Monday, January 30, 2012

Folding Thnee Kong Kim

For the Jade Emperor's Birthday celebration on the 9th day of the Chinese New Year, one of the symbolic offerings is the burning of joss paper for the Jade Emperor. The use of the large gold stamped joss paper know as the god of heaven's joss paper (天公金) has become a must for those who prays to the Jade Emperor on his birthday. This joss paper can be folded into different shapes and also stacked and crafted into beautiful joss paper pineapples; some of them so large and beautiful that you can't help but feel that it is a waste for the pineapple to end up in smoke at the end of the ceremony.

As a child, I have always enjoyed folding thnee kong kim. It is like the run-up to the Jade Emperor's Birthday celebration; gets you all hyped up for the big day. There are two basic design of joss gold ingot (金元宝) used as a symbolic offering to the Jade Emperor, one that looks like a boat-shaped ingot with a very long keel, which you open out and tuck the keel into one of the sides (though most people do not push the keel in) and another that you 'pull' open to make it look like the shape of a Chinese gold ingot. For the 'pulled' type gold ingots, smaller versions can be made from the same sized joss paper and are merely paper size reductions and variant folding methods.

The joss paper used is the large, somewhat squarish joss paper that has the three lucky stars - the God of Prosperity, Longevity and Authority in the middle and either a patch of gold in the center or like what I have gotten this year, the entire paper covered in gold-like foil. The back of the joss paper is plain, with nothing printed on it.

This joss paper offering, like the food offering, is symbolic. It is like a silent prayer to God of your heart's wishes without having to say it out loud. For example, offering tortoise buns is like saying "I wish for a long and peaceful life", and joss money says "Bless me with good fortune" as you cannot burn real money (firstly it is a waste, and secondly, money was made from metal in the olden days; you will need a kiln to melt it!). Be careful with burning a truckload of joss money for it might send the message that I am a greedy b@s†@rd to the Big Boss up there!!

Here is a step by step guide to fold the 'pulled' type joss gold ingot. I will post a video of the steps when I get to editing the video.

Step 1
Fold the paper into two equal halves, making sure you divide the God of Prosperity into half lengthwise (his left eye touches his right eye when you fold the paper together). Do NOT fold him into half and make his head meet his crotch - this is the folding for the boat-type joss gold ingot. Fold each section again into halves, thus dividing the paper into four lengthwise sections with three creases.
This is a piece of thnee kong kim. Fold it in half right down the center by bringing the two sides together.
Then fold the paper again by bringing the edge to the center crease. Do the same for the other side.

Step 2
Fold the end corners into the paper, forming a pointed end. Do the same for the other end. You will end up with a rectangular shape with two triangular ends.
Fold the corners in up to the 'middle line'. You will get the blue coloured crease line as shown in the picture. Shown here is the 'inside' of the joss paper.
This is the same paper, but viewed from the 'exposed' side with the three lucky stars.

Step 3
Determine the 'exposed' side of the joss paper. This is the side with the three lucky stars - the God of Prosperity, Longevity and Authority. You now fold the paper in the middle, hiding the 'exposed' side. From this step on, you are working on the inner part of the joss gold ingot.
Shown here is the inside face of the joss paper. Make the two pointy ends meet by folding over to cover the 'exposed' side.
This is the 'exposed' side of the joss paper. When you bring the two pointy ends together, you will be 'hiding' this side for the time being and you should it looking like the next picture.
This is what you should get at the end of step 3. The blue lines are where you should fold in the flaps in the next step.

Step 4
Fold in one of the sides with a width of about 2cm. Do the same for the other side, making sure that the two folded flaps are as similar in terms of width as possible.
This is how the paper should look like after folding in the flaps on both sides.

Step 5
Now it gets a little trickier. Open the flap, and by pressing on the bottom tab to form a pocket, fold one side of the flap over. This holds the paper in the gold ingot shape when opened later. Do the same for the other side, making sure that the bottom pocket formed are leveled and you can draw an imaginary horizontal line across the top of the bottom pocket.
Press the 'bottom flap' open and fold the flaps over the side (light blue arrows), and tuck one flap on each side (facing side and back). Do the same for the other side (dark blue arrows).
When the side flaps are opened up, make sure that the top end of the 'bottom pocket' can form an imaginary horizontal line connecting the two pockets (broken green line).

Step 6
Fold the pointed end of the paper down, the crease is at the imaginary line made by the top end of the bottom pocket. Do the same for the other flap on the other side, making sure that the you have creased both the folds strongly.
Fold the pointy flap foward and downwards, making a crease (blue line) where the top part of the 'bottom pocket' was. Do the same for the other flap on the other side and make sure that the crease at the imaginary line is done clearly. You will need it to get a good gold ingot shape at the end of the process.
Make sure that both sides have strong creases at where the green broken line is. Once you have done that, fold over one of the flaps, and that would reveal the 'exposed' side as in the following picture.

Step 7
You are now working with the 'exposed' side on the outside, indicating that you are almost done. Fold the paper down the middle crease, which was the first one that was made in the folding process. Make sure both sides are aligned and the the two ends have pointed forms.
Fold the joss paper down along the center crease that was the first fold made in the very first step. Try to align the tips and make sure that both halves are like a mirror image of the other. Your joss paper should look like the next picture below.

Step 8
To open the joss paper into the ingot shape, either hold near to the center crease (but not locking onto the inner flap) and gently pull it apart and downwards or, place your fingers underneath and ease the two halves apart. With a few finishing strokes to make sure that the joss paper opens fully, you get you joss paper gold ingot.
Hold a the two ends (indicated by the blunt end of the blue arrow) and pull the two sides apart and downwards.
Gently ease the paper open to prevent the center section from tearing. You might still need to use your fingers and push the paper back along the creases and folds to ensure that it takes on the Chinese gold ingot shape.
And...voila! Now you can 'make money' lol!

Here's a video of me folding the Thnee Kong Kim. Thanks to Jessica Henshall for shooting it for me.

It is that simple to fold the joss paper gold ingot for the Jade Emperor. You can use plain, coloured paper or gold coloured paper to fold it and use it as a decoration (hint - make it smaller and fill plain glass bottles with it).

UPDATE : Click here to read on how to fold the Boat-type Thnee Kong Kim, posted for the 2013 Chinese New Year.


  1. This looks like the folded ones that I buy. I don't know how to fold this pattern. Mine are shaped like ingots and monk's hat. This year I bought a book to learn some new techniques and my daughter successfully made a pair of pineapples. Happy Valentine's Day today!

    1. This is easy to fold. The monks hat is the one that I call a boat; you need to use two sheets to make one ingot by gluing the edges together. Wow, a pineapple! I've always wanted to try that. Hope your Valentine's Day was good.

  2. That is a good step by step instruction.

    1. Thanks. Though I got to put up the video. It is easier to see how it is done and then learn how to fold it. I sometimes do it with RM 1 notes, hehe. Been busy ever since after CNY, so the blogging slows down :-p

  3. how to use wishing joss paper in chinese new year? send me an email at Xiexie ni

    1. As used traditionally, the joss paper is a form of offering to deities, thus the offering of gold means that you are wishing for wealth without having to explicitly say it out in words. So most of us would give it a few shakes (with the palms folded like in prayer) in front of the deity or altar and burn it off. There is of course nothing that stops you from saying a word of two like "May I be blessed with good luck etc" and directing the thought to Heaven/deity etc before burning it, but I must say, using it as wishing paper is a very New Age thingy.