Ellen Johnston Laing. Five Political Prints in the Nianhua Medium: 1911 to 1916
Woodblock printing in China has long been used for printing and illustrating books, and for making inexpensive single-sheet pictures intended for a wide audience. These popular prints, or minjian banhua, are commonly designated as nianhua or ‘New Year Prints’. By the late 19th to the early 20th century, the production of single-sheet woodblock prints was widespread, with a flourishing industry offering customers a range of affordable pictures. Commercial print shops were established throughout the country, from Suzhou and Shanghai in the south to Yangliuqing, near Tianjin in the north. Among the several famous print shops in Yangliuqing was Dai Lianzeng. Founded in the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644), this printer continued to flourish until the mid-20th century (Feng, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 544–45). Such shops produced hundreds of thousands of low-priced prints for the mass market each year, covering an astounding range of images and motifs for a wide variety of purposes. Images of military door guards were posted on street doors to protect houses from evil. Figures of officials bringing wealth into the family were pasted on interior doors. Votive images of the Kitchen God, the Wealth God and other deities were used in ceremonies throughout the year. Auspicious images expressing hopes for many sons, for wealth and other aspirations were hung in family homes. Other subjects included illustrations of operas, daily life and customs, news and current events, and folk legends.