A senior person, Wang Wenda, is stooping and carving a wooden board attentively with a graver in a workshop of several square meters. As one of the four inheritors of the intangible cultural heritage of Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting, Wang has been improving his craftsmanship continuously ever since he was an apprentice.
As one of the four types of Lunar New Year paintings in China, Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting is now flourishing, invigorated by both the government sponsorship and the market demand. According to preliminary statistics, more than 100,000 paintings of this kind are sold annually.
In the Tianjin Traditional Culture Street several kilometers away, Yangliuqing Spring Festival Paintings can be seen throughout the area. Spring Festival is the blooming season for the sales of Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting. People buy the paintings either as gifts or as collections. Paintings of different sizes are taken by tourists to all over the world.
Spring Festival Painting is an art form of Chinese folk culture. During the lunar New Year in China (Spring Festival), people buy Spring Festival Paintings to adorn their rooms, celebrate the occasion, keep away evil spirits and pray for good fortune.
The technique for Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting is “half printing and half painting”, whose procedure is first carving linings for the picture on a piece of wooden board, then printing the picture in ink on a piece of paper, and hand-coloring the picture after several single-color printings. The unique combination of the flavor of woodblock prints and the colorfulness and subtlety of hand-painting makes the painting stand out from other types of New Year paintings.
“Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting, rooted in an agrarian society, is a ‘living fossil’. It is the fruit of Chinese culture and a mirror reflecting local custom,” a folk art expert said.
Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting boasts a history of more than three hundred years, originating from Emperor Chongzhen’s reign in the Ming Dynasty and it enjoyed its prime time before the Guangxu Emperor’s reign in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, many households in Yangliuqing Town and the neighboring villages in Tianjin were running Spring Festival Painting workshops. It is said that during that period, “every family knew how to paint” and it is from its birthplace, Yangliuqing Town, that the painting derived its name. After The First Opium War, the area was afflicted and the painting industry dropped seriously.
In 1958, Tianjin Yangliuqing Painting Society was established, protecting this endangered art form from being wiped out. Presently, the society has a collection since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), of more than 100,000 paintings and over 6,000 ancient woodblocks, and it also keeps the complete traditional manufacturing technique for the painting.
In 2004, the Ministry of Culture endorsed Tianjin Yangliuqing Woodcut Spring Festival Painting as “Pilot Project of Traditional Chinese Folk Art Protection”, starting the research work concerning the art form’s history, sorting and research. In 2005, National Art Museum of China held the “Tianjin Yangliuqing Woodcut Spring Festival Painting Collection Exhibition” and created quite a stir. In 2006, the painting was listed on the first edition of “State-Level Intangible Cultural Heritage Directory”, ranking first in the category of Fine Arts. In 2007, Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting Society was listed as one of “Tianjin’s Time-Honored Brands”, becoming a famous brand product of Tianjin.
Apart from the society, many folk Spring Festival Painting workshops have sprung up since the 1990s. At present, Wang Wenda, Feng Qingju, Huo Qingshun and Huo Qingyou are nominated as inheritors of Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting. After the Huo Brothers, there have been approximately 50 Spring Festival Painting workshops, more than 60 Spring Festival Painting shops and over 700 people who work in the manufacturing and distributing fields of the industry in Yangliuqing Town, with the annual turnover totaling more than 10 million yuan.
The manufacturing of Yangliuqing Spring Festival Painting is now well on the track of industrialization and becoming more influential. Many countries, including Japan, France, Britain, Italy, Thailand and Singapore, have held exhibitions for this unique Chinese folk art. Yangliuqing Town won the title of “China’s renowned historic town” in 2009. Yangliuqing Town is the first town of Tianjin to win the honor. It is another honored tile for Yangliuqing Town to win after the town was crowned as “China’s famous charming town for cultural heritage” in 2005.