to make a twist box. It will likely be at least a couple of weeks before I can get to making the tutorial for the twist box, but it will be worth waiting for.


In the meantime SAVE ALL YOUR PIECES, including the original square template and the larger template. You will need them repeatedly.

See you later.

Addendum: directions for making the top layer box are now posted at https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/zhen-xian-bao-post-3-twist-box-for-top-layer/

5 thoughts on “Zhen Xian Bao, Post #2 Starting with the Finished Size

    1. yeah, this has it all!!! Didn’t explicitly talk about the square root of 2 ratio in the post,it’s the use of this ratio that makes this structure so suited to using templates instead of rulers.


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