One of the most underrated places in Tianjin is the Yangliuqing New Year’s Painting Studio. Most people skip it because they don’t spend much time in Tianjin, and the studio is in the outskirts. However, I think it’s really worth a visit!
The New Year’s paintings are a traditional style of Chinese art. While several different places are known for producing them, Yangliuqing is the most well known and most highly regarded. They celebrate the new year, and bring color to the otherwise red country during that time. Most of them depict either stories from ancient tradition or everyday life. The pictures have a distinct feel that comes from how they are made. It’s a long process, and the awesome part of the Yangliuqing studio is you can see the process for yourself.
Getting to Yangliuqing & Travel Tips
Yangliuqing is a suburb to the west of Tianjin. If you drive, it will be about 40 minutes. If you take the public bus, it will be about an hour from the center of town. The good thing about the bus, though, is that it will take you directly to the New Year’s Painting studio (with just a bit of walking). I took bus 824, which starts from Tianjin Train Station, and goes to Shi Family Courtyard. This is another place worth visiting and just a couple minutes’ walk from the studio.
If you only have a day in Tianjin, you might not have enough time to go to Yangliuqing. You have to account for the two hours of pure transit from the city to the suburb, and time to see the New Year’s Painting studio and Shi Family Courtyard. I recommend you take two days if you want to visit, but you can still pack the trip into a day trip if you hustle.
When you get off the bus, you will have to take a walk back across the river you just crossed and turn left immediately. The street there has lots of traditional Chinese architecture, and will lead straight to the Shi Family Courtyard. If you keep going until the small branch in the road, you will see a small, inconspicuous entrance. It’s the studio! Don’t miss it! The entrance fees are ¥10 for normal entry, and ¥5 for Chinese students.
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How to Make a New Year’s Painting
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The art has existed over 400 years since the Ming Dynasty, and most famously is from Yangliuqing.
Once you go in, the front part of the studio is the museum/introduction. The back part has two rooms where the artists are actually working on new works. New Year’s paintings are hand-printed on super thin paper with wood blocks. To carve these wood blocks, people work by hand. They have to visualize and pencil in their designs backwards, and then meticulously carve the wood until only very fine lines remain. They then coat the wood with various layers of paint, and cover it with the paper. The result is something like this:
After the basic imprint, the artist has two options. Either they can print more colors, or they can paint the colors in. It depends whether they want the painting to have colors filled in everywhere or not. For the first option, the artists wait for the paint to dry on the New Year’s painting and the wood block before coating it with a new color. The artists that I saw, however, had done it the second way. They had the black outlines of the designs they had made and were hand painting the colors. Because of how long it takes to carve the wooden blocks, they typically make a bunch of prints from the same blocks. They paint all of them the same color, so that filling-in-the-color process is quite long and tedious. The final products can look amazing though! You will be able to see a lot of them in the rest of the rooms in the studio.
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New Year’s Painting Examples: History and Gods
Originally, the New Year’s Paintings depicted the door god. It was meant to protect the family through the year, and replacing the painting was a way of welcoming the new.
However, the paintings were so popular that Chinese leaders started to use them almost like propaganda mediums. In the 19th century and beyond, many New Year’s paintings started showing scenes of Chinese superiority over other countries. Because it is a complex language of characters, many poorer Chinese couldn’t read, and took these scenes as part of their education.
Now, the paintings have all kinds of scenes from history and Chinese legend. They include depictions of kings and gods that are meant to keep the family safe throughout the year. Many of them also are hung to bring good luck, austerity, and prosperity to the family.
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New Year’s Painting Examples: Everyday Life
As the New Year’s paintings became more popular, they also started including content that are almost universal wishes. Scenes of families and babies, especially, are common.
Sometimes, the same print can be modified just a bit to give it a different look.
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Some paintings have scenes of something simple, such as a family walking through the park.
If you want, you can buy something from the studio and support their work!
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