James A. Flath

  - Department of History, Western University

Gallery picture

          Until the mid-20th century, nianhua (New Year woodblock prints) were the most common form of household decoration in China. As the title of the genre suggests, most nianhua were designed to facilitate New Year celebrations, and with their themes of enduring optimism and brilliant colours they brought a spark of light into an otherwise dreary mid-winter environment. Once posted, however, they would stay in place, continuing to influence the spiritual, social and cultural values of the family long after the initial festival had passed.

    Gallery Picture      This site is dedicated to the visual culture of pre-modern rural China, and through that visual culture it is hoped that readers will gain a stronger appreciation for how people lived and celebrated in the domestic Chinese setting. Most of the prints found on this site are reprints - meaning that they were printed in modern times from wooden printing blocks that were in use during the early part of the 20th century. The prints, therefore, date from the 1980s and 90s, but they do accurately reflect much older designs and themes. The prints originate with the traditional nianhua printing centres of Yangjiabu in Shandong province, Zhuxianzhen in Henan, Fengxiang in Shaanxi and Mianzhu in Sichuan. Although these centres had wide influence, one should not assume that the visual culture of one region applies to another region as well. In fact, one of the goals of this site is to explore how visual culture was, or was not shared between one part of the country and another. In general, however, the reader may also find that once regional differences have been accounted for, China did enjoy a remarkably unity in visual culture despite the extremes of geography and regionalism.