Before we look at the origins of what paper is, let’s ask ourselves what is paper anyway. Well by definition what qualifies as the paper is thin sheets of fiber that have been macerated until each filament becomes a separate unit. Contrary to what most people believe what we refer to as Papyrus, Parchment, and Rice Paper.
Although we find that in ancient paper history Papyrus sheets were used as paper; in actuality what we know as Papyrus is made from a family of aquatic plants known as Cyperus Papyrus.
This plant is from the Sedge family of plants. Papyrus for writing on was prepared by cutting the woody stems of the Cyperus Papyrus plant with a knife into thin board sheets which were then pasted together much like lamented wood.
Rice Paper is made from strips that come from the pith of what is called the Rice Paper Tree. The Rice Paper Tree is a small Asiatic Tree or shrub called Tetrapanax Papyriferum. Tetrapanax Papyriferum is widely cultivated throughout China and Japan.
To make Rice Paper the pith of the Tetrapanax Papyriferum is cut into a thin ivory textured layer with a knife. So in reality, what is defined as the paper is neither Papyrus or Rice Paper and a “correct definition” depends on how it was prepared. The same is true in regards to Parchment and Vellum which is made by processing animal skins.
On the other hand paper as we know it today was first made in China in 105 AD by a Eunuch named Ts’ai Luned. In 105 AD paper was made at that time from macerated vegetable fibers that were made thin, feted and formed into flat sheets. Before the third century in China paper graduated to being made with cloth bark from trees that were disintegrating as well as mulberry hemp and Chinese grass.
Later on Marco Polo who went to China gave a description of Chinese paper making in his writings. He made note that the Chinese Emperor “jealously” guarded the paper making secrets. He also wrote that fine paper was made in China from such vegetable fiber materials as rice or tea straw, bamboo canes and hemp rag cloth.
So in retrospect those things in ancient times that were written on such as Papyrus, Rice Paper and Parchment were not paper because they were not made from macerated vegetation which paper is still made from today. Paper today is made from pulp from the wood of trees which is in keeping with its earlier forms of what true paper was and is.