China

Through the Seasons / Craft Traditions

New Year’s Prints, Tianjin

“To get beautiful printed outlines, the carved lines must be fine. To use a knife as a pen to draw a nice line on a woodblock takes years of practice to achieve.” —Wang Wenda, woodblock carver

During Spring Festival, people hang New Year’s prints on doorways, walls, and other surfaces to bring good luck to their families, homes, and businesses. Among the best-known types are the Yangliuqing woodblock prints, named for a small town near Tianjin, eighty miles southeast of Beijing. The bright colors, graceful lines, and traditional subjects of the Yangliuqing print tradition date back to the sixteenth century. Today the tradition is preserved by the Yangliuqing Fine Arts Press, where the three Festival participants work. The process includes outlining, carving, printing, and applying additional color with a fine brush. It may take a group of artists forty days to complete one print.

FESTIVAL PARTICIPANTS

The Yangliuqing Fine Arts Press in Tianjin is a state-owned company with more than fifty craftsmen working on different parts of the New Year's printmaking process. Three of those craftsmen participated in the Festival: Chen Yuhua 陈玉华, painter; Gao Yan 高筵, outliner; and Wang Wenda 王文达, carver.

Gao Yan has been with the company since 2008. He specializes in creating the outline of the image on thin sheets of rice paper, which are then adhered to the woodblock and used as the guide for carving. Chen Yuhua has worked in the company for more than twenty years, specializing in hand-painting additional color to the images after they have been printed. Wang Wenda, who has been with the company for more than fifty years, is a senior carver who cuts the images from the woodblocks. He was designated in 2006 as a national-level representative bearer of intangible cultural heritage by the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

from the Festival

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Click to enlarge and view captions

Gao Yan outlines a picture on rice paper. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

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Wang Wenda takes a break from carving a woodblock. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

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Chen Yuhua specializes in hand-painting additional color to the New Year’s prints after they have been printed. Photo by Josh Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution