Wu Qiang New Year Painting
Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the longest and most important holiday for Chinese people. It is usually celebrated from the eighth day of the twelfth month to the fifteenth of the first month (lantern festival), by Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, from the 23rd to the 27th of the twelfth lunar month, every family cleans and paints their houses and does New Year shopping. In rural China, hanging New Year paintings is a must. Bought from the market,New Year picturesare hanged on every important spots of the house-the gete, rooms, the kitchen, the storehouse, the well, and the stable. Portraits of village god and kitchen got are usually pasted up on niched to express people's wishes for peace and happiness. For average Chinese farmers, hanging New Year paintings bring about unusual festive joy and delight to them.
Many provinces in China are known for their distinctive New Year paintings, from northern Hebei, Shangdong, Henan and Tianjin, to southern Shandong, Henan and Tianjin, to southern Guangdong and Fujian, from eastern Jiangsu to western Shaanxi and Sichuan. Among them, the painting genre from Wuqiang County, Hebei Province enjoys a long history, diversified styles and widespread reputation.
Woodprint New Year painting from Wuqiang is noted as one of China's seven major New Year painting genres. The other six are from Taohuawu of Jiangsu,Yangliuqingof Tianjin, Mianzhu of Sichuan, Yangjiabu of Shandong, Zhuxianzhen of Henan and Foshanof Guangdong.
First appearing in the Han Dynasty(206 BC-220 AD), Chinese New Year painting became widespread during the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1127) and enjoyed its heydays during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911). Wuqiang New Year painting emerged 500 years ago. Folk artists first painted each picture and later block print was applied to the creation. During the period from 1662 to 1820, Wuqiang was one of the largest sources of woodprint New Year painting in the north. There were 144 shops in the town dealing with New Year painting and thousands of farmers in the surrounding 40 villages painting in their workshops. The largest four shops even set up some 160 outlets across the country, selling paintings to a dozen of provinces. The largest annual output of Wuqiang paintings reached some 100 million pieces, accounting for one third of the country's total.
Traditional Wuqiang painting creation includes three procedures-painting, carving and printing, all handmade. Wuqiang genre features vivid structures, bold brushworks, strong coloring, decorative patterns, and simple scenes but single highlighted themes. Its lines are steady and natural, giving prominence to plainness and antiquity. Its coloring, usually featuring one single color, is simple but full of change. The passionate and harmonious coloring creates a joyful festive atmosphere.
In the first painting stage, the craftsman puts a piece of thin, white paper on the original sample painting and copies it by ink brushwork. Then he sticks the copy painting to the prepared wood board, which should be smooth and hard. The most suitable type is an indigenous timber called Dumu. Before he sticks the painting, he usually pastes sesame oil on the board to increase clarity of brushworks and softness of the board.
In the second carving stage, the craftsman carves lines on the wood board, which should be straight and deep to resist wear and tear. Usually, three additional sample print boards should be made in red, yellow and blue respectively.
In the third printing stage, the craftsman pastes paper on sample boards for print, first black board, then red, pink, yellow, blue and light blue in a row.
Wuqiang New Year painting is a folk art of a farming society. Its subjects, contents and forms all feature strong rural and natural styles. In light with different rural surroundings, diversified New Year styles are created to be pasted in different spots.
For instance, oil light painting is a distinctive style of Wuqiang New Year painting. Made by woodprint and powder paper, the painting is usually pasted on a square-shaped oil light stand. Oil light painting often derives its subjects from Chinese opera stories. Portraits in oil light painting are well structured, exquisitely dressed and boldly colored, representing the peak of Wuqiang New Year painting.
In creating portraits for oil light paintings, painters usually take sketches in the opera theatre. In order to attract more customers, painters do everything to make innovations, such as adding blessings and lantern riddles.
The subjects of Wuqiang New Year painting come from many sources. Some paintings depict good harvests and happy life, such as "A Good Harvest", "Heavy Snow Forecasts A Good Harvest", "Good Luck in the New Year", "Prosperity for Generations to Come" and "Blessing Baby Birth". Some depict warding off evils and ghosts, such as "Zhongkui Conquering Ghosts", "Gate God" and "Tiger". Some reflect daily life and teaches people to be kind and hardworking, such as "Busy Housewife", "Busy Farmers", "Happy Fishermen". There are also styles depicting legends, myths, history and opera stories, such as "Romance of the Three Kingdom", "Defeating the Heavenly Gate Formation", "the Legend of the White Snake" and "Lady Chang'er Heading for the Moon".
Apart from paintings for spring festival, there are also styles for other traditional holidays. During the dragon boat festival, people usually drink medicine wines and wear herbal bags to ward off evils and poisonous insects. They also buy New Year paintings with contents related to conquering evils and ghosts to offer blessings for families.
Many old Wuqiang New Year paintings have been destroyed and lost because of wars and disasters. During the first and second world wars, some valuable pieces were lost overseas and now they are collected in foreign museums such as British Museum in London, Oriental Arts Museum in the former Soviet Union, San Francisco Museum in USA and Tokyo Museum in Japan. In order to better protect and collect masterpieces of Wuqiang New Year painting, the country's first museum for New Year painting was set up in 1985 and a society for the study of woodprint New Year painting was established.
In recent years, the age-old art Wuqiang New Year painting has enjoyed unprecedented development. While maintaining the traditional woodprint and silk print techniques, new technologies have been applied to speed up standard, high quality production of paintings. It is believed that the new generation of Wuqiang New Year Painting artists will bring new life to this time-honored folk art with their creativity and skills.