New year picture
New Year picture is an image carrier of the Spring Festival culture.
Fish Changed into Dragon, a New Year picture of Yang Liuqing, Tianjing, in Qing Dynasty_CraftChina

In China, by the close of the year, New Year pictures are pasted in many places to add auspicious atmosphere. As an age-old art, New Year pictures give expressions to the lifestyle and features of the people, their sentiments and aesthetic tastes. New Year pictures fall into three types in terms of working process: prints, carved paper and paper drawn. Prints mainly refer to ancient woodcut print. The working process includes primarily drawing draft, sketching outline, woodcutting, making plates, printing, painting and framing. Carved paper refers to carving patterns on paper, which gives a fine and vivid picture. Paper drawn, or gray put, refers to a special craft in which the artists use charcoal sticks to draw draft of lines, and then put drawing paper on the draft, by applying willow branch burning ash on it and copy, a few copies can be produced from each draft. To produce a beautiful painting, a set of processed have to be followed including coloring, lining in black, opening the facial features, rinsing hand, etc. “Gray put” pictures began to surface during the Chenghua Period (1465-1487) and became influential later on. The Japanese ukiyoe had assimilated the essence of the techniques of gray put.

The New Year Pictures originated from the door-god just like the spring couplets. According to the book Du Duan by Cai Yi (132-192) of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the pictures of Shen Tu and Yu Ler, two gods guarding the gateway to the high spirits were passed on the doors of the ordinary people. It was said that when Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty fell ill, he heard ghosts and monsters wail outside his sleeping quarters which disturbed his sleep all through the night. Knowing this, the two senior generals, Qin Shubao and Wei Chigong, offered to stand guard at the royal palace, one holding a sword, and the other two iron staffs. Later on, the emperor had the picture of these two generals drawn and pasted them on the palate gate. Since then, the custom of pasting door gods spread among the people. One is Qin Shubao, white faced with phoenix eyes, holding two maces; the other is Wei Chigong, black faced with round eyes, holding double iron-staffs.


When printing block carving craft was created in the Song Dynasty, woodcut print made much improvement. New Year pictures henceforth started to develop ever increasingly in both functions and contents. At first, the subject matters were mostly talismans to obviate evil spirits, and then auspiciousness, longevity, blessings, etc. were added to express fine wished for the coming year. At the same time, folk tales, stories were included, depicting real life of ordinary farmers. The earliest extant New Year picture is the “Picture of Four Peerless Beauties” of the Southern Song Dynasty, the four beauties referring to Wang Zhaojun, Ban Ji, Lv Zhu and Zhan Feiyan, who are known to every household.


In the dynasties of Ming and Qing, artists ere keen on New Year picture drawing. The themes used cover jubilation, evil exorcising, customs, scenery, flower-and-bird, court ladies on spring outing, etc. In the last years of Ming Dynasty, New Year pictures has become a genre of painting. Since the prosperous period of Qianlong and Jiaqing, three major centers of New Year pictures gradually came into being: Tianjin Yangliuqing, Shanghai Weifang, Yangjiabu and Jiangsu Suzhou Tahohuawu.


Yangliuqing New Year pictures stared from the last years of Ming Dynasty and prospered from the Yongzheng (1723-1735) to the Guangxu (1875-1908) reign. Yangliuqing  New Year pictures depict a wide variety of themes of which the most typical includes “Busy Farming,” “Lantern Festival Celebration,” “Autumn River Night Crossing,” “Visiting Old Acquaintance,” “New Year More Auspicious, Family Reunion Fully Comfortable,” etc. The front-end process of Yangliuqing pictures is similar to other woodcut pictures, including writing draft, dividing plates, carving plates, process printing, painting, framing, etc. The later stage work manifests distinctive local features in that stresses are laid on hand painting, and that the carving skills are ingeniously merged with brushwork in painting, making the two arts complement each other.


Yangliuqing woodcut New Year pictures, starting from the last years of Ming Dynasty and flourishing in Qing Dynasty, has a history of over four hundred years. It was in the prime in the Qianlong reign. At that time, the Yangliuqing Village was known as having “hundred picture shops, thousand picture types and ten thousand printing plates,” with dozens of million pictures sold annually, well matched with Tianjin Yangliuqing and Suzhou Taohuawu. Yangjiabu pictures feature lively story, exquisite ornament and lasting appeal, suited to public tasted and convenient in printing as well.


Taohuawu woodcut New Year pictures are chief folk woodcut pictures in the region south of the Yangtze, so named because the pictures are produced in a place called Taohuawu in the northern outskirts of Suzhou. In the Hongzhi Period (1488-1505) of Ming Dynasty, the artist Tang Yin (1470-1523) built a cottage named Taohua Hut, hence the name Taohuawu. Taohuawu  New Year pictures originated from the carving pringting craft in the Song Dynasty, derived from embroidered portraits. It developed into a genre of folk arts in the Ming Dynasty and flourished in the reign of Yongzheng and Qianlong. The pictures feature symmetric composition, resplendent coloring, diversified themes including tales, dramas, social etiquettes, current affairs, news beauties, babies, even kitchen god, holy horsed, etc


Happy Farmers, a New Year picture of Yangliuqing_CraftChina