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Living auspiciousness : the resurgence of Mianzhu's new year picture (nianhua) industry Liu, April 2012-12-31

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LIVING AUSPICIOUSNESS: THE RESURGENCE OF MIANZHU’S NEW YEAR PICTURE (NIANHUA) INDUSTRY  by APRIL LIU  BA, Whittier College, 1999 MFA, Michigan State University, 2003  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in  THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Fine Arts) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) April 2012 © April Liu, 2012  ABSTRACT Chinese nianhua, or “New Year Pictures,” refers to a broad category of popular prints and paintings displayed during the Lunar New Year but also throughout the year to mark seasonal festivals, life cycle rituals, and popular religious practices. Despite the widespread circulation of nianhua today, the scholarly literature has largely characterized it as a thing of the past, as that which died out with the state circumscription of the woodblock printing industry during the 1950s print reforms and the ban on nianhua during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Although the industry has since rebounded, the scholarship continues to relegate nianhua to the past, as a prescriptive tradition represented by historic works rather those emerging in the marketplace. Drawing on historic archives, interviews, and firsthand observations, I will critique the recent rise of nianhua in Mianzhu, Sichuan. The primary goal is to rethink nianhua as a “living archive,” an evolving body of works firmly embedded in its immediate contexts of production and use. Mianzhu is a powerful case study because its historic woodblock printing industry never completely died out during the upheavals of the 20th century. In the early 1980s, the industry was catalyzed by a resurgence of ritual practices and a state-led folk art revival, two competing and often conflicting discourses that have fought for prominence in the marketplace. These developments push for a performative view of nianhua, where meaning is not fixed in representation but continually innovated upon, appropriated, and activated in situ to meet specific ends. Building on the “performative turn” in art history and ritual studies, this study challenges methodological approaches that treat nianhua as discrete visual texts or folk art objects belonging to a shared system of auspicious signs and symbols. Each chapter deploys a different strategy for rethinking nianhua’s attributed function to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous” as an open-ended site of contestation tied to ritual agency, lineage identity, and symbolic capital in the marketplace. Moving away from decoding symbols and towards analyzing practices, this study reveals the high stakes involved in recognizing nianhua as a living entity.  ii  PREFACE This study was conducted with the approval of the Behavioural Research Ethics Board (BREB) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The certificate number is H06-03704.  iii  TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………...………..ii Preface.……………………………………………………………………………………………iii Table of Contents……………………………………………………………………….....………iv List of Figures………………………………………………………………….………….…….....v Glossary……………………………………………….....……………...…...……………………ix Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………...………....v Dedication…...……..……………………………………………………………………...………vi Chapter One: The Living Archive of Mianzhu Nianhua …………...…....…….………………….……………..1 “Little Chengdu” and the Historic Print Trade…….…………...……..…………………….11 Innovating the Auspicious: Mianzhu’s Door Deity Markets….………..………………… 25 Nianhua as a Living Archive?.............................................................................................. 38 Performing Engaged Research....……….………………….………………………………50 Chapter Breakdown……..…….…………………….…………………………………...…54 Chapter Two: The Power of Ephemera: Ritual Praxis and the Contested Rise of the Nianhua Marketplace.......58 Harnessing the Seasonal Nianhua Market…...…...…………………….………………….64 “Out With the Old, In With the New”: the Transformative Spaces of Nianhua Use..……..79 Reunion and Regeneration: Nianhua and the Lunar New Year……………………..…….90 Lineage-making Strategies for Reclaiming Authority in the Nianhua Marketplace.…...…98 Chapter Three: “The Picture Must Have Theater”: Performing Narrativity in Mianzhu Nianhua…....…………128 The Medicine King: Performative Gestures and the Art of Storytelling.……..…....……134 Transformations Between Theater and Print.………………….……………...……...….151 Recovering Narrative Density in Greeting Spring.…..……………………….….…...…161 Chapter Four: To Build a Museum and a Village: the Race for Mianzhu’s Nianhua Heritage…………...……174 Mianzhu Nianhua Museum: Putting the Past in its Place………………………………. 180 Contesting Heritage: Nianhua Makers Stake Their Claims ……………………………..195 Mianzhu’s Nianhua Village and the Rise of Intangible Heritage Tourism…....…………202 Racing for the Intangible: the Nianhua Festival as Performative Statecraft...…...………213 The High-End Heritage Industry: Replicas and Remakes.……………………………….219 Chapter Five: Conclusion……..…………………...……………………………………………228 An Industry Based on Innovation.…………………………………………………….… 229 Demystifying the Auspicious ...………………………………………………………….236 Future Directions and Post-Earthquake Reconstruction………………………………….242 Bibliography…………….………………………………………………………………………332 Appendix: Mianzhu Nianhua Timeline, 1912-2011…...……………...…...……………………347  iv  LIST OF FIGURES  Figure 1. Street-level view of an urban residential neighborhood in Mianzhu…...…...247 Figure 2. Comparison of multi-block printed colors and hand painted colors….……..248 Figure 3. Exterior view of an urban household doorway in Mianzhu……..…………..249 Figure 4. Exterior view of an urban household doorway in Mianzhu..……………..…250 Figure 5. Early 20th century Shanghai yuefenpai nianhua or “calendar poster”..……..251 Figure 6. The inaugural state calendar of 1912 for the Republic of China……………252 Figure 7. Peasant Girl, Factory Boy, woodblock print, 1950s, Mianzhu….………….253 Figure 8. Map of major nianhua production centers across China .…………………..254 Figure 9. Map of major woodblock printing areas and trade routes in Sichuan………255 Figure 10. Wang Tianbao’s nianhua workshop, 1962, Mianzhu…………………...…256 Figure 11. Warrior Door Deities, woodblock print, early 20th century, Mianzhu…….257 Figure 12. Cat Deity, woodblock print, early 20th century, Mianzhu………………….258 Figure 13. Journey to the West, scroll painting, late 19th century, Mianzhu……….….259 Figure 14. The labor-intensive phase of woodblock carving, 2006, Mianzhu……..….260 Figure 15. Detail of a carved woodblock, late 19th century, Mianzhu………………...261 Figure 16. A painter applies colors and details over the printed outline with a brush...262 Figure 17. Small size stamps and a detail of gold stamps applied to a print………..…263 Figure 18. Warrior Door Deity, woodblock print, late 19th century, Mianzhu.……….264 Figure 19. Mianzhu Nianhua Museum, 2006, Mianzhu……………..….…………… .265 Figure 20. Nianhua Village, 2006, Mianzhu…………………………………………..266  v  Figure 21. Outdoor nianhua market, early 1980s, Mianzhu…………………………..267 Figure 22. Outdoor nianhua market, 2004, Mianzhu ……….………………………...268 Figure 23. Tianshuijiao, woodblock prints, late 19th century, Mianzhu……………....269 Figure 24. Exterior doorway of an urban residence, 2006, Mianzhu.............................270 Figure 25. Exterior doorway of an urban residence, 2006, Mianzhu ……..…………..271 Figure 26. Exterior doorway of a well-to-do rural residence, 2006, Mianzhu………...272 Figure 27. Exterior doorway of an urban residence, 2006, Mianzhu………………….273 Figure 28. Interview session with Wang Xingru in his studio, 2006, Mianzhu..…….. 274 Figure 29. Front cover of the Wang family genealogy chart..………………………....275 Figure 30. Arrangement of couplets on the Wang family genealogy chart. ...…..…… 276 Figure 31. The ancestral tablet on the Wang family altar…………………………….. 277 Figure 32. Detail of an inside page of the Wang family genealogy chart……………..278 Figure 33. Back cover of the Wang family genealogy chart.………………………… 279 Figure 34. Detail of Plowing and Weaving Pictures, Jiao Bingzhen, commissioned by Kangxi Emperor, hand colored print, ca 1696…………………………………………280 Figure 35. Detail of Plowing and Weaving Pictures, Wang Zhengfa, ink on paper, late 19th cent…………………………………….……………..…………………………... 281 Figure 36. Wang Xingru’s painted sketches from his box of lineage documents….....282 Figure 37. Double Longevity, Wang Xingru, hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 2004.…………………………………………………………………………………...283 Figure 38. Map of Mianzhu’s historic nianhua sites………..………………………...284 Figure 39. Interview with Li Fangfu in his studio, 2006, Mianzhu.………… ……….285 Figure 40. Interior view of Li Fangfu’s studio, 2006, Mianzhu………………………286 Figure 41. Warrior Door Deities, Li Fangfu, woodblock prints, 2006. ………………287  vi  Figure 42. Interior view of the Chen family workshop at the Nianhua Village…...…. 288 Figure 43. Boys Playing, Chen family workshop, 2007……………….....…………... 289 Figure 44. Yao Chunrong painting, early 1980s, Mianzhu……………………………290 Figure 45. Interview session with Wang Xingru, 2007, Mianzhu…………………….291 Figure 46. Wang Xingru hanging up his Medicine King painting ……………..……..292 Figure 47. Medicine King, Wang Xingru, hanging scroll, 2004…………...….………293 Figure 48. Storytelling session with Wang Xingru ………………..……………….…294 Figure 49. Medicine King, undated woodblock print, Yangliuqing, Tianjin.……...….295 Figure 50. Interview with Chen Gang at the Chen family workshop, July 2006…...…296 Figure 51. Chen Gang explaining the process of carving……………………………..297 Figure 52. Sichuan theater performer as the female warrior Mu Guiying.....................298 Figure 53. Warrior Door Deities, woodblock prints, ca. late 19th cent., Mianzhu…....299 Figure 54. Sichuan’s famous bianlianxi or “face-changing” theater ………………...300 Figure 55. Five Honourable Sons, handscroll, late 19th century, Mianzhu…………...301 Figure 56. Greeting Spring, Huang Ruigu, handscroll, ca. late 19th cent., Mianzhu....302 Figure 57. Detail from Greeting Spring showing the magistrate on a sedan chair...…303 Figure 58. Detail from Greeting Spring showing the “Welcoming Spring” rites…….304 Figure 59. Detail from Greeting Spring showing the “Beating Spring” rites………...305 Figure 60. Comparison of a Spring Ox Picture from Shanxi and Greeting Spring…..306 Figure 61. Detail of Greeting Spring showing a prominent shop sign…………….…307 Figure 62. Detail of Greeting Spring showing the procession of “raised pavilions”…308 Figure 63. Entrance lobby at the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum. …………….................309 Figure 64. Upper level of the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum. …………………………...310  vii  Figure 65. Shinutu or “beautiful maiden pictures” from Mianzhu’s early print trade...311 Figure 66. Bicycle-riding Maiden, woodblock print, ca. late 19th cent., Mianzhu.…...312 Figure 67. Swan Cigarette Print Ad, reproduction of a 1930s lithograph, Shanghai….313 Figure 68. Press conference event at the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum, 2006.………….314 Figure 69. Bicycle-riding Maiden, Chen family workshop, woodblock print, 2006…..315 Figure 70. Interview with Li Fangfu in his studio, 2007………………………………316 Figure 71. Tianshuijiao, Li Fangfu, hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 2005.…...317 Figure 72. View of a rural household at the Nianhua Village, 2006………………..…318 Figure 73. Bilingual sign installed at the Nianhua Village, 2007……………………..319 Figure 74. Nianhua Village, winter 2007, Mianzhu.………………….…………….....320 Figure 75. Exterior view of a private residence at the Nianhua Village in Mianzhu.…321 Figure 76. Local residents carrying out agricultural work in the Nianhua Village…....322 Figure 77. Entrance to the Chen family workshop at the Nianhua Village, 2007……..323 Figure 78. The street sign in front of Li Fangfu’s workshop………………………….324 Figure 79. Dragon dance at the Nianhua Festival, 2005, Mianzhu...…………………325 Figure 80. Central stage of the Nianhua Festival, 2005, Mianzhu……………..……..326 Figure 81. Souvenir shop in Mianzhu with fuzhipin replicas on display…………..….327 Figure 82. Examples of nianhua in new media……………………………….…….