Woodprint New Year paintings still a thriving business in Tianjin

Woodprint New Year paintings still a thriving business in Tianjin

Yangliuqing’s tradition of producing New Year paintings dates back more than 600 years to the Yuan Dynasty. Today, it remains one of two Chinese towns that specialise in the artform.

TIANJIN: Huo Shuqing’s family has been making traditional woodprint New Year paintings for seven generations.

The process of creating these paintings include drawing, carving woodcut types, making ink rubbings from the types, colouring and finally mounting.

Mr Huo specialises in adding colour to the rubbings and he has been doing it for 25 years. He maintains that colouring is the toughest part of the process.


Huo Shuqing's family has been making traditional woodcut New Year paintings for seven generations. (Photo: Jeremy Koh)

"After all the preliminary work is done, after the wood is carved, it’s fixed and you don’t have to touch it. But colouring is different because there isn’t a fixed format, there isn’t a sample, so it’s entirely based on your experience, which is why it’s very difficult,” said Mr Huo.

He is based in Yangliuqing, a town in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin where imperial families procured their New Year paintings during ancient times.


Yangliuqing in Tianjin is famous for its traditional woodcut New Year paintings. (Photo: Jeremy Koh)

Yangliuqing’s tradition of producing New Year paintings date back to more than 600 years ago to the Yuan Dynasty.

Today, there are two leading towns that specialise in woodcut New Year paintings in China – Yangliuqing and Taohuawu which is located at the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.

Mr Huo said: “The Taohuawu New Year paintings are based on woodblock printing, which means that craftmen put all the colours on a wood carving before using it to print on areas that require colours. But for Yangliuqing New Year paintings ... most of us do woodblock painting for only three colours. The rest are painted by hand.”
The paintings are renowned for their vivid colours as well as its auspicious and festive themes.

And customers like Fan Dongyan and her husband would travel for hours to Yangliuqing to buy these paintings.

Ms Fan, who comes from Shandong province, bought two pieces for US$43 (S$61).


It's important to keep China's cultural heritage alive, says a traveller who purchased two paintings. (Photo: Jeremy Koh)

She said: “It’s getting more and more important to preserve China’s cultural heritage. So while many Chinese are travelling abroad, I think they should also notice some of our folk culture that is disappearing.”

In 2006, the State Council listed the Yangliuqing New Year paintings as an intangible cultural heritage, giving artists an impetus to pick it up.

Hao Guifen, the Director of the Tianjin Folk Artists Association told Channel NewsAsia: “Before it was listed as an intangible cultural heritage, the Yangliuqing New Year paintings were on a decline, which means there weren’t many people doing it. But after that, some former artists started picking it up again, and the younger generation also started to learn how to do it.”

While this means more competition for the artists, the Chinese people can be optimistic that this traditional folk art will not disappear anytime soon.

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Source: CNA/am