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Part I
Brilliance of the Morning Sun in Spring,
Replacing Old with the New


Yangliuqing’s paintings of Gate Gods can be roughly divided into three types: a mace-wielding, arrow-equipped military general Gate God in cloaked armor, a charitable civil Gate God donned in a Chinese official’s costume and a door child with auspicious symbolic objects. In addition, due to its proximity to the capital, the Gate God paintings on the palace gates of the Forbidden City were all from Yangliuqing. It was also known that a large gilded painting of the Gate Gods with clouds flowing in green background was customized for the palace and its residence.

麒麟送子 Gift from Qilin
Guangxu Period - Qing Dynasty, Woodblock prints (brush-painted), 53 x 32 cm each


Most New Year paintings from Yangliuqing are based on historical stories, folk legends and famous novels that include teachings of loyalty and filial piety, importance of virtue, righteousness and wisdom as well the scholar-beauty genre, depicting the most exciting and engaging chapters with strong narrative and educational value. In early Qing Dynasty, this style of painting inherited the traditions of draftsmanship, emphasizing the characters' expressions with a solemn atmosphere till the middle period of Qing Dynasty, when the style of approach gradually shifted emphasis to portraying scenes of prosperity and liveliness, along with a soft and delicate colour palette.

007. 年画00056 中国美术馆藏:Gathering of the Fou

四艺雅聚 Gathering of the Four Arts
Kangxi Period - Qing Dynasty, Woodblock print (brush-painted), 59.5 x 107 cm

009. 年画00049 Lotus Lake Guangxu Period -

莲花湖 Lotus Lake
Guangxu Period - Qing Dynasty, Woodblock print (brush-painted), 49 x 100 cm


"With drama within an image, the viewers will never be bored." With the prosperous development of opera culture in Qing Dynasty, a style of New Year painting emerged with opera repertoire as the theme. Performances within an opera repertoire were called "chu", hence the title “Xi Chu Nian Hua” or “Plays of the New Year Paintings.”

“Songs of the reedpipe fade, a crystalline sound remains;
colours on woodblock prints seek a voice of their own." People loved these paintings as they were able to enjoy and relive wonderful scenes of opera without leaving their houses. The paintings can be divided formally into two categories; during the early period, realistic portrayals of mountains and rivers, horses and carriages are juxtaposed with the staged expressions and behavioral postures of characters, while a more direct and formal approach was used at a later period to represent elements of a staged opera performance’s sequence, such as a horse whip to represent horse riding, oars to represent a boat, a flag to represent a royal carriage.


In the past, farmers mainly engaged in the agricultural production process of spring sowing and autumn harvests, as well as plenty of folk activities to celebrate the annual Spring Festival. In the New Year paintings of Yangliuqing, there are many works that depict such secular customs. Despite the lack of a narrative, these paintings evoke a strong sense of life. Based mostly on folk customs and habits, the image documents the various lifestyles and activities of people during a period, via a realistic portrayal while placing importance on its decorative quality and auspicious delight.

011. 年画00055 中国美术馆藏 天津杨柳青年画:After Midnig

丑末寅初 After Midnight, Before Dawn
Guangxu Period - Qing Dynasty, Woodblock print (brush-painted), 62 x 108.5 cm

016. 年画00081 Qilin Disgorges the Jade Bo


These New Year paintings contains a vast array of contents such as images of deities, children, ladies, flower landscapes etc.; any subject matter that conveys an auspicious message can be classified as such. In these paintings, majority of the subjects are children and ladies with objects or furnishings in the image as symbols of auspiciousness. The picture also focuses on expressions and cloths of the character and portrays intricate background elements such as pavilions and tables in a gorgeous and delicate manner.

麟吐玉书 Qilin Disgorges the Jade Book
Qianlong Period - Qing Dynasty, Woodblock print (brush-painted), 26 x 51.5 cm


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