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Ellen Johnston Laing. An Unusual Rendition of the ‘360 Occupations’ Theme in the Chinese Print Medium

Street merchants, craftsmen and entertainers have been depicted in various media
since the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). An assemblage of woodblock printed
images of occupations dated 1894 and 1895 constitute a new theme in the traditional
nianhua, or ‘New Year pictures’, offering a visual, often critical or humorous,
commentary on negative aspects of urban life in late 19th century China. Over the past
half-century books on Chinese popular prints have brought these prints to general
attention yet have rarely focused on the artists themselves. Ellen Johnston Laing
examines six of the surviving prints—five of which bear the signature ‘Songshan
daoren’—to decipher the artistic style of an otherwise overlooked artist and the social implications of his illustrations.

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Jul/Aug 2018
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