A True View of Sichuan

David Leffman Uncategorized 2 Comments

Back in March I made quick trips to the Chinese woodblock printing centres of Zhuxian (Henan), Wuqiang (Hebei) and Foshan (Guangdong), partly to get some idea of the current state of this folk art. Of course I took the opportunity to stock up on prints too…

Asking at a shop outside the Wuqiang Woodblock Printing Museum if they had any old designs, was amazed when they pulled this one out of the cupboard. The print itself is not that old – 1990s – but it’s made from an early twentieth-century block, and even these reprints are rare.

四川真景全圖 – A True View of Sichuan

China went through many social and economic upheavals through the nineteenth century, not least in the struggle between conservative and progressive factions at court over modernising the country. The progressives finally won, and this print shows many of the new wonders introduced from overseas: telegraphs, trams, bicycles, rickshaws, aeroplanes, heavy industry, foreign-influenced architecture and Western-style clothing. Several other prints cataloguing these marvels – including women drilling in the military – were made at Wuqiang.

Though the title sets the scene in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China, it’s actually a picture of Tianjin, just outside Beijing – the French-style black rooftop left of centre is based on Tianjin’s fire-station watchtower, and the city’s bell-tower is down on the right. Tianjin’s tram system began life in 1906, and the aeroplanes are about that vintage too, so would date this scene to around 1910.

Tianjin’s own woodblock printing centre, Yangliuqing, produced an earlier print of an almost identical cityscape but without all the modern innovations. There were several Yangliuqing branch studios at Wuqiang, which explains the cross-fertilisation of the designs. But why this is titled “Sichuan” – a province on the other side of China with none of these modern innovations – is a mystery.

A large print, nearly a metre across. A catalogue says that it was printed at 乔疃村庆顺成画店, the Qingshuncheng print shop at Qiaotuan village (just southwest of Wuqiang).

Comments 2

  1. This whole thing that you’ve done on woodblock prints – nianhua- especially the Zhuxian style, is fantastic.
    To the best of my knowledge nobody has done anything on this. I read your SCMP piece on this and it was really good. Thanks.
    I have a couple of paper scrolls of the “house scroll type” that are about 150 years old (or better) that I picked up in Dali in 2000 from Michael Miao’s artefacts shop in the old part of the city. Your article helped me narrow down the provenance and process.
    Like you, I am a writer and a reviewer (and occasionally a publisher) that loves history and the forgotten stories.
    I look forward to more on this subject.

  2. 你好 。我姓黃,我有收藏一些近代朱仙鎮的年畫、謝謝你寫的文章。
    Hi , I am Jimm Wong . I read your article on woodblock printing on FB . I do have some Zhuxian Zhen wood block print , I am not sure if it’s printed date , I guess it’s around 80 s to 90s .
    Thank you for your article ,

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