As an old Suzhou saying goes,“print is an indispensable part of Chinese New Year”. The bygone days of Gushu city have been condensed in Taohuawu woodblock new year prints.
Taohuawu new year prints came into being in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty, when Suzhou was a prosperous city with abundant resources and thriving culture. It was developed from block printing of the Song Dynasty and reached its heyday in the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns of the Qing Dynasty, with annual production of up to one million pieces. During the Kangxi and Qianlong reigns, a large number of “Gushu version” new year prints were exported to Japan and exerted profound impact on the “Ukiyoe” prints in the 17th century. As the only woodblock new year print system that is originated in the city, Taohuawu print is distinguished for delicate lines, elegant light colors and rich meanings. In 2006, Suzhou Taohuawu woodblock new year print technique was inscribed into the first representative list of national intangible cultural heritages.
Despite of the many headwinds and deadly blows over its long development course, Taohuawu print is reviving now. A group of young artists, represented by Qiao Mai, are dedicated to the inheritance and protection of this ancient art. Qiao Mai learned from great masters of Taohuawu new year prints, including Fang Zhida, Wang Zude and Luping during her youth times and has since stuck to the art, fully aware that the road to the rejuvenation of new year print would be tough and long. Having devoted herself to woodblock cutting for nearly two decades, Qiao Mai still called herself “a persistent artisan”. Every year, she would invariably copy a classic print, cut a zodiac signs-themed new year print and create an original one.
How to bring woodblock prints back to daily life in modern times? There is no sure way, but Qiao Mai would like to try. “24 Solar Terms of Gushu ” series new year prints are Qiao Mai’s representation and expression of Suzhou culture and Taohuawu woodblock new year print through her devotion for the art. The 24 woodblock prints record the life style and special products of Gushu, such as “eating seasonable ingredients, living in picturesque gardens and visiting museums to appreciate precious relics”. The prints integrate the elements of cultural relics in the collection of Suzhou Museum with the dribs and drabs in the daily life of Suzhou residents. Her creation combines classical style with modern elements, and the strong humanistic sentiment is mixed with the artistic conception of Jiangnan to present a fantastic and soft transition. Taohuawu new year prints are fancy works as well as classical living symbols of Suzhou.
The creation is supported by Suzhou Museum Young Talents Supporting Program and funded by Suzhou Museum Development Foundation. Hope that the ancient art of new year print will get more and more involved in the daily life of young people and burst forth new life with the efforts of young artists represented by Qiao Mai. Also, we’d like to extend thanks to Ms. Qiao Mai for her generous donation of “24 Solar Terms of Gusu” series new year prints and woodblocks to Suzhou Museum and for her contribution to the collection of the museum.