…328 Figure 83. Straw Cutting Maidens, Liu Zhumei, acrylic on canvas, 1995…………….329 Figure 84. Door Deities, Liu Zhumei, acrylic on canvas, 2001. ………………………330 Figure 85. Damaged site at the Nianhua Village right after the 2008 earthquake……..331  viii  GLOSSARY  anzi bandengxi bangpai beipai bianlianxi bing chang changxi Chen Gang Chen Xingcai Chengdu chuanju yuan chuangxin nianhua chuanju chuanju yishu chuantong chuantong minjian yishu chuantong nianhua chun chunchang chunlian chunniu chunniutu chunshen cijiu yingxin dachun damao Dongmen heba Dou Yujun doufang Du Fu ermao ershisi xiao fang feiwuzhi wenhua yichan fengjian mixin foshou fu Fu Wenshu fudao Fuxihui fuzhipin  gailiang nianhua ganshuihuo gecaonü Gengzhitu Gong Jinlan gongbi hua Gongxian guonian guapimao guaqian Han Gang He Qufa heihu hexie shehui Hou Shiwu Hua Mulan Huang Ruigu Huang Zonghou huanletu hu Hu Guangkui huashi huatiao huatie huazhang hulu ji jia Jiajiang Jiao Bingzhen Jin Pingding jishi jiujiu xiaohantu jiunianhua jixiang kaixiang kan chun kan fengshui kongzi wenhua jie laji laoyiren ix  Li Fangfu Liang Hongyu Liangping linmo Liu Zhumei lu Lu Shengzong Magu menshen menshen bang menshen shi menqian Mianzhu minjian huajia minjian wenhua minjian yishu minjian yishu yichan mingzhang minggua mixin mo Mu Guiying muban nianhua nafu yingxiang Nanhuagong Nanjishouxing nanpai Nanxuanci nian nianhua nianhua chuangxin nianhua cun nianhua jie niannian youyu Ning Zhiqi pai paogehui pingan qiangjiu nianhua yichan Qiche shinü Qin Liangyu Qin Shubao Qingdaozhen Qingming shanghe tu Qingtongxiang  qipao quji bixiong qunzhong wenhua quxie nafu saishen sandiaoshen Sanguoyanyi sanheyuan sanmao Shen Hong Shenfang shentai shi shi shi Shi Weian shinütu shou Shouxing shuangshou shuochun siheyuan Sun Simiao taige tangwu taofu taofu shi Tianjinwei tianshuijiao tingxi tu Wang Tianbao Wang Xingru Wang Zhengfa weigu weihua wenhua duoyangxing wenhua shi wenhua yichan wenwu wuzi duokui xi xiandai nianhua xiao xiaohantu iii  xibao yangchun xie xie xin nianhua xiqian Xiyouji Yangjiajiangyanyi yangke yanyuedao Yao Chunrong Yaowang yaowanghui yaowangmiao yingchun Yingchuntu yinhua Yiwang youchun youtou youwei  youyin yu yu Yu Chigong yuanyangbi yuefenpai nianhua Yunxi Zaoshen Zhang Xianfu Zhang Xianzhong Zhang Zeduan zhenxing chuanju zhiguai zhong zhongguo minjian huihua Zhongkui zong zu zuochang  iv  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  This project would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of my lead supervisor, Dr. Hsingyuan Tsao, who provided me with the invaluable learning experiences, contacts, and research opportunities that led to its fulfillment. I am also deeply indebted to Dr. Katherine Hacker for directing me towards many of the key debates between art history and anthropology that have shaped this study. A special thanks goes to Dr. Catherine Swatek, for imparting her profound knowledge of Chinese vernacular literature and drama, to Dr. Leo Shin for sharing his expertise in the history of late imperial China, and to Dr. Diana Lary, Dr. Marvin Cohodas, and Dr. Sharalyn Orbaugh for their insightful comments during the final stages of this project. I am also very grateful to Dr. Ellen Johnston Laing, a leading expert in Chinese popular art and nianhua who provided invaluable suggestions for polishing this study. I must extend my gratitude to Dr. Elizabeth Johnson for assisting with the preliminary research conducted at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC, and to Dr. Daniel Overmyer and Dr. Paul Crowe for guiding me in the study of Chinese popular religion. I am also indebted to artist and professor Gu Xiong, who shared his hands-on knowledge of Sichuan’s printmaking traditions and who invited me to study his private collection of Mianzhu nianhua. A most heartfelt thanks goes to Jean Kares and Dr. Nate Bohy for their diligent efforts in copyediting and proofreading this text, to Dr. Emily Beausoleil for leading me to key texts in critical theory, and to Yanlong Guo for helping me locate research materials in China. In Sichuan, I am ever grateful to my mentor Liu Zhumei, an accomplished artist and researcher at the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum, and to Ning Zhiqi, the lead researcher and director of Mianzhu’s Cultural Relics Bureau. With the support of Liu and Ning, I was able to conduct in-depth interviews in Mianzhu’s printshops and to gain access to many historic archives of Mianzhu nianhua. I am also indebted to Hou Rong, editor-inchief at Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing, for providing out-of-print resources on Sichuan’s nianhua history and for arranging my visit to the Sichuan Theater Research Institute. I am grateful to art historian Gao Wen for showing me his private collection of Chinese woodblock prints and paintings, and to Han Gang, Si Daoan, Jinlan Gong, and Gao Hongzhu for their warm hospitality during my travels and for their superb translations of the Mianzhu dialect and its many obscure references. A very special thanks goes to Kris Balfe and Wang Hong for assisting with photography. I am truly honored to attribute the credit for this project to this excellent community of friends and colleagues on both sides of the great Pacific Ocean.  v  DEDICATION  For my loving parents, Stephen and Shirley Liu, who raised me in two cultures and who taught me the value of the old adage, “read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles”  vi  Chapter One: The Living Archive of Mianzhu Nianhua Nestled against the mountainous edge of the Chengdu plains in southwest China, the rural township of Mianzhu  , Sichuan lies roughly 150 kilometers north of  Chengdu, the provincial capital. Reflecting about thirty years of steady urbanization, Mianzhu is a work in progress, with small farming communities interspersed with hightech factories, unfinished development projects, and scattered billboards announcing future construction. The urban core is a complex web of historic cobblestone alleys pressed against wide boulevards and sleek shopping centers (fig. 1). I visited Mianzhu several times in 2006 and 2007 to study its historic nianhua woodblock printing and painting industry, which has thrived there since the Song dynasty period (960-1279 CE). Although the existing literature on the topic tends to characterize nianhua as a thing of the past, I soon discovered that Mianzhu’s nianhua industry is very much alive and growing rapidly. Reflecting the thick palimpsest of old and new spaces in the region, Mianzhu’s nianhua now appear in variety of rather incongruous contexts - as ritual ephemera displayed on the doors and walls of local households but also as folk art objects found in gift shops, museums, or touristic heritage attractions. The term nianhua  , commonly translated as “New Year Pictures,” refers to a  broad range of popular prints and paintings produced in the many historic woodblockprinting centers across China. The works are most visible during the Lunar New Year season, when mass quantities of nianhua circulate through markets and households. Inexpensive and ephemeral, these are annually renewed on household doorways, walls, and windows, a widespread act of renewal that coincides with a rich repertoire of ritual practices tied to the “passing of the year”  However, the term nianhua also  1  encompasses many temporary and permanent works consumed throughout the year for seasonal festivals, life-cycle rituals, gift giving, and popular religion. Making and using nianhua has made a tremendous comeback all across China since the early 1980s, yet the existing scholarship has characterized it as a tradition that has disappeared or is on the verge of disappearing. Art historians Wang Shucun and Bo Songnian  , the foremost authorities on the topic, have each written a  comprehensive history of Chinese nianhua, which they define as a type of “folk art” produced in regional woodblock printing centers. The notion of “folk” refers to the non-official realm, so that “folk art” is distinguished from official art. In both texts, the authors recount the “golden age” of nianhua in the late nineteenth century and its rapid decline in the early twentieth century. The decline is attributed to mechanized printing technologies introduced from the West and a slew of state-led print reforms carried out by the Republican state in the 1910s and 1920s, and again by the Communist government during the 1950s and early 1960s.1 For Wang and Bo, the state’s rigorous circumscription of local printing activities in the 1950s marked “the end of nianhua as a folk custom,” as it is no longer possible to distinguish between the non-official and official realms.2 If there were any surviving vestiges of traditional nianhua, the Cultural Revolution (19661976) dealt the final blow, with the official ban on nianhua as a form of “feudal superstition.” This narrative of nianhua’s spectacular rise and fall from roughly the mid-  1  Wang Shucun , Zhongguo nianhua shi [Chinese nianhua history] (Beijing: Beijing gongyi meishu chubanshe, 2002), and Bo Songnian , Zhongguo nianhua shi [Chinese nianhua history] (Shenyang: Liaoning meishu chubanshe, 1986). 2 Wang, Chinese Nianhua History, 290.  2  nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries is also widely repeated in the Western scholarship, which builds on the foundational writings by Wang and Bo.3 A key problem here is that the existing scholarship has relied primarily on the historic nianhua archives collected in the north and east, near the urban centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Prior to the early twentieth century, there were very few efforts to collect and preserve nianhua, which were mostly designed for temporary use in a variety of ritual practices. Early twentieth-century Christian missionary scholars and Sinologists were among the first to collect large quantities of popular prints and paintings.4 These pioneering Orientalists brought their own ideological agendas to the task and collected many works from the street markets of Beijing and Shanghai, where they had access to the everyday objects of the common people. During the 1950s print reforms, state supported research activities spurred more collection activities, with many nianhua entering into state archives around the nation.5 At this time, Wang Shucun and Bo Songnian established their careers as leading folk art historians based in Beijing and put together some of the most extensive collections of Chinese nianhua. As both scholars are 3  Key examples that deal specifically with this timeframe include Tanya McIntyre, Chinese New Year Pictures: The Process of Modernization, 1842-1942, (PhD diss., University of Melbourne, 1997), and James Flath, The Cult of Happiness: Nianhua, Art, and History in Rural North China (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004). 4 The earliest efforts to collect nianhua include studies by French Sinologist Eduoard Chavannes and his student V. M. Alekseev, a Russian Sinologist whose research on nianhua have been published in V. M. Alekseev, The Chinese Gods of Wealth: a lecture delivered at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, 26th of March 1926 (London: School of Oriental Studies and The China Society, 1928), and V.M. Alekseev, Maria Rudova, and L.N Menshikov, Chinese Popular Prints (Aurora Art Publishers, 1988). These works were soon followed by the writings of missionary scholars interested in printed depictions of Chinese popular religion, including Henri Dore’s Researches in Chinese Superstition (1914-38), Clarence Burton Day’s Chinese Peasant Cults (Shanghai, 1940; repr., Taipei: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Co., 1974), and Anne Goodrich’s Peking Paper Gods: A Look at Home Worship (Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1991). The German-American Sinologist Berthold Laufer also collected a significant number of nianhua during his 1901-1904 China Expedition; these works are now held in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 5 For in-depth discussions of the Communist’s 1950s print reform activities see Chang-tai Hung, “Repainting China: New Year Prints (Nianhua) and Peasant Resistance in the Early Years of the People's Republic,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 42, no.4 (2000): 779-810.  3  based in northern China, their nianhua collections and writings also tend to reflect the historical developments of that region. Thus far, no in-depth studies have been conducted on the rapid recovery of the nianhua industry after the Cultural Revolution, although there have been official campaigns to “revive” and “rescue” nianhua as part of China’s “folk art heritage” Relaxed policies around cultural production coupled with the state-led revival of the industry has spurred the revitalization of several well-known nianhua centers in China, including Mianzhu in Sichuan, Yangliuqing near Tianjin, Wuqiang in Shandong, and Zhuxianzhen in Henan.6 While many have dismissed these developments as another round of state restrictions tied to the reinvention of tradition, I will argue that the situation is far more complicated than a restaging of traditional practices.7 The rise of Mianzhu’s nianhua industry departs dramatically from the development of the print centers of the north and east, lending significance to this case study. The historic records and contemporary print practices in Mianzhu debunk the notion that nianhua is a dead or dying tradition completely overtaken by official activities. The evidence points to a vibrant and thriving body of printing and painting activities that did not simply disappear, but continue to evolve in tandem with the changing conditions of everyday life, adapting and developing alongside the prolonged periods of print reform as well as the outright ban on nianhua. This is documented in the interviews, photos, and collected nianhua archives held in state institutions and collected during the 1950s and 6  State-funded nianhua museums have been spreading across China, with the first built in Wuqiang, Hebei in 1985, followed by Mianzhu’s Nianhua Museum in 1996, the Tianjin Yangliuqing Nianhua Museum renovation in 2011, and shortly thereafter the Zhuxianzhen Nianhua Museum in Henan. 7 A recent essay by Bo Songnian reiterates the demise of nianhua at the hands of failed state-led revival activities and commercial printing practices since the early 1980s. Bo Songnian, “Xingshuai cunwang zhongde nianhua yishu” [The Rise, Fall, Preservation, and Loss of Nianhua Art] Art Observation 2 (2005): 8-10.  4  early 1960s print reform movements. In reading against the grain of this material, I found compelling evidence that Mianzhu’s nianhua industry was not completely stifled under state controls. In this study, I draw on firsthand observations and interviews with contemporary nianhua makers and users to reveal the close ties between the nianhua industry and the “living history” of the region including such customs as theatrical storytelling, the sharing of auspicious speech, fengshui activities, and lineage-making practices. While the scholarly literature on nianhua focuses on archived materials of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, this study makes its contribution by examining contemporary nianhua as they appear in situ, seamlessly integrated with cycles of production, circulation, and consumption. Thus far, the methodology for archival research has focused predominantly on issues of production and representation. In the influential nianhua history by Bo Songnian for instance, a central unifying feature of nianhua is its attributed power “to attract the auspicious, repel the portentous” ( or  ), a concept that is visually conveyed through “artistic” and “aesthetic”  means.8 Bo accordingly interprets a wide variety of works by decoding the representation of auspicious signs, symbols, or motifs. In treating nianhua as the visual texts of a shared iconographic system, the tendency has been to characterize nianhua as a rather rigid and unchanging tradition with timeless designs. In a joint study, Bo Songnian and Sinologist David Johnson have stressed a community’s rigid adherence to established nianhua iconographies: “presumably once a god’s iconography had been fixed, some devotees rejected any but the smallest changes in it, much as village women balked at changes in  8  Bo, Chinese Nianhua History, 1-5.  5  funeral rituals.”9 They go on to explain how print shops had little motivation to introduce change because of “perennial favorites” in the marketplace and the costly price of making new designs that might be rejected by customers. Furthermore, the collective production process itself is framed as conformist in nature: “ when block carvers did have to make a new design, they frequently relied on pattern books, which by definition preserved older styles.”10 An important departure from the folk art paradigm is a recent study by historian James Flath, who focuses on the popular prints of rural north China of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.11 Flath situates nianhua as “print culture,” which he summarily defines as “a means of understanding the world through print” that includes the physical dimension of “producing, disseminating, obtaining, displaying, and reading print” as well as a social dimension where “print culture is the abstraction of the world created by the repeated and systematic application of ink to paper, and the penetration and transformation of social relations by print.”12 In his effort to write a “cultural history” of rural northern China, Flath draws attention to the active role of nianhua within various social and political discourses tied to modernity, domesticity, nation building, and gender. In short, Flath resituates nianhua as a historical text rather than a distinctly visual one, to examine how “perceptions of the social and physical world were put into print, and how print, in turn, configured perceptions of the social and ethical world.”13 Flath’s approach provides an important foundation for this present study, 9  Bo Songnian and David Johnson, Domesticated Deities and Auspicious Emblems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 17. 10 Ibid., 18. 11 James Flath’s Cult of Happiness: Nianhua Art, and History in Rural North China focuses on the print centers in Shandong, Hebei, and Henan provinces. 12 Ibid., 2. 13 Ibid., 4.  6  especially in pushing beyond the purely aesthetic or artistic aspects of nianhua and in acknowledging the regional specificities of the industry. However, in focusing on issues of production and representation, Flath makes the central argument that “the single most important aspect of the village-based print industry was that it engaged in prescriptive mass production–a process by which a uniform object was collectively produced using a defined set of tools and techniques and in deference to collectively defined social values.”14 Flath expands this view to include the realm of consumption as well, where the “prescriptive ethic was carried by nianhua through markets and into the homes of their consumers.”15 Picking up on Bo and Johnson’s argument, this prescriptive view reflects the widely held consensus that nianhua are the mass produced products of a traditional social system that resisted creative agency and change. This study will press for an alternate perspective that acknowledges the innovative aspects of the nianhua industry, which has continuously developed and adapted to the changing conditions of the marketplace. Existing studies have focused on the print centers in the north, where multi-block printing techniques prevailed as a common method for applying multiple layers of color to a print.16 In Mianzhu however, the colors and finishing details of a print are all applied by hand with a brush (fig. 2). Whereas a prescriptive approach might be an appropriate description of a multi-block printing process, Mianzhu’s workshops display variation and experimentation in brushwork, especially in the final stages of painting in the colors, surface outlines, and facial details. Neither collective nor individual forms of authorship can be easily used to characterize Mianzhu’s workshops, as both concepts are simultaneously deployed. 14  Ibid. Ibid., 32. 16 For a discussion of the multi-block color printing process, Ibid.,18-20. 15  7  Historic records describe the signature traits of individual master designers, carvers, printers, and painters as well as the unique skills of a workshop as a whole.17 Since Flath’s notion of “print culture” focuses solely on the particular medium of print, it is perhaps more fitting to describe Mianzhu nianhua as a “print and painting culture.” In both the past and present, Mianzhu’s printmakers have been motivated to come up with novel designs and fresh production methods to survive in a competitive and sometimes hostile marketplace. This has carried forth in Mianzhu’s nianhua industry today, where experienced and emerging nianhua producers jockey for status and authority in the marketplace by innovating works on a regular basis. Using a variety of creative marketing tactics, Mianzhu’s nianhua makers are also continually performing the auspicious or portentous meanings tied to their products. This involves the strategic use of propitious sites such as shrines or temples to set up outdoor markets and the selection of favorable dates of the lunar calendar to conduct business activities. The processes of experimentation and appropriation are not only aspects of nianhua production, but also evident in the evolving modes of consumption and display. The preoccupation with auspicious time and space is evident in the diverse configurations of household nianhua displays, which are strategically arranged and renewed to protect vulnerable passageways and to activate positive interactions in the home. The most widely seen works are protective “door deities”  posted on the exterior of household  doors to guard the home from all negative influences. These are usually balanced with “spring couplets”  on either side, two vertical strips of paper with auspicious phrases  17  For a list of the established names and workshops in Mianzhu’s historical print trade, see Hou Shiwu and Liu Zhumei , Mianzhu nianhua gailun [Introduction to Mianzhu’s nianhua] in Mianzhu nianhua jingpin ji [Selected works of Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Hou Rong (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 2005): 11-17.  8  inscribed on them. A third strip with an auspicious phrase often hangs above the center of the door as a “lintel hanging”  . In this example of an urban household in Mianzhu,  two door deity prints showing the popular demon-queller Zhongkui  are posted up on  either side of a double-leaf doorway, framed by a set spring couplets and lintel hanging (fig. 3). While the door deity prints are instances of machine-printed nianhua, digitally designed and produced in mass quantities by the latest computerized technologies in commercial printing, the spring couplet and lintel hanging are hand-painted works. This combination of machine-made and handmade nianhua is a common sight in Mianzhu and across China, reflecting diverse practices of display. Furthermore, an extremely wide variety of works appears on doorways as door deities and spring couplets, including advertisements and posters designed for other purposes (fig. 4). Outdoor nianhua displays often appear faded or torn because they are renewed only once a year during the Lunar New Year then left undisturbed until the following year. As works that capture a continuous cycle of timed renewal and decay, these ephemeral nianhua resist being analyzed as fixed objects outside of their contexts of use. Thus the different modes of nianhua display push for a rethinking of nianhua’s attributed power to “attract the auspicious, repel the portentous” in distinctly spatial and temporal terms. A major contribution of this study is that it theorizes the larger body of nianhua that are in perpetual motion beyond the confines of the archive, circulating in markets and lived spaces as a “living archive,” a term I will unpack as an evolving body of nianhua radically embedded in a repertoire of embodied practices tied to everyday life and livelihood. In addition to archival research, this study draws on firsthand  9  observations and interview sessions with Mianzhu’s nianhua makers and users. The push to recognize nianhua as a living entity is an urgent issue for the industry. As this study will show, the valorization of historic archives has legitimized a range of state-led campaigns to collect, salvage, and rebrand nianhua to suit the interests of official institutions. In Mianzhu, the official agenda to “rescue nianhua heritage”  is  bolstered by folk art discourses that relegate nianhua to the remote past, as that which needs state intervention to be preserved and resuscitated. This has led to the state’s largescale collection of prints and paintings from the community and the building of nianhua heritage attractions such as folk art museums and commercialized theme parks. I will argue that contemporary nianhua activities continue to challenge or destabilize these activities, including everyday practices that re-appropriate and reclaim the historic nianhua held in state collections. In the sections below, I will first situate the regional and historical background of Mianzhu nianhua within the existing scholarship on nianhua, which has been largely focused on centers of the north and east. I will then address the need to rethink nianhua as a living archive, a concept that points to the developing body of objects and practices that continually perform the significance of nianhua. While philosopher J. L. Austin first used this term in 1962 to describe performative forms of speech that not only “say something” but also constitute some form of action, feminist philosophers such as Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick have elaborated on it to stress the “performative fluidity” of gender as embodied acts that are continually rehearsed and recast to achieve specific results.18 The term has since come to signal a broad paradigmatic shift in anthropology 18  See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962); Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre  10  and art history, where scholars focus less on “ritual systems” or “sign systems” and more on analyzing specific practices and cultural performances as forms of social action.19 This study builds on these developments to address the ongoing contestations of meaning in Mianzhu’s growing nianhua industry, where high stakes are attached to defining and performing nianhua’s auspicious or portentous significance.  “Little Chengdu” and the Historic Print Trade The term nianhua did not come into regular use until the late nineteenth century, when it first gained widespread popularity with a new print format emerging from Shanghai, the yuefenpai nianhua  .20 These mass-produced “calendar posters”  combined auspicious portraits of beautiful women to market a variety of urban commodities, including foreign products, lottery announcements, and theater advertisements 21 (fig. 5). These works were primarily produced using the newly introduced technology of lithography although woodblock printed versions also circulated. With the fall of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the Republican state in 1912, the term nianhua gained even wider currency in reference to the first printing of the state calendar. Commemorating the first year of the Republic of China, a Journal, 40, no. 4 (1988): 519-531; and Eve K. Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003). 19 The “performative turn” in anthropology has been advanced in Jeffrey C. Alexander, Bernhard Giesen and Jason L. Mast, Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics and Ritual (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). For a view of how performativity theory has shaped recent studies in art history and visual culture, see Mieke Bal, “Performance and Performativity," in Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002). 20 According to Wang Shucun, the earliest documented use of the term nianhua appears in the biji writings of the mid-nineteenth century that discuss the ritual activities of the Lunar New Year. It later appears in greater frequency in urban periodicals such as the Beijing Daily Journal and in reference to Shanghai’s lithographed calendar posters. Wang, Zhongguo, 9-12. 21 Ellen J. Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early Twentieth Century China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 29.  11  state-sponsored yuefenpai poster bears the nation’s “five colored flag,” a portrait of the founding president Sun Yat-sen, and the newly adopted Gregorian calendar alongside the traditional luni-solar calendar (fig. 6).22 With the rise to power of the Communist Party in 1949, the term nianhua was again tied to nation-building activities as the state set in motion a series of print reforms during the 1950s and early 1960s. These reforms sought to mobilize cultural agencies and rural communities across the nation to produce “new nianhua”  , a revised version  of popular woodblock prints that conveyed the messages of the new nation, including “the grand victory of Chinese people’s war for liberation and the people’s great revolution, the establishment of the People’s Republic, the Common program [for China], and the recovery and progress of industrial and agricultural production.”23 Against this backdrop of ideological reform, the term nianhua was used as a blanket category to unify a wide range of print formats produced across China. These diverse works were collectively labeled “old nianhua” and relegated to the past to make way for the state sponsored “new nianhua” that sought to capture the revolutionary patriotism of the working classes and the rural peasants. In Mianzhu, the new nianhua often displayed anonymous and patriotic laborers such as peasants or factory workers in the place of door deities (fig. 7). This new category of works set forth the national character of nianhua by subsuming the local and regional into the national. As Sue Tuohy noted in her study of Chinese folklore scholarship, “the notion of traditions is used to help explain the overall  22  For a discussion of the role of nianhua in disseminating the newly adopted Gregorian calendar during the early twentieth century, see Zhang Shaoqian, “The Supremacy of Modern Time: Reshaping the Image of China in Early Twentieth Century Calendar Posters,” Modern Art Asia 6 (March 2011), http://art.okstate.edu/faculty/zhang.pdf. 23 From Chang-tai Hung’s translated excerpt of the November 26, 1949 directive on nianhua reform released by the PRC Ministry of Culture: Chang-tai Hung, “Repainting China,” 779.  12  unity of the apparent diversity” and “thus, the unity of China is explained through processes of assimilation, amalgamation, and melting of peoples, and its greatness, as the crystallization of the best contributions of each.”24 In his comprehensive history of Chinese nianhua, Bo Songnian also defines nianhua as a form of “traditional folk art”  , a category that replaces the  reactionary “old nianhua” with the notion of “tradition.” For Bo, the notion of “folk” is also explicitly expanded beyond the worker or rural peasant to include the vast realm of non-official cultural production. Bo also explain that nianhua are unified by their attributed power to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous,” an open-ended concept that encompasses the pursuit of success, prosperity, and harmony in all its forms while dispelling danger, discord, and sickness. According to Bo, the origins of nianhua can be traced to ancient times, when pairs of warrior-like door deities were painted on either side of Han dynasty tomb entrances, serving the apotropaic function of protecting the site from negative influences while attracting desirable ones through the depiction of virtue and strength.25 With the spread of inexpensive woodblock printing technology in the Song dynasty, these tomb guardians appeared in print form on the household doorways of the common people. As the print trade continued to flourish up to the twentieth century, different regional print centers developed a variety of prints geared towards pursuing the auspicious in the various lived spaces of the home, such as fertility prints for the bedroom or stove deity prints for the kitchen. 24  Sue Tuohy, “Cultural Metaphors and Reasoning: Folklore Scholarship and Ideology in Contemporary China,” Asian Folklore Studies 50, no. 1 (1991): 199. Tuohy discusses “boundedness,” “continuity,” “homogeneity encompassing diversity,” as key aspects of the cultural reasoning in Chinese folklore studies to construct China as an unified cultural and historical entity with diversity. Tuohy argues that these assumptions merge in the idea of cultural heritage that is at the heart of contemporary folklore studies in China. 25 Bo, Chinese Nianhua History, 1-7.  13  Wang Shucun, in his written history of Chinese nianhua, similarly defines nianhua as “a unique type of ‘traditional Chinese folk painting’ [  ]” that  encompasses all the works produced in regional printshops, “reflecting their folk customs and unique production methods.”26 For Wang, nianhua are not limited to works related to the Lunar New Year because these regional printshops produce works for year-round use, including printed and painted pictures for “weddings, funerals, acts related to wellwishing, gift-giving, auspicious customs, ancestral worship, and theater and entertainment.” Like Bo, Wang argues that these works share a common preoccupation for attracting positive influences while repelling negative ones so that their regional and local characteristics are largely relegated to stylistic differences. In the writings of both Bo and Wang, this unifying feature serves as a powerful rationale for drawing together a wide range of works across time and space under the blanket category of nianhua. The need for regional perspectives beyond nianhua’s stylistic differences reflects a broader problem in Sinological studies, as pointed out by historian Prasenjit Duara: “The power and impact of the centralized imperial state on Chinese historiography has been such that there have been few studies conducted of regional or provincial identity through the long history of China.”27 A map of key historic printing sites across China reveals the diversity of nianhua across space and time (fig. 8). A few of the lost names subsumed under nianhua include the “dispelling cold pictures” and the “pasted pictures”  of the Yuan era  or “double-nine cold dispelling poetry pictures”  26  Wang, Chinese Nianhua History, 12. In calling for regional perspectives, however, Duara argues against any form of intrinsic or fixed identity in provincial communities and examines instead how the elite intelligentsia used provincial traditions as materials to construct and assert alternative political identities within the existing national discourses. Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1995), 179. 27  14  of the Ming era.28 During the Qing period, the markets circulated Tianjin’s “wei pictures”  , named after the historic name for the Fort of Tianjin, or “Tianjinwei”  . Other well-known print traditions include Hangzhou’s “joyful pictures” Suzhou’s “picture leaves”  , and Mianzhu’s “square prints”  ,  . Each center had its  own unique repertoire of works that reflected its regional history, climate, architecture, theater, and cultural make-up. 29 Scholars such as Wang Shucun and Bo Songnian have acknowledged these differences, but their emphasis on nianhua as a unified category tends to downplay the role of regional discourses as vital sources of meaning making. While this study seeks to recuperate the regional and local histories that have shaped Mianzhu’s nianhua industry, I do not mean to characterize the industry as a totally unique or isolated phenomenon. In comparing Mianzhu with other print centers across China, one finds many common themes and subjects tied to the seasonal round of lunar calendar festivals and major lifecycle events such as birthdays and weddings. Door deities, spring couplets, and lintel hangings, to name just a few widespread formats, are produced in virtually every nianhua center across China. Keeping these shared qualities in mind, this study will draw forth the regional and local aspects of Mianzhu nianhua, especially the vibrant ritual and oral practices that bring nianhua to life in the home and marketplace. To a certain extent, the print centers in Sichuan have a unique place in Chinese printing history because they are among the oldest in China and in the world. In the Chengdu region, evidence of papermaking dates to the 3rd cent. BCE, and the earliest  28  Maggie Bickford, “The Symbolic Seasonal Round in House and Palace: Counting the Auspicious Nines in Traditional China,” in House Home Family: Living and Being Chinese, ed. Ronald Knapp and Kai-Yin Lo (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005), 349-372. 29 Wang, Chinese Nianhua History, 10.  15  extant prints of Buddhist prayers and charms date to the Tang dynasty (618-907), when Chengdu was among the most prosperous cities in China. By the end of the tenth century, Chengdu was undoubtedly one of the most developed printing centers in China, as the Song court commissioned Chengdu’s woodcarvers to print many important historical and religious compendiums, including the first edition of the Kaibao Tripitaka in 971, a famous set of Buddhist scriptures comprised of some 130,000 woodblocks that took ten years to cut.30 Several early documents give a glimpse of the various types of printed matter that appeared in Chengdu’s markets. In the preface to Liu Family Rules, the Tang Dynasty author Liu Bi recounts his visits to Chengdu’s vibrant book markets, which were full of miscellaneous literature tied to Yin-Yang theory, geomancy, and divination.31 In The Ancient and Present Records of Chengdu, an imperial censor of the Northern Song lists the seasonal round of markets in Chengdu, including “the lantern market of the first month, the flower market of the second month, the liquor market of the tenth month, the plum market of the eleventh month, and the print market of the twelfth month.”32 The term used for the print markets is taofu shi  , where taofu may refer to either the  protective door deity prints or spring couplets that were annually renewed on household doorways during the Lunar New Year. The term derives from the practices of engraving and/or painting peachwood planks with auspicious phrases or the names and images of  30  Endymion Porter Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual, (Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press, 2000), 450. Other major volumes printed in Chengdu during the Song period include the Thirteen Classics and Seventeen Histories, along with many other kinds of literature. The earliest known example of printing in the world is a printed Buddhist spell in the form of a miniature scroll in Sanskrit, found in a tomb in Xian, and dated to 650-70. 31 Wang Shucun , Zhongguo menshen hua [Chinese door deity pictures], (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 2004), 35. 32 Cited in Hou and Liu, “Introduction to Mianzhu’s Nianhua,” 11.  16  protective door deities.33 With the invention of printing, the peachwood planks were replaced by inexpensive paper ephemera, allowing a much larger portion of the lower classes to participate in the annual rite. The Chengdu region underwent a period of warfare and disintegration during the transition from the Ming to the Qing dynasty, with Zhang Xianzhong’s  (1605-47)  rebellion in the late Ming and the subsequent Manchu invasion. However, as the Qing state provided economic incentives to encourage mass migration to Sichuan, the provincial population grew dramatically from approximately 100,000 in 1685 to 3,250,000 in 1736 and to an impressive 21,400,000 recorded in the 1812 state census.34 The influx of permanent settlers from Hunan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangxi, and other surrounding areas boosted the regional economy and brought a fresh wave of skilled artisans. By the early eighteenth century, Chengdu regained its status as a major printing center, with at least ten large publishing houses to rival the top printing centers in the nation.35 While Chengdu’s publishers specialized in printing books, the outlying print centers specialized in the wholesale production of paper and single sheet prints, including Mianzhu, Jiajiang  , and Liangping  . These centers where linked  together by waterways and well-established trade routes for the export of goods to surrounding provinces (fig. 9).  33  The origins of the term taofu appear in Han dynasty records as a legal contract between two parties who would each take one half of an engraved document. For a discussion on early taofu and other auspicious objects, see Tiziana Lippiello, Auspicious Omens and Miracles in Ancient China: Han, Three Kingdoms and Six Dynasties, Monumenta Serica Monograph Series (Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 2001). 34 Sun Xiaofen Qingdai qianqi de yimin tian Sichuan [The populating of Sichuan by migrants in the early Qing period], (Chengdu: Sichuan daxue, 1997), 9. 35 Cynthia J. Brokaw and Kai-Wing Chow, eds. Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 28.  17  Chengdu’s success as a printing stronghold over the centuries is largely due to the region’s abundance of high-quality natural resources for making paper and mineral pigments. Historic records and archaeological evidence point to Mianzhu as a major supplier of fine papers to Chengdu since early times. Mianzhu’s paper making industry began as early as the Eastern and Western Han period, when the site was named after the “silky bamboo” forests that supplied supple, absorbent, and highly durable bamboo fibers for paper production.36 During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the paper industry in Mianzhu reached a high level of development, with over one hundred large workshops producing at least nine different varieties of paper.37 Mianzhu’s printing industry flourished in tandem with the paper industry, as the nearby mountains provided the minerals needed for mixing brightly colored pigments. Although rural Sichuan is often characterized as a remote and inaccessible hinterland, its various printing centers exported their goods across the nation and abroad. Mianzhu’s strategic location and proximity to Chengdu afforded it a great advantage in the industry, along with its production of luxury goods such as its famous sorghum liquor, tobacco, medicinal herbs, smoked meats, tea, and raw lacquer. Located near the Min and Tuo rivers, Mianzhu’s traders distributed their wares along waterways that linked up with the Yangzi river transport networks (fig. 9). Local records document the transport of prints, papers, and tobacco via wooden boats from the Sheshui tributary near 36  Sichuan Mianzhu County Gazetteer Editing Committee , Mianzhu Gazetteer , (Mianzhu: Sichuan kexue jishu chubanshe, 1992), 27. 37 Details concerning Mianzhu’s early twentieth-century paper industry are based on a 1938 interview with a local paper maker named Chen Jiru , recorded by local official Zhou Boqun . The details are summarized in Zhao Jiliang , “Jiefangqian Mianzhu shangye jingji qingkuang diandi” [A brief discussion of Mianzhu’s pre-liberation economy] in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao xuanji [Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol.13] ed. Wang Peisheng and Zhang Changlu , (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1994), 51-55.  18  Qingdao village as well as the dissemination of paper goods via human carriers who walked to Chengdu and surrounding villages.38 In an interview, Mianzhu’s renowned painter and printmaker Zhang Xianfu  (1919-2000) recounted his early memories  of walking with his father to distant markets every year, carrying their prints and paintings on their backs to sell in Chengdu and the surrounding temple fairs, sometimes walking as far as Yunnan province and back during the warm months.39 In mid-summer, merchants from surrounding provinces also arrived in Mianzhu in large donkey caravans to trade their silver for fine paper products and other items.40 Affectionately known as “Little Chengdu” during the late Qing period, Mianzhu’s temples, teahouses, liquor shops, and print shops replicated on a smaller scale the cosmopolitan street life of the provincial capital and kept apace with its fashions, trends, and political life. Mianzhu’s bustling markets and scenic walkways have been praised in “bamboo stick” poems of the nineteenth century and in a verse by the famous poet Du Fu (712-770), who praised its bamboo-lined rivers during one of his visits in the eighth century.41 These writings establish Mianzhu as an idealized pastoral getaway for Chengdu’s wealthy and cultured elites.  38  Zhao, “A brief discussion of Mianzhu’s pre-liberation economy,” 51. Liu Zhumei , “Re ai nianhua shiye de Zhang Xianfu” [Zhang Xianfu's passion for the nianhua industry] in Mianzhu nianhua ziliao xuanbian [Mianzhu nianhua selected research documents volume 4] (Mianzhu: Mianzhu nianhua she, 1982), 1-6. 40 A detailed description of the annual nianhua trading schedules during the early twentieth century is documented in interview records put together in the 1950s by officials in Mianzhu leading the print reform activities. See Wei Chuanyi , “Mianzhu nianhua diaocha cailiao" [Mianzhu nianhua interview records] in Zhongguo Mianzhu nianhua China’s Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Yu Jundao (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2007), 136-140. 41 For a comprehensive collection of bamboo stick poems written in Mianzhu during the Qing period, see Zhang Zhaoyuan , A selection of Mianzhu poetry , (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1998). For Dufu’s poetic dedication to Mianzhu, see Han Chenwu , Shisheng: huanyou zhong de Dufu [The Sage-poet: Dufu’s world of adversity and sorrow], (Baoding: Hebei daxue chubanshe, 2000), 134. 39  19  The evolution of Mianzhu’s printing industry is thus characterized by this unique combination of being both geographically remote yet still connected to the nation’s larger flows of information and goods. The reasons that have been cited for nianhua’s decline in the early twentieth-century primarily reflect developments near Beijing and Shanghai. For instance, the displacement of woodblock printing is often attributed to the introduction of mechanized printing technologies from the West. The rise of industrial printing during the early twentieth-century was largely centered in Shanghai, sparking a “Gutenberg revolution” that transformed the region’s politics and printing industries. Historian Christopher Reed has documented in detail the dramatic rise of “print capitalism” in Shanghai, leading to the gradual displacement of traditional block printing methods that could not keep up with the speed and affordability of mechanized presses.42 Similarly, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Ellen J. Laing, Laikwan Pang, and others have written extensively on how Shanghai’s changing print culture of the early twentieth century served as a locus of Chinese modernity, giving rise to an emergent “advertising art” and an urban visual culture that activated new modes of viewing and consumption.43 At the same time, reform-minded urban intellectuals in Beijing began leading various print reform movements that further transformed the woodblock printing practices in the region to support the “Self-Strengthening Movement”. The Republican leadership institutionalized these print reforms during the 1910s and 1920s as part of their 42  Christopher Reed, Gutenberg in Shanghai: Chinese Print Capitalism, 1876-1937, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004), 8. Reed uses the term “print capitalism” to draw attention to the role of technology in a capitalist system, as it developed after the Industrial Revolution. The term also demarcates a distinct shift from craft-based handmade books and printing to the use of mechanized printing machines. 43 These studies include: Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930–1945, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1999); Ellen J. Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early Twentieth Century China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2004); and Laikwan Pang, Distorting Mirror: Visual Modernity in China, (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2007).  20  broader efforts to secularize and modernize the nation. These unevenly enforced campaigns banned and confiscated certain images of popular religion, such as prints of the wealth deity, the stove deity, and various minor and demigods. Ellen Johnston Laing and James Flath have discussed in detail the reformed nianhua of this period, which were known as gailiang nianhua  . These reformed nianhua reflected a range of  political themes, including representations of historic wars, current affairs, and the changing social status of women.44 In the Chengdu region, Shanghai’s commercially printed goods arrived long before the large mechanized presses infiltrated the region’s printing industry. While Flath documents the displacement of traditional woodblock printing methods by lithography as early as 1909 in Hebei, there is no evidence that Mianzhu’s printshops adopted mechanized printing until after the Cultural Revolution.45 While Japanese incursions of the 1930s forced Shanghai’s industrialized printing industry to move inland to Sichuan, records show that the new technology did not immediately replace handmade paper production and woodblock printing. In his study of Sichuan’s handmade paper industry based in Jiajiang, historian Jan Eyferth has argued that traditional techniques continued to dominate because they could be easily expanded at a low cost. In addition, the industrial  44  Flath, Cult of Happiness, 126-149; Ellen J. Laing, “Reform, Revolutionary, Political and Resistance Themes in Chinese Popular Prints, 1900-1940” Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 12, no. 2 (2000): 123-176. 45 Flath’s study discusses the introduction of manual or electric lithograph presses to the print shops of Yangjiabu in Hebei and Yangliuqing near Tianjin, where most of the larger workshops were using these methods by 1927; Flath, Cult, 20. Christopher Reed’s study addresses the destruction of the printing machinery in Shanghai during the Japanese attacks of the early 1930s and the subsequent transfer of the industry inland; Reed, Gutenberg, 155-157.  21  paper mills used wood pulp from soft timber, which was more expensive and not as readily available as the native grasses and bamboo used for handmade paper.46 The early twentieth-century print reform campaigns were also rarely implemented in Sichuan, as regional warlords fought amongst themselves and against Republican forces for control of Chengdu. In 1916, Sichuan declared independence from the Republic, immediately sparking open fighting in Chengdu. Between 1916 and 1937, there was frequent warfare and a changing of hands in the Chengdu region. 47 Coerced into survival mode, local communities formed street militias and the powerful trade guilds took over many state functions, including the settling of disputes, famine relief, and the repair of key infrastructure.48 The chaotic upheavals of warlordism and lawlessness forced many of Mianzhu’s paper and print shops to shut down, although production never completely ceased.49 During the Japanese occupation of 1937-1945, Mianzhu’s economy actually received a brief boost as large waves of migrants fled the Japanese from other parts of China to seek refuge in Sichuan, where the new wartime capital was established in 46  According to Eyferth, in 1943, after the relocation of large paper mills to Sichuan, mechanized production accounted for less that one-quarter of Sichuan’s paper output. See Jan Eyferth “Socialist Deskilling: The struggle over skills in a rural craft industry, 1949-1965,” in How China Works: perspective on the twentieth century industrial workplace, ed. Jan Eyferth (New York: Routledge, 2006), 48. 47 The complex power struggles occurring in Chengdu at this time are documented in Kristen Stapleton, Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform, 1895-1937, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000). 48 Feng Tiren , “Mianzhu shanghui shihua” [Historical accounts of Mianzhu's trade associations], in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao ji 14 [Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol. 14], ed. Wang Peisheng and Zhang Changlu (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1995), 112-19. 49 According to the elder printmakers I spoke with for this study (to be discussed in later chapters), nianhua production never ceased in Mianzhu although the number of shops declined dramatically in the early 20th century. Production levels reached their lowest point during the Cultural Revolution, yet even in the worst economic conditions, simple prints were made for the Lunar New Year season. The continuity of production in Mianzhu over the course of the 20th century is further confirmed by interviews conducted by print reform officials during the 1950s. A key document is: Wei Chuanyi , “Mianzhu nianhua diaocha cailiao" [Mianzhu nianhua interview records] in Zhongguo Mianzhu nianhua China’s Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Yu Jundao (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2007), 136-140.  22  Chongqing in 1938. The collaboration between rural printmakers and intellectual elites is a phenomenon that is perhaps best documented in the woodblock print movement led by the writer Lu Xun in the 1930s, although there is no evidence that Mianzhu’s printmakers were involved in wartime propaganda.50 Upon the withdrawal of the Japanese in 1945 and the outbreak of a civil war between Nationalist and Communist forces, Mianzhu’s workshops fell into decline again. When the Communist forces officially declared victory in 1949, the number of Mianzhu’s surviving paper makers and printmakers had declined dramatically. According to one count, there were still eighty-four paper shops functioning in Mianzhu in 1943, a number that dropped to about thirty in 1948. There is no estimate for the number of printshops that remained open, although it is documented that roughly seventy printmaking families joined up with the Communist print reform programs that were launched in 1949. 51 Contrary to the prevailing view of nianhua’s demise, the winter street markets in Mianzhu never ceased to take place and small quantities of auspicious prints and paintings continued to circulate during the 1950s print reforms, even during the outright ban on nianhua. Mianzhu’s print reform officials often complained in their bureau reports that traditional nianhua prints continued to be produced and circulated in the community despite the reform efforts of 1950s and 1960s.52 This was often cited as a reason for increased efforts in “reeducation” and “training” so that local printmakers were properly equipped to make reformed prints. Photographs taken by officials in the 1960s also show 50  For in-depth discussions of the Lu Xun woodblock print movement, see Shirley Hsiao-ling Sun, “Lu Hsun and the Chinese Woodcut Movement, 1929-1936” (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1974) and Julia Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 11-27. 51 Zhao, “A brief discussion of Mianzhu’s pre-liberation economy,” 54-55. 52 In his 1957 report, Wei Chuanyi cited the continued production of traditional nianhua in Mianzhu’s workshops as a sign that local printmakers lacked the ability to conceive and produced the desired forms of reformed nianhua. Wei Chuanyi, “Mianzhu nianhua interview records,” 139.  23  traditional prints being sold alongside reformed ones (fig. 10). Interview accounts also point to the continuous circulation of simple mimeographs of household deities in the winter street markets throughout the years of the Cultural Revolution. This is corroborated by studies that document how a number of state-sanctioned prints were regularly appropriated for ritual use as door deities or as other household divinities during the Cultural Revolution.53 In short, ritual print activities did not cease but continued to adapt to the changing conditions of life before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution. Not long after the Cultural Revolution drew to a close in 1976, there were signs of a return to ritual industries in Sichuan. By 1978, nianhua were widely available in the street markets and state-led efforts were already underway to revitalize woodblock printing to launch a folk art export industry. All over Sichuan, a broad resurgence of ritual goods and services sprang forth to support lunar calendar festivals, processions, pilgrimage, geomancy, divination, temple building, ancestral worship, life-cycle rituals, and lineage rituals. Under Deng Xiaoping’s programs for “reform and opening,” liberal economic reforms and relaxed policies around cultural production led to the decollectivization of land and the decentralization of economic decision-making power that increased the influence of local and provincial governments.54 It is likely that Sichuan’s distance to the capital allowed these reforms to take hold sooner, as it was among the first provinces in China to begin dismantling communal farms in favor of 53  Anthropologist Stefan Landesberger has studied how printed images tied to the “Mao cult” of the Cultural Revolution were ritually displayed and used in ways that combined the powers of “the many protective and auspicious deities that were traditionally revered in the household.” Stefan R. Landesberger, “The Deification of Mao: Religious Imagery and Practices During the Cultural Revolution and Beyond,” in China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Master Narratives and Post-Mao Counternarratives, ed. Woei Lien Chong (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 155. These issues are also discussed in Daniel Leese, Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China’s Cultural Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2011): 128-148. 54 Him Chung, China’s Rural Market Development in the Reform Era (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), 35-45.  24  contracting land to individual households or groups of households, a process that would later take shape as the “household responsibility system.”55 Launched on a national scale in 1981, the policy implemented a series of free-market reforms that led to a rapid growth in home-based handicrafts and the peddling of specialty goods such as nianhua during the seasonal festivals of the lunar calendar.  Innovating the Auspicious: Mianzhu’s Door Deity Markets The growth of various ritual industries in China since the 1980s has attracted much scholarly attention as a litmus test for judging the extent to which traditional practices have been lost, revived, or reinvented to suit the emerging social realities. Anthropologist Helen Siu, for instance, has argued that ritual beliefs and practices at the local level were so transformed and “diluted” by the pervasive effects of state policies that they could only be understood as “cultural fragments recycled under new circumstances.”56 Similarly, anthropologist Emily Chao uses the term “ritual bricolage” to describe a fragmented and reinvented version of tradition that arose among the Naxi people of Yunnan province.57 On the other end of the spectrum, scholars have pointed to ritual practices that have survived the attacks on tradition during the Cultural Revolution,  55  Dali Yang, Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society, and Institutional Change Since the Great Leap Famine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 157. 56 Helen Siu, “Recycled Rituals: Politics and Popular Culture in Contemporary Rural China,” in Unofficial China: Popular Culture and Thought in the People’s Republic, ed. Perry Link, Richard Madsen, and Paul Pickowicz (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989), 134. 57 Emily Chao “The Maoist Shaman and the Madman: Ritual Bricolage, Failed Ritual, and Failed Ritual Theory,” Cultural Anthropology, 14, no.4 (1999): 504-43.  25  acting as sites of “cultural resistance” against state policies or even the incursions of global capitalism.58 Recent studies have started to challenge this rather polarized view that splits the ritual revival into continuities and discontinuities, where the “traditional practices” of the present are inevitably pitted against the “singular, all-encompassing belief systems” of life before the Maoist era.59 Anthropologist Adam Chau has warned against imposing a rigid division of past and present ritual practices that would “assume that what existed before Maoist suppression was a tradition that was more coherent and authentic.”60 Chau goes on to emphasize how the “apparent coherence” of earlier traditions is equally a result of “invented” and “recycled” practices: The ‘feudal tradition’ that came to be suppressed or destroyed during the antitraditionalist campaigns during the Maoist period and reinvented in what appears to be a piecemeal or haphazard manner in the reform era is a complex, dynamic, ever-changing cluster of institutions, practitioners, and consumers, knowledge and practices fully amenable to innovations, inventions, and reinventions all the time…It can also endure suppressions, lie dormant for a long time, go underground, minimalize, and reemerge in new forms in response to new historical conditions.61 Chau’s research begins to move away from a notion of revival that reifies this past/present divide, and towards the concepts of “revitalization” and “innovation” as a  58  Influential studies on this issue of rural resistance, resilience, and agency in the post-Mao era include Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, “Putting Global Capitalism in Its Place: Economic Hybridity, Bataille, and Ritual Expenditure,” Current Anthropology 41, no. 4 (August/Oct 2000) and Edward Friedman, Paul Pickowicz, and Mark Selden, Resistance, Resistance, and Reform in Village China (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005). 59 Adam Yuet Chau, Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 6. 60 Ibid. 61 Ibid.  26  way of reframing the discussion. I will build on Chau’s approach to argue that the contemporary nianhua industry is not simply a recuperation of a lost art, which is often suggested by the notion of “revival.” Instead, notions of revitalization or resurgence are more adequate here in acknowledging the evolving forms of nianhua production and consumption. Mianzhu’s nianhua-producing families produced a diversity of works during the print reforms of the 1950s and up until the Cultural Revolution, when the industry went through a dormant phase. A handful of elder painters and printmakers returned to work in the early 1980s, with at least seven families reasserting their place within multi-generational lineages of printmakers. Three of these lineage-holding workshops are active today, with many new workshops and self-fashioned “folk artists” emerging on the scene. The ritual practices tied to nianhua consumption have also continued to adapt and change according to the conditions of everyday life and livelihood. In emphasizing Mianzhu’s living nianhua practices, I do not mean to suggest that the practices have survived intact and unchanged by the many profound effects of the state-led print reforms and the Cultural Revolution. It is undeniable that all aspects of nianhua production and consumption in the region were transformed by the prolonged periods of upheaval. The goal here is to acknowledge innovation and adaptation as an inherent aspect of the nianhua industry. It is certainly possible to examine the evolution of nianhua practices in people’s daily life without declaring its total demise at the hands of state circumscription. In reviewing the historic development of Mianzhu’s early print trade, it is also evident that the industry was never isolated from the official and elite realms although scholars have characterized it as a rural folk tradition. Mianzhu’s early print trade challenges the idealized image of naive rural artisans working in remote  27  isolation, as it was always profoundly shaped by the dialectical interactions of the rural/urban and official/nonofficial realms. Mianzhu’s urban printmakers were often educated elites who jostled for influence in the region and formed powerful trade guilds, including a printers’ guild known as the Fuxi Association  , named after the guild’s patron deity Fuxi, a mythical emperor  credited for creating fishing, trapping, and writing.62 The guild regulated all aspects of production, pricing, and trading, and convened regularly in the center of town, where they built a meeting hall with a shrine to Fuxi at the Nanhua Palace  . 63 In addition  to producing ritually efficacious works, these guilds actively competed for auspicious sites such as temples and shrines to hold their markets and banquets. They also claimed propitious dates of the traditional calendar to conduct their business and hired theater troupes to perform at their gatherings. The practice of adopting a patron deity further enhanced the unified identity and prestige of the print guild. These guilds were active up to the mid-twentieth century and competed with those from Jiajiang and Liangping, print centers that adopted their own patron deities. These activities speak to a strong preoccupation with harnessing auspicious time and space as powerful sources of symbolic capital to support livelihood and trade. Mianzhu’s historic print trade produced three main categories of prints, including door deities (menshen  ), square prints (doufang  ), and picture strips (huatiao  62  As early as the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1050-221 BCE), Fuxi appears as an archetypal figure in the myths of ancient sage kings. In these early writings, his reign is dated to the 3rd millennium BCE and he is credited with establishing kingship and inventing many forms of human technology, including the calendar, the fishing net, and written language. During the Han period (206 BCE -220 CE), Fuxi is often depicted with a carpenter’s square and his female counterpart, the goddess Nüwa . For an account of Fuxi’s early mythology, see: Mark E. Lewis, Writing and Authority in Early China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 197-209. 63 Hou and Liu, “Introduction to Mianzhu’s Nianhua," 11-17.  28  ). The door deities were by far produced in the largest quantities and in the greatest variety. As a result, the local print trade was referred to as the “door deity trade” and the winter print markets were widely known “door deity markets”  , although a  variety of prints were sold there. At its height in the late Qing period, an estimated 300 print shops were based in Mianzhu, producing an estimated twelve million prints a year, of which ten million were door deity prints. These were distributed for domestic consumption as well as export to Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei, and abroad to Burma, India, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, and the countries of Southeast Asia.64 As the most popular category of prints, Mianzhu’s door deities were sold as single sheets or in pairs, for display on either single leaf or double leaf doors. They came in three standardized sizes designed for different sized doors, designated as “large format” , “medium format”  , and “small format”  Larger works adorned the exterior  doorways of a home while smaller ones were reserved for the interior doors of the living room, kitchen, pantry, or bedroom. A wide range of figures appeared as protective door deities, with martial warrior types guarding the outer gates of a home and civil figures, such as scholar-officials or baby boys, protecting the doors to interior spaces (fig. 11). Individual workshops would develop their own repertoires of door deity prints and the large print guilds were known to encourage innovation by holding banquets every year to critique the emerging designs. The second most popular category was the square prints, which were printed on the smallest format papers. These depicted a wide range of auspicious images for ritual 64  Gao Wen , Hou Shiwu , and Ning Zhiqi year pictures] (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), 3-8.  , Mianzhu Nianhua  [Mianzhu new  29  display, including a host of minor deities, beautiful maidens, and theatrical scenes geared towards activating specific spaces in the home. For instance, fertility deities were displayed in bedrooms while protective cat deities guarded the pantry from hungry rodents (fig. 12). The third and smallest category was printed scrolls, collectively known as picture strips. While the door deities and square prints were designed as ephemeral and inexpensive works for annual renewal during the Lunar New Year, the picture strips were more expensive, labor-intensive works designed for permanent display in interior spaces. They came in both vertical and horizontal formats and often depicted popular deities for display above altars. They also depict action-packed scenes from mythology, history, and theater, as well as genre painting themes such as scenes of everyday life, street processions, or festivals. For instance, a late 19th century example of a picture strip from Mianzhu depicts a scene from Journey to the West  , the famous vernacular novel  and drama from the Ming dynasty (fig. 13). Mianzhu’s workshops sold all of these works in the periodic door deity markets, which also included other types of ephemera such as spring couplets and lintel hangings. Spring couplets were produced by both amateur and professional calligraphers who inscribed auspicious phrases on two vertical strips of paper to be displayed around doorways and flanking the images of door deities. Paper cut artisans sold auspicious lintel hangings, usually a string of five red paper-cut money designs to be hung from door lintels.65  65  Jiang Jingchen  wenshi ziliao ji  , “Jiefang qian Mianzhu chengguan gehangye shichang de fenbu gaikuang”  [Overview of Mianzhu’s pre-liberation urban industries], in Mianzhu 14 [Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol. 14], ed. Wang Peisheng  30  The competitive environment of the industry shaped Mianzhu’s unique carving, printing, and painting methods, which were often guarded as precious trade secrets passed down within a family line of printmakers. In the standard workflow procedure, a print designer is responsible for composing and painting the original design of the print. The print designer must be highly trained in brushwork and knowledgeable in the use of iconography for a variety of ritual images. They are often educated individuals who paint for a living all year-round, producing original print designs, scroll paintings, temple murals, and painted coffins, fans, and screens. Once the print design is finalized, it is passed to a carver, who recreates the lines of the drawing in a block of hard pear or cherry wood by removing the negative spaces of the design. This labor-intensive phase requires great precision to ensure smooth and fluid lines, capable of withstanding multiple printings (fig. 14). Once the block is carved, the printer brushes the block evenly with black ink and presses the paper against the block to produce a monochrome outline of the image (fig.15). Finally, the printed outline is passed to a team of painters who apply colors, facial features, and finishing details by hand (fig. 16). In a technique known as “flower stamping”  , the painters also use many small stamps that are usually  coated in gold or silver leaf and stamped on the painted print as a finishing touch (fig. 17). Mianzhu’s print shops ranged in size from large, year-round print factories that employed skilled laborers in every aspect of print production, to small household cottage industries that only worked on a seasonal basis. The print industry followed a rigorous schedule punctuated by a seasonal round of periodic markets and temple fairs that rotated  and Zhang Changlu weiyuanhui, 1995): 120-134.  (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao  31  through Chengdu and the surrounding villages and townships. The winter off-season of agricultural labor marked the high season of the print trade, when large quantities of prints were in demand for the Lunar New Year festival, when virtually every household took down the prints from the year past and posted new ones. At this time, the farming community turned to the production of prints as a vital form of additional livelihood. Rural households would often purchase original designs from a designer working in the urban center then reproduce the print in their home workshops. If there were not enough skilled family members, the household could bring in hired hands to complete the work in time for the winter print markets. In contrast to print centers that use multiple-block printing, Mianzhu’s printmakers apply all the colors and details by hand, primarily with brushwork but also with small patterned stamps and the application of gold leaf. Although the prints are mass-produced, they bear the subtle variations of this final stage of production. The technique of multiple-blocks is certainly not unknown to Mianzhu’s printmakers, since nearby centers use the technique. Hand-finishing appears to be a conscious marketing decision that was most likely regulated by the local print guilds. Bo Songnian has commented on the unique emphasis on brushwork found in Mianzhu’s prints, which he traces to the painting traditions brought by the traveling court painters who arrived in large numbers during the Tang dynasty (618-907), when the An Lushan and Huang Chao rebellions forced the Tang court to flee to Chengdu. Chengdu became an active painting center that continued to flourish throughout the Song dynasty (960-1279), laying an important foundation for the development of popular painting and printing in the  32  region.66 Bo’s study provides only a few examples from over the centuries to support this claim, yet it is certainly an area that warrants greater research. Today, Mianzhu’s printmakers continue to exploit brushwork as a way of developing a competitive edge in the marketplace. This includes the use of “mandarin duck brushwork”  where a brush is loaded with just enough moisture at the base  and color at the tip to produce alternating shades of light and dark when pressure is applied.67 Another characteristic technique is known as “bright displays”  ,  which involves the use of white pigment to outline major brush strokes, making them pop out of the picture plane with high contrast. These lines are often thickly applied and physically raised off the surface of the paper, creating a custom embossed feel to the print (fig. 18). These approaches and many others have continued to evolve, and they distinguish Mianzhu’s prints from those of other print centers. The winter print markets never ceased to take place in Mianzhu and are still timed with the rhythms of the lunar calendar. As in the past, the greatest number of prints circulating in these markets are door deities, spring couplets, and lintel hangings, ephemeral works that come into large demand during the Lunar New Year when families renew these works on the exterior of their household doors. However, the handmade works are now far outnumbered by the flood of digitally printed nianhua entering these markets. The widespread circulation of inexpensive ephemera, both digitally printed and handmade, has catalyzed the rapid recovery of the nianhua industry in the region.  66  Bo Songnian , “Fuyou xianming difang tese de Mianzhu nianhua [Mianzhu nianhua with strong local characteristics],” in Mianzhu nianhua jingpin ji Selected works of Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Hou Rong (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 2005), 18-23. 67 The vivid reference to mandarin ducks may call up the contrast of their light and dark feathers and/or their fluid movements through water.  33  Local and provincial officials also began taking actions in the early 1980s to launch a folk art export industry based on the historic nianhua held in Mianzhu’s Cultural Affairs Bureau and Cultural Relics Bureau. These works quickly attained a high profile as the privileged representatives of traditional Mianzhu nianhua. During the Cultural Revolution, two directors at the Cultural Affairs Bureau secretly hid some 200 historical works that are roughly dated to the 18th and 19th centuries. First collected in 1960 by state researchers Shi Weian  and Fu Wenshu  , the works are poorly documented  and difficult to date although they are now considered the most complete and highquality set of historic Mianzhu nianhua. 68 From 1978 to 1984, the works were exhibited as folk art treasures in a series of touring exhibitions designed to market nianhua as a folk art export commodity. 69 In the 1990s, the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum was built with state funds to house the expanding state nianhua collection and to attract tourists to Mianzhu (fig. 19). This folk art tourism grew, and in the early 2000s, state funds were used to build an entire Nianhua Village with large painted murals of historic nianhua adorning shops, restaurants, and residential neighborhoods (fig. 20). In contrast to the seasonal markets that sold nianhua as inexpensive ritual ephemera, this state-led folk art industry circulated nianhua as permanent collector’s items, souvenirs, and replicas. The few scholarly writings addressing the recent rise of the nianhua industry have taken a rather negative stance on these developments, especially with regard to the introduction of digitally printed works. In a recent essay, Bo Songnian announced the 68  These clandestine activities are documented in a published interview with Hou Shiwu , the former director of Mianzhu’s Cultural Affairs in Shen Hong , Mianzhu nianhua zhi lü [Touring Mianzhu nianhua (Beijing: Zhongguo huabao chubanshe, 2006), 64-70. 69 For a discussion of the early 1980s touring exhibitions of Mianzhu nianhua and the filming of the feature documentary, Curiosities of Sichuan , see Pan Peide , “Sichuan Mianzhu nianhua huigu uu zhanwang" [Reflections on Mianzhu nianhua's past and future], Meishu Tongxun 2 (1990): 12-14.  34  failure of official programs to revive traditional nianhua industry since the early 1980s.70 According to Bo, poorly implemented revival programs and the low quality of digitally printed works made on commercial presses have damaged nianhua’s reputation as a viable art form. Bo concludes that despite the many efforts to revive the industry, nianhua has somehow failed to “keep up with the times.” Recounting his visit to Mianzhu in the mid-1990s, art historian Lu Shengzong  also lamented the  widespread display of “vulgar” digitally printed nianhua on household walls and called for renewed efforts to salvage whatever was left of traditional woodblock prints, which he claimed could only still be seen in rural areas and in the homes of the elderly.71 The problem with these assessments is that they impose a set of aesthetic standards established by folk art discourses that align “tradition” with the specific production methods and print designs found in historic nianhua archives. In doing so, they dismiss the evolving forms of ritual print consumption that form a vital part of nianhua tradition, including its ties to a broader array of ritual industries harmonized with the lunar calendar. The digitally printed nianhua may appear vulgar to an urban scholar, but that does not reveal much about the shifting perceptions, tastes, and needs of those who actually buy and use nianhua in their lived spaces. Since much of the existing scholarship has been focused on issues of production and representation in the nianhua archive, the issue of nianhua consumption is an area that requires more critical inquiry, especially for those inexpensive and ephemeral works that never make it into an archive.  70  Bo Songnian, “The Rise, Fall, Preservation, and Loss of Nianhua Art,” 8-10. Lu Shengzong “Hometown of Chinese New Year Pictures? A Museum? A Book?” in Mianzhu Nianhua jingpin ji [Selected works of Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Hou Rong (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 2005), 24-34. 71  35  The few studies that have addressed nianhua consumption focus primarily on the role of nianhua in domestic rituals of the rural household. For instance, one of the only studies to examine contemporary nianhua as they appear in their lived environments is a study on Chinese vernacular architecture by cultural geographer Ronald Knapp. He argues that the auspicious significance of nianhua can be understood as part of the “social template” of the dwelling, where building practices, spatial arrangements, and the strategic placement of ritual objects continually shape the social relations within the home.72 As such, nianhua play a role in upholding a Confucian worldview based on “harmonious hierarchy,” where the display of images and objects directly shapes the relations “between parents and children, men and women within the living family, those between dead forebears and their living descendants; and those between the family unit and the world beyond the dwelling’s wall.” 73 For instance, door deities and spring couplets mark out the social significance of the household doorway as a vulnerable boundary between the inner sanctum of the family and the potentially dangerous elements of the street. These works deter negative influences from entering the home while serving as catalysts for auspicious or felicitous speech between family members and visitors. In a short essay, art historian Ellen J. Laing describes a similar “persistence of propriety” in urban apartments of the 1980s, where certain nineteenth-century practices of arranging auspicious objects within the home continued to shape the domestic spaces, including “the strict rows of furniture, the centralized symmetrical arrangement of the centerpiece paintings along with their proper subject matter and representational style, and the brightly colored, auspicious New Year’s pictures.” These visual displays point to 72  Ronald Knapp, China's Living Houses: Symbols and Household Ornamentation, (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press), 1999, 7-14. 73 Ibid., 11.  36  the survival of certain moral values as maintained through “what is considered appropriate and correct in the house and its decoration.”74 Laing also addresses how these practices adapted to the changing conditions of life in the 1990s, including the new limitations in space found in apartment buildings and the growing variety of old and new images available in the marketplace. These studies provide strong evidence for the resurgence of ritual print activities in peoples’ everyday lives after the Cultural Revolution, in both rural and urban areas. However, the danger in examining the role of nianhua within domestic spaces is that the home is constructed as an insular or impenetrable space, where certain traditional activities are safely preserved against the profound social upheavals and events happening beyond its walls. The domestic realm of the rural household has long been characterized by folk stereotypes, as an idealized haven for time-honored values and practices or as a site of cultural backwardness trapped in the past. In either case, the domestic sphere is constructed as static and resistant to outside influences, a powerful foil to the space of the marketplace, which is often imagined as the dynamic site of exchange. This study argues for the need to examine the flows of ideas, goods, and practices that actually connect and blur the boundaries between home and marketplace, especially to acknowledge the evolving nature of nianhua in contemporary China. In a recent booklength study on the contemporary pasted-paper sculpture industry of Taiwan, co-authors Ellen J. Laing and Helen Hui-ling Liu provide a useful model for examining the  74  Ellen J. Laing, “Persistence of Propriety in the 1980s” in Unofficial China: Popular Culture and Thought in the People’s Republic, ed. Perry Link, Richard Madsen, and Paul Pickowicz (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989), 160.  37  interconnected circuits of supply and demand that shape a ritual industry.75 Laing and Liu draw important connections between the evolving materials, methods, and designs produced in the paper sculpture workshops and the changing funerary practices of burning of paper goods as offerings to the deceased. The authors point to the paper sculpture industry’s quick response to the growing demand for new types of paper goods that reflect contemporary life, where “air conditioners replace electric fans, which replaced handheld fans; thus for his modern clients, the modern craftsman no longer makes paper handheld fans or electric fans, but paper air conditioners.”76 Although industrially mass-produced items are gradually replacing handmade sculptures in Taiwan, this actually coincides with the growth rather than the decline of ritualized funerary practices. In documenting these changes, the study concludes, “the making of paper sculpture will survive by adapting and incorporating new elements and serving new needs as it has historically done.”77 The trends studied here parallel the developments in Mianzhu’s nianhua industry, with new works emerging in the marketplace every year.  Nianhua as a Living Archive? The great diversity of painted, printed, and industrially mass-produced works that now fall under the rubric of nianhua call for a rethinking of the term, which has long been synonymous with the historic woodblock prints preserved in nianhua archives. I will thus propose using an alternate lens that conceives of nianhua as a “living archive,” a concept that underscores both the changing nature of the works themselves and how they 75  Ellen J. Laing and Helen Hui-ling Liu, Up in Flames: The Ephemeral Art of Pasted-Paper Sculpture in Taiwan, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). 76 Ibid., 165. 77 Ibid., 167.  38  are embedded within a range of practices geared towards “pursuing the auspicious, repelling the portentous.” The notion of a living archive underscores the inseparable relationships between objects and practices, and seeks to acknowledge the different ways in which nianhua are presented as ritual ephemera, folk art, national heritage, kitsch, or tourist souvenir. Instead of privileging one discourse over the other, the idea is to recast nianhua as a contested terrain that involves an ongoing negotiation of meaning. In recasting nianhua as a living archive, I will argue that meaning is not only represented but also presented in different modes of production and consumption. I will draw on the work of cultural theorist Diana Taylor, who has argued for the urgent need to reconceptualize the relationship of “the archive and the repertoire.” While the archive is valued as the tangible evidence of knowledge, it is often constructed as a stable and unchanging collection of documents and objects. In contrast, the repertoire is often “banished to the past” because it refers to embodied activities, the “performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing–in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, nonreproducible knowledge.”78 Taylor challenges the privileging of the archive at the expense of the repertoire by pointing to the continual interactions between the two. For Taylor, this requires new methodological strategies that acknowledge the value of the repertoire without simply reducing it to the archive: Instead of focusing on patterns of cultural expression in terms of texts and narratives, we might think about them as scenarios that do not reduce gestures and embodied practices to narrative description. This shift necessarily alters what academic disciplines regard as appropriate canons, and might extend the  78  Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press Books, 2003), 20.  39  traditional disciplinary boundaries to include practices previously outside the purview.79 Along similar lines, the critical interventions advanced by visual culture scholars over the past twenty years have reshaped the field of art history by challenging the perceived authority and stability of the material archive. Launched as an interdisciplinary movement or “de-disciplinary exercise,” visual culture scholars have been questioning art history’s role in shaping and disseminating artistic canons by imposing Eurocentric standards of value on diverse forms of cultural production around the world.80 Visual culture theory has substantially reshaped the field of art history, as many visual culture scholars and art historians alike have shifted away from formal, object-oriented methodologies and towards a critical analysis of visuality itself. Situated firmly in postmodern scholarship and its debates around the “death of the author,” visual culture writings have drawn attention to the circulation and consumption of cultural products as critical sites of meaning-making, where visuality may be shaped by diverse “practices of looking” or “scopic regimes.”81 According to art historian Deborah Cherry, the significant implications for the field are that: Visual culture questions art history’s conventional procedures, its connoisseurship and enthusiasm for “a good eye,” offering instead “an understanding of embodied knowledge, of disputed meanings, of the formation of scholastic discourses of  79  Ibid., 17. In his seminal writings on the study of visual culture, Nicolas Mirzeoff sets forth its aims to move beyond academic disciplines as a “postdisciplinary” endeavor and “fluid interpretive structure” that is “centred on understanding the response to visual media of both individuals and groups.” Nicolas Mirzeoff, An Introduction to Visual Culture, (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 4. 81 Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001): 1-10. 80  40  material value, of viewing subject positions within culture, and of the role of vision in the formation of structures of desire.82 A key point of tension I wish to explore here is the uneasy relationship between object and practice that arises in these discussions, especially in terms of the disciplinary divides that shape modern scholarship. Chinese nianhua have been examined in different fields of study, especially anthropology and art history, with each discipline bringing a different contribution and focal point. While scholars in anthropology tend to privilege the role of human activities as the site of agency and knowledge formation, nianhua are often passively situated as the facilitating objects of popular religion or ritual practices. On the other hand, the art historical approach has focused on decoding and objectifying nianhua as a visual or historical text, with less attention given to its broad repertoires of ritual activity. In short, these disciplinary divides still reflect what Taylor has identified as the seemingly unsurmountable boundary between the archive and the repertoire. In recent years however, the disciplines of anthropology and art history both reflect the growing influence of post-structuralist approaches and a “performative turn” that moves away from “ritual systems” or “sign systems” to address the active and agentive dimensions of both ritual practices and objects. The performative view of ritual practice has been set forth in the theoretical and anthropological writings of Pierre Bourdieu, Talal Asad, and Catherine Bell. Notably, Talal Asad has historicized the concept of “ritual” in nineteenth-century European scholarship, when early anthropologists approached ritual as a symbolic activity to be decoded for meaning. For Asad, this modern definition of ritual should not be taken for granted as a universal 82  Irit Rogoff cited in Deborah Cherry, Art History: Visual: Culture, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005),  4.  41  framework but as a cultural construct that reflects Western assumptions about the self and state. Building on the theoretical work of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, Asad argued against “reading symbols” in ritual behavior and towards a performative view of ritual practice as forms of direct action: “Ritual is therefore directed at the apt performance of what is prescribed, something that depends on intellectual and practical disciplines but does not itself require decoding.”83 Thus, Asad’s approach redirects attention from abstracted values or beliefs towards embodied actions aimed at producing a desired result. In response to Asad’s argument, Catherine Bell contends that ritual practices should be differentiated from other practices by processes of ritualization, which she defines as “a way of acting that distinguishes itself from other ways of acting in the very way it does what it does; moreover, it makes this distinction for specific purposes.”84 In staking out the key methodological implications of such a definition, Bell argued that a practice-oriented approach to ritual should address “how a particular community or culture ritualizes” and “when and why ritualization is deemed the effective thing to do.”85 Significantly, Bell’s model stresses an inclusive view of ritual in its lived contexts, as reflecting “the full spectrum of ways of acting within any given culture, not as some a priori category of action totally independent of other forms of action.”86 An understanding of how and why people choose to ritualize certain activities requires an acknowledgment of the field of options that are available in the first place. Instead of approaching rituals as “clear and autonomous rites,” Bell points to a more dynamic 83  Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam, (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 62. 84 Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 81. 85 Ibid., 82. 86 Ibid., 83.  42  conception of ritual activity as unfolding processes, as “methods, traditions and strategies of ‘ritualization.’”87 Recent studies in Chinese popular religion have also taken up this performative view of ritual practice, including Adam Chau’s study of contemporary popular religion in Shaanbei. Chau argues for a “person-centered” approach that focuses on what he calls “doing popular religion,” a phrase that captures the active and conscious dimension of religious practices. Moving away from the “anthropological search for meanings behind symbols and symbolic behavior,” Chau engages in “a search for the cultural basis (cultural logic) of social intercourse and cultural performance.”88 In doing so, Chau critiques the many tensions between ideas and practices as they are played out in social life. Similarly, in a study that addresses the inexpensive prints of the stove deity  ,  popular religion scholar Richard Chard reveals the discrepancies between the actual practices of the stove deity cult and the written scriptures that contain ritual instructions for worshipping the deity. In particular, the widespread practice of making offerings to the image and renewing it during the Lunar New Year period is not mentioned in the majority of the written texts. 89 Chard’s study is a powerful reminder that the repertoire of embodied practices can often push for a rethinking or reinterpretation of the archive. With a renewed focus on human agency and diversity in ritual practices however, these studies tend to downplay or gloss over the specific features and powerful roles of efficacious sites/objects in activating ritual practices just as they are being shaped by them. At the other end of the spectrum, a debate has been launched between  87  Ibid., 82. Chau, Miraculous Response, 126. 89 Richard Chard, “Rituals and Scriptures of the Stove Cult,” in Rituals and Scriptures in Chinese Popular Religion, ed. David Johnson (Berkeley: Chinese Popular Culture Project, 1995), 3-54. 88  43  anthropologists and art historians concerning “object agency,” a notion that foregrounds the active and performative role of objects in shaping social relations.90 An influential theory of object agency was set forth in 1998 by anthropologist Alfred Gell, who challenged Saussure’s linguistic models that treat cultural objects as “sign-vehicles,” or “texts” to be decoded for meaning.91 Rejecting aesthetic analysis, Gell states: “In place of symbolic communication, I place all the emphasis on agency, intention, causation, result, and transformation. I view art as a system of action, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it.”92 Further, Gell rejects the notion of art as a distinctly separate “visual” language and argues for an analysis of “‘things’ as social agents” with the capacity to initiate causal events. This action-oriented interpretation of objects displaces the privileged position of the visual and sets the stage for examining the different “states of mind” or “intentions” an object may facilitate in certain social settings. Art historians and visual culture scholars have responded to Gell’s approach with varied critiques. In a recent volume, Robin Osborne and Jeremy Tanner have been quick to point out that other scholars have already addressed the issues raised by Gell, if only not in the language of anthropology.93 The authors cite Norman Bryson and Mieke Bal as scholars working in the realm of art history and visual culture studies who do not adopt the same analogies of art and language used by structuralist anthropologists. They point to Bryson’s bold challenges to the uncritical adaptation of the “Saussurean sign” for art historical interpretation, which leaves the scholar in danger of “a perspective in which the 90  Janet Hoskins, “Agency, Biography, and Objects,” in Handbook of Material Culture, ed. Christopher Tilley et al. (London Sage, 2006: 74-84); Robert Layton, “Art and Agency: A Reassessment,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9, no. 3 (2003); Maruska Svasek, Anthropology, Art, and Cultural Production (London and Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2007). 91 Alfred, Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). 92 Ibid., 6. 93 Robin Osborne and Jeremy Tanner, introduction to Arts Agency and Art History, ed. Robin Osborne and Jeremy Tanner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 1-27.  44  meaning of the sign is defined entirely by formal means, as the product of oppositions among signs within an enclosed system.”94 Like Gell, Bryson is concerned with situating the work within its immediate social domain and on its own terms: “having relocated painting within the social domain, inherently and not only as a result of the instrumental placing there by some other agency, it becomes possible to think of the image as discursive work which returns into society.”95 Osborne and Tanner also note that despite his critical stance towards symbolic analysis, Gell is not completely distanced from issues of aesthetics and symbolic communication in his supporting case studies. For instance, they point to his analysis of apotropaic patterns, such as Celtic knotwork and labyrinths, which lend themselves to protecting thresholds, buildings, or bodies by virtue of their cognitive indecipherability or “enchanting” technologies. Gell describes how these complex patterns are used to attract demons, who in their fascination, ending up getting “stuck” like insects on a sticky surface and thus diverted from acts