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Dwindling tradition on the rise again
Latest Updated by 2006-02-07 11:34:55

Li Shunyi, 60, a resident of Jinan, East China's Shandong Province, was overjoyed to see his son's new apartment decorated in a traditional festive style before the Lunar New Year.

The centrepieces were traditional woodblock New Year pictures that symbolize peace, fortune and good luck.

A would-be folk artist adds finishing touches to a Pingyang-style New Year picture in Linfen, North China's Shanxi Province. (Photo: China Daily)

"I've rarely seen pictures of this kind since I moved to the city from the countryside as a little boy," Li says.

"However, it seems that people have lost interest in woodblock New Year pictures in the past few years. This has led to such pictures vanishing from ordinary lives."

Chinese people have a custom of pasting New Year or Spring Festival pictures, called "nianhua" in Chinese, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which began on January 29 this year and will end on Sunday, the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar.

It was even recorded in the historical works of the imperial Song Dynasty (960-1279).

The custom is particularly popular in the countryside, where colourful pictures or paper-cuttings remain dominant decor on doors, windows, walls, even wardrobes and stoves, throughout the year.

Traditional New Year pictures, usually made by block printing, feature scenes of prosperity in simple and clear lines and brilliant colours.

The themes cover a wide range of subjects, from plump babies to the Buddha of Longevity, from landscapes to birds and flowers, from the ploughing cattle in spring to bumper harvests in autumn.

The message in the pictures is always good luck, festivity and other positive messages.

"New Year pictures are one of the most influential forms of traditional Chinese folk art," says Xu Zhenshi, deputy director of the Chinese New Year Pictures Art Association.

 "They are symbolic of Chinese New Year culture and also an essential carrier of Chinese folk culture and folk aesthetics."

New Year pictures are produced in all regions of China with different local characteristics. The three leading producers are located in Yangliuqing Village, near the northern port city of Tianjin, Taohuawu Village near the eastern scenic city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, and Yangjiabu Village near the eastern city of Weifang, Shandong Province.

In villages north of the Yellow River in North China's Shanxi Province, the most popular of the New Year pictures are called pingyang, with its centre of creation in Old Pingyang, or today's Linfen city.

However, the production of Chinese New Year pictures has been declining since the 1980s and traditional folk arts have been losing ground.

"Today, people in China have more options to decorate their homes than ever before and they can turn to oil paintings or traditional Chinese paintings, as an alternative New Year pictures," says Luo Shuwei, a research fellow with the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, when enunciating the recession of New Year pictures.

ut some experts and veteran New Year picture masters attribute the reason to a shortage of young qualified successors, which makes it hard to pass down the unique, traditional art to the younger generation.

"There's a dearth of young craftsmen," says Guo Shurong, deputy curator of the New Year Pictures Museum in Wuqiang County, another well-known producer in north China's Hebei Province.

In January, China Post issued a series of four stamps with Wuqiang New Year pictures as the main theme.

However, there are only 80 craftsmen around in the business in the whole of Wuqiang County, with their average age exceeding 40, according to Guo. "Many veteran craftsmen gave up their jobs of making New Year pictures in previous hard years," Guo says.

 "What a pity these wonderful woodblock New Year pictures have been fading away with the passage of time due to a lack of skilled craftsmen," says 56-year-old craftsman Huo Qingshun in Tianjin's Yangliuqing.

In recent years, China has taken a range of useful, substantial measures to revive this traditional folk art form.

In Shandong's Yangjiabu, the local government combined tourism development with the picture business a few years ago. "We invited tourists to come and buy our pictures. The tourists can witness not only the rural people's residence with touches of the imperial Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, but also the entire procedure of woodblock picture making," says Yang Gaozhi, head of the Yangjiabu Village.

According to Yang, the number of visitors grew from 20,000 in the 1990s to the current half a million. The 300-household Yangjiabu with a population of 1,000 can now turn out more than 20 million woodblock pictures a year, which are sold to over 100 countries and regions worldwide.

Meanwhile, young people like Li Shunyi's son in Jinan, have resumed the custom of sticking up traditional New Year pictures on windows and doors.

"Outdated things will probably become fashionable again as urban residents go for individuality in house decorations," says Xiang Yunju, secretary-general of the Chinese Folk Artists' Association.

Editor: Wing

By: Source:China Daily Website
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