Here’s an interesting print from Yangliuqing. It’s large, at about 50cm x 95cm, and shows a mother sitting on her day bed with two infant boys, while a maid attends them. The style of their fine clothing and furnishings suggests a wealthy Qing dynasty household.
The picture is packed with auspicious iconography. Each character of the written title Fu Shan Ji Qing (福善吉慶) – basically Great Good Fortune and Celebrations – is echoed in the print by a similar-sounding object: bats (蝠) for “fu”, the fan (扇) held by the maid for “shan”; the boy’s halberd (戟) for “ji”; and, below the halberd’s blade, the triangular stone chime (磬) for “qing”.
The three citrons (三橼) being held by the other child is more wordplay for the similar-sounding三元, “three firsts”, from a phrase meaning to come top at each of the three levels of government exams. The painting of peonies at the back symbolises wealth and honour; the narcissus decorations mean good fortune and happiness for the year; while the potted orchid suggests friends with high moral principles. All three plants flower in spring.
So, this print was intended to decorate the home at Chinese New Year, wishing for wealth, happiness, prosperity and noble children who become top-ranking scholars.
As with most Yangliuqing woodblock prints, only the outline and base colours have been printed, with the shading and faces overpainted by hand. Or have they? The seal mark reads 年畫張畫店, “Zhang’s New Year Picture Shop”. This studio is run by Zhang Keqiang (張克強), born in 1956 into a long-established family of woodblock artisans. Zhang was trained in traditional cutting, printing and overpainting techniques, but he also dabbles in screenprinting and it’s difficult to tell how much he’s used this process here. I suspect quite a bit.
Zhang’s print is a pastiche of this nineteenth-century original, redesigned in vertical format:
Note a third child – cut from Zhang’s version – who wields the fan, while the maid holds a ruyi wishing wand. More wordplay turns the vase on the dressing table into a rebus for “peace”, the double fish decoration on the bed into “abundance”, and the buddha hand citrons into “good fortune and longevity”. The original also lacks the orchids and their fantastic, organically-shaped pot stand – Zhang either designed them himself, or they are filched from another old Yangliuqing print.