If you are going to visit the city of Kaifeng ( one of the seven great ancient cities in China ) on your Henan tour in the central China, you are highly recommended to have a side trip to an ancient town known as Zhuxian Town 23km south of Kaifeng. Zhuxian Town is notable for its over 1000 year-old craft of woodblock new year paintings.
Traditionally, when Chinese lunar new year ( Spring Festival ) comes, families would paste new year paintings on their door frames and houses with the prints of new year pictures. New year paintings represent a good luck and fortune to say goodbye to the past year and welcome the new year. New year pictures are kinda of unique Chinese traditional folk culture.
Today many people would buy the prints of mass-produced new year paintings from the factories. But still many people and collectors prefer to buy hand-made new year paintings. The Zhuxian Town woodblock new year paintings are one of the most famous man-made new year paintings in China.
The woodblock new year paintings in Zhuxuan Town is an untangible cultural heritage in China. It has been on the verge of extinction due to the new printing technology. Recently the governments at all levels have allocated funds to support and develop the craft of man-made new year paintings.
The procedures of making woodblock new year paintings include draft, engraving, rubbing and apply colors. The most difficult part is to engrave blocks. Usually one engraved block takes 5 or 6 days. The Basically, one color needs one block. So one woodblock new year picture needs at least 5 or 6 blocks for 5 or 6 colors (red,yellow,green,black and blue). The Zhuxian Town new year painting is famous for its bright and bold colors. The pigment is made of plants and other natural materials and never fades.
A craftsman would brush black color on a woodblock, put on a piece of rice paper and rub it for its outline, then dry it. The process is repeated for other colors required. One color and one block. The themes of the paintings feature Chinese fairy tales and tales of folklore.
Tiancheng Nianhua Old Shop ( Tiancheng Woodblock New Year Painting Old Shop）is one of the oldest woodblock shops in Zhuxian Town. The owner of the shop is Mr. Yin Guoquan, the fifth generation of the woodblock new year paintings. His family has been in woodblock new year painting business for over 200 years. His two grandsons have started to take over his job, so Yin family’s woodblock new year painting has reached its 7th generation.
Yin’s woodblock painting shop is housed in a two-storey brick building of a traditional Chinese architecture style with wood door-frames. I’m lucky to meet Mr.Yin, who gives me a big welcome.
He holds up a big man-made rice paper book containing his family line and his representative woodblock new year paintings. Then he gives me a brief introduction to the procedure of the making of a particular woodblock painting. It is quite easy for me to understand it since one of his grandsons is at work attentively on the spot.
A close look at his 7-generation craft of woodblock painting
His grandson is brushing the red color on a woodblock
When he finishes brushing the red color, he will hang the bunch of redden rice paper outside to dry them. After dried, the same bunch of rice paper will be colored in other colors for the same procedure.
Behind the counter and on the wall hung with some Mr Yin’s works of woodblock new year paintings and his photos for social activities.
Mr. Yin tells me his woodblock paintings titled “2008 Beijing Olympic Games” have a warm response from foreign visitors with a big demand.
He then proudly shows me his great 8-meter long woodblock new year painting roll. All the paintings on the rice paper roll are dubbed both in Chinese and English.
In the transparent glass covered counter, placed with many finished woodblock paintings of various sized tagged in different prices ranging from RMM 8 to a few hundreds yuan. They are themed in plentiful Chinese traditional characters from Chinese folklore and history for good luck, good health and good prosperity – the three “Good”, the basic wish from common people.
I ask him whether he will insist on carrying the old craft of woodblock new year painting, he says he definitely will persist in the art form of woodblock. He continues to tell me the local government officials and some influential artists have given his family great support in all the aspects involved with the craft. He has trained his grandsons to be engaged in the old craft, a determination to live with the old craft.
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