The Asian Library at The Claremont Colleges Library holds two sets of original 楊柳青年畫 (New Year Woodblock Prints of Yangliuqing). These prints were first produced by 天津榮寶齋 (Rongbao Studio in Tianjin) in the early 1960s. A search in WorldCat (union catalog for libraries in the United States and other countries) indicates that the two sets held in the Asian Library are not available at any other libraries in the United States. The two sets, each consisting of 12 new year paintings printed with woodblock and manually colored, are on display in the Asian Library, 3rd floor of Honnold Library, until February 28, 2022.
The new year woodblock prints of Yangliuqing are well-known Chinese folk paintings. They originated during the reign of Emperor Chongzhen (崇禎) in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) in Yangliuqing, a suburban village near Tianjin City, China. Linked to Chinese folk customs and daily life, the prints are popular ornaments used to adorn doors and rooms during the Spring Festival (春節) in China, expressing good wishes for the new year. They cover a wide range of themes, all aiming to convey messages of good luck, a festive atmosphere, and praise of traditional Chinese virtues and worship of gods, especially those of fortune, prosperity, and longevity.
Babies are a popular theme in the paintings because for centuries Chinese people believed that more children would bring more blessings and greater happiness. A recurring image is the cherubic baby holding a lotus flower while clutching a big fish. In Chinese, the word “lotus” sounds similar to “consecutive, repeatedly, or one after another”, and fish is a homophone of “surplus” so together they imply a wish for “prosperity year after year (連年有餘).”
Other homophones and symbolic objects include Bat 蝠, pronounced as “fu”, homophone of 福 fu, meaning Fortune; Fan 扇, pronounced as “shan”, homophone of 善 shan, meaning Kindness; Orange 桔, pronounced as “ju”, homophone of 吉ji, meaning Luck; Chime磬, pronounced as “qing”, homophone of 慶qing, meaning Celebration.
2022 is the Year of the Tiger. Tigers symbolize energy and dynamics. The Chinese character for Tiger 虎 is pronounced “Hu”, similar to the character for “福 fu” which means both fortunes and happiness. So the year of the tiger also symbolizes a year of fortune and happiness. May the year 2022 be full of good fortunes and positive energies for all of us.
Happy Year of the Tiger!