A True View of Sichuan

David Leffman Uncategorized 1 Comment

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 …

The Tale of White Snake

David Leffman nianhua, Uncategorized, woodblock, Woodblock print, Yangliuqing Leave a Comment

This final woodblock is from Yangliuqing, a village in the western outskirts of the port city of Tianjin (around 150km southeast of Beijing). It depicts a popular folk story, “The Tale of White Snake”, and meets all the requirements of a typical Yangliuqing print: very large (around a metre wide), very detailed, technically accomplished and with most of the colour painted on by hand, rather than printed. I …

Empty City Stratagem

David Leffman nianhua, Three Kingdoms, Weifang, woodblock, Woodblock print Leave a Comment

Staying with woodblock prints, here’s one from Weifang, Shandong, a city also known for making traditional Chinese kites. It’s one of the very few I have that’s actually signed (by Zhang Chuanxin). I’d characterise Weifang’s prints as having very fine detail, a distinctive purple-yellow-pink palette, and that strange flooring of parallel lines. Set as a scene in a play, the story …

Chinese Tigers

David Leffman nianhua, Tiger, woodblock, Woodblock print, Wuqiang Leave a Comment

Real tigers are feared in China, but their legendary strength makes them popular protective creatures in folklore. They appear in all sorts of folk art, including on Miao baby hats, worn to scare away evil spirits; Qing-dynasty rank badges (for a second-grade military official); Tibetan tiger rugs (a symbol of authority); and, of course, on woodblock prints. Above is another print from Wuqiang, …

Pure Land Woodblock

David Leffman Buddhism, Dali, Uncategorized, woodblock, Woodblock print, Yunnan Leave a Comment

I bought this woodblock – the actual block, not a print – at a market in Dali, Yunnan. The title is “A Prayer for Rebirth in the Pure Land”, mantra for a popular Mahayana Buddhist sect. Prints would have been used in their thousands at local folk festivals. Centre top is Buddha seated on a lotus, flanked by strings of silver and gold …

Wuqiang Woodblocks: Yue Fei

David Leffman nianhua, Woodblock print, Wuqiang, Yue Fei, Zhuxian Leave a Comment

Here’s another narrative print from Wuqiang – the story of Yue Fei. As mentioned in an earlier post, Yue Fei (1103–1142) was a patriotic Song-dynasty general who fought against the invading Jurchen (Jin) armies, precursor to the Mongol hordes who would later overthrow the Song and occupy all China. Ironically, it was Yue Fei’s success on the battlefield that led to his …

Wuqiang Woodblocks: Lord Bao

David Leffman Lord Bao, nianhua, Woodblock print, Wuqiang Leave a Comment

Wuqiang town, Hebei province, is another woodblock printing centre whose designs are often cartoon-like illustrations of folk tales, mostly coloured in red, blue and yellow. This pair depict episodes from Three Heroes and Five Gallants (三侠五义), a novel about the career of Lord Bao and his valiant lieutenants. Though the stories are fictional, Bao Zheng (AD 999–1062) was a real Song-dynasty administrator who became famous for …

Zhuxian Woodblock Prints 3

David Leffman nianhua, Woodblock print, Zhuxian Leave a Comment

Another few nianhua woodblock prints from Zhuxian. The first is one of those that you just have to be a local to understand. I was told the title is “Flying Bear Exits the Drapes”, but beyond that you’ll have to make up your own story: The tale behind this next one, “Jiulong Mountain”, would be fairly familiar to many Chinese; it’s an episode from the life …

Zhuxian Woodblock Prints 2

David Leffman nianhua, Woodblock print, Zhuxian Leave a Comment

As mentioned in the previous post, Zhuxian’s woodblock prints illustrate a range of subjects, often carrying a hidden message. Some themes would be familiar to Chinese across the country, others utterly obscure to all but locals. Here’s a good one to kick off with. The two insect-like creatures buzzing around the rider’s hat are in fact red bats, hong fu – a pun …

Zhuxian Woodblock Prints 1

David Leffman nianhua, Woodblock print, Zhuxian Leave a Comment

My whole interest in Asia began with studying woodblock printing while I was still at school – I even ended up carving blocks myself – so here’s the first in a few posts about China’s woodblock printing tradition, focusing on current centres for the craft. A century ago, probably every small town in China had a studio shop run by a family of artisans, …