Chinese New Year Deities and Guardian Protectors

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Chinese woodblock prints like the ones displayed in this exhibition were found in homes, business establishments, and temples in Chinese villages and towns. During Chinese New Year, these prints, also called nian hua, were pasted onto doors, walls, and furniture. Because of their bright colors, they served a decorative purpose. The imagery of these prints, however, reflects a long history of traditional and popular culture, where gods and deities, heroes and sages, were called upon to guard people's dwellings and professions, and to bestow good fortune and prosperity. Although popularly known as "New Year prints," many were displayed year-round.

Examples of these include the door guards Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, the Kitchen God, and the Three Star Gods of Happiness, Wealth and Longevity.

In ancient China, people believed that numerous gods inhabited the Three Realms (heaven, earth, and the underworld) and ruled over human affairs and destiny. To fulfill their hopes for a bountiful harvest, healthy male heir, official promotion, and other auspicious wishes, people sought the blessing of these deities by representing them graphically in a medium that has become a unique folk art tradition known as "paper gods" or "paper joss." With the development and proliferation of printing, the Chinese were able to mass produce woodblock prints since the late Ming dynasty (mid-sixteenth century) to satisfy the high demands.

Printing and Production of Paper Joss

These prints were produced by carving in relief the image on a woodblock. The image of the figure was first traced in ink on a transparent paper which was then glued onto the woodblock. Next, a craftsman cut the outlines of the image in relief along the traced lines.

An even layer of ink was then applied onto the block, and a sheet of paper was pressed on it for the printing process. A similar process would be repeated for each color. Some prints were colored by hand by master painters. In this example, we can see that, despite using the same block, different colors can be used to produce different effects.

Continue Paper Joss Exhibit Tour

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