New Year’s Prints

Yangliuqing, Tianjin
Editing: Jackson Harvey
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11268; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]

During the Spring Festival, which marks the new year, people hang colorful 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. 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. The prints may be hand-drawn or painted, or made with woodblocks or lithographs. The content of New Year’s prints usually center around four themes: the immortals and mascot, the secular life, the baby and beauty, and the story and myth, all of which are important archetypes in Chinese religion and folklore.

Questions for Discussion

  • What is folk art? Create your own definition of this term.
  • What materials and techniques do you see artisans using in the video to make New Year’s prints?
  • Printmaking is an important artistic set of techniques because it allows artists to easily reproduce images. Try making your own relief print using a simple technique such as carving into a potato, a sheet of Styrofoam, or a piece of linoleum, and then inking the surface and printing your image.