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Nianhua  

James Flath

[Chin.: “New Year pictures”]

Genre of popular woodblock prints known for their bold colors and folkloric content. Prior to the mid-20th century these prints were widely used throughout China to decorate the home, as calendars, and to conduct domestic rituals in advance of the lunar New Year festival.

The most common production method for nianhua uses three to five relief printing blocks. In this technique an outline block is used to print an image in monochrome, and additional blocks are then used to apply individual colors. Finally the prints may be touched up by hand. In some examples all colors are applied using brushes. The subject matter of nianhua is diverse. Although the variety of gods appearing in nianhua is virtually unlimited, domestic deities such as the Stove God, Door God, and the God of Wealth are common. The image of the Stove God in particular was believed to embody the deity and protect the household. The act of burning the print at the end of the year was traditionally intended to send the deity to Heaven, and its subsequent replacement was to welcome him back to the home. Themes of wealth, good fortune, and scholarly success leading to official promotion are popular, as are images relating to fertility and the birth of male children. Narratives scenes drawn from historical classics and the theater are among the most widely produced items in the genre. More rarely, ...