Nianhua (Spring Festival Picture)

What is Nianhua (Spring Festival Picture)? How did it develop?

Nianhua is a special type of painting in China. It is used during the Spring Festival.

It originated in the Pre-Qin Period (before 221 B.C.), a brief record of which can be found in Zhanguo Ce ( Strategies of the Warring States Period). As late as in the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties ( 206B. C. -220 A. D.), people liked to paste the images of various gods on both sides of the door, expecting them to ward off the evils and usher in good luck. These images are called "the door-gods" . Since people pasted them up during the Spring Festival, these pictures gained a special significance for the Spring Festival occasion. The art of printing from engraved plates, which was invented in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A. D. ) , brought about further development of nianhua. Beforethe Tang Dynasty, nianhna in most cases were images of deities and spirits. After the Tang Dynasty, some works came to reflect the reality, and the images of the door-gods turned into two generals: Qin Qiong and Yuchi Jingde. There were more nianhua produced in this fashion in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), and xylographic nianhua, of religious themes developed gradually in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A. D.) . In the Ming and Qing dynasties, xylographic nianhua reached a new height of development and nianhua came into the homes of the ordinary people. In the Qing Dynasty, most of the provinces had their own workshops for making nianhua. The main producers included Taohuawu of Suzhou, Yangliuqing of Tianjin, Weifang of Shandong, Foshan of Guangdong, Mianzhu of Sichuan, Wuqiang of Hebei, Zhu-xianzhen of Henan, Shaoxing of Zhejiang, and so on.

Judging from their development, there are two schools of nianhua : the southern school and the northern school. The representatives of the northern school are those from Yangliu-qing of Tianjin and Weifang of Shandong. Nianhua produced in Yangliuqing originated in the late Ming Dynasty and reached its peak in the Qing Dynasty. The subjects were mainly images from traditional operas, fat and healthy babies and fairy New-Year celebrations. A rich composition and refined drawing style showed its artistic characteristics. Nianhua produced in Weifang mainly dealt with fairy tales, legends and auspicious designs. A style of simplicity, with bold and vigorous lines and bright colors, showed its characteristics. The most famous nianhua of the southern school were those from Taohuawu of Suzhou and Foshan of Guangdong. Both originated in the Ming Dynasty and reached their peak in the reigns of Emperor Yongzheng and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1723-1796 A.D.). While influenced by traditional styles, it also reflected certain features of European copper-plate printing. After the introduction of lithographic and offset printing into China, xylographic nianhua was under great pressure and almost on the brink of decline. However, after the founding of the P.R. China in 1949, traditional xylographic nianhua was reborn. Many new nianhua that were excellent in both content and form were produced and the theme focused mainly on the real life of the people. Along with the improvement of printing technology, there are more and more new materals for nianhua. This traditional artistic form of nianhua is full of vigor now and widely loved by the people.

What these pictures mean in Nianhua?

A Split Watermelon with Its Seeks Showing

This picture depicts two children breaking off a watermelon with their fingers and thumbs. The melon-seeds are showing, and the gaily decorated basket nearby contains flat peaches and pomegranates. They all imply plenty of children and longevity. As an ancient saying goes:"All senior officials are called 'zi' which is homonymous with 'zi', meaning'son' or 'child'. So to have many 'zi'(sons) signifies many ministers or high officials in the family. All these epitomize the yearning of the people of ancient times for a happy life. Note: 'zi' was an ancient title of respect for a learned or virtuous man.



Child and fish in the Lotus Pond

This is a picture showing a child swimming in a lotus pond and holding a fish fin in his mouth. Although the theme of the picture is also "to enjoy prosperity year after year " by way of homophones---"lian" in "Lianhua" (lotus flower) stands for "lian " in " liannian" (successive years ) and "yu"(surplus), it breaks away from the conventional scene of a sitting boy holding a lotus and fish . This makes the scene closer to real life and child more lifelike.



Enjoying Prosperity Year After

Here is a boy holding a lotus in his hand and a goldfish in his arms. "lian" in "lianhua"(lotus) stands for its homophone"lian" in "liannian" (successive years) and "yu" (fish) for its homophone "yu"(surplus). Taken together, "liannianyouyu" gives the meaning of "enjoying prosperity year after year " or "to have enough and to spare year after year ". The subject matter, form and color of this picture have become the hallmark of Yangliuqing New Year paintings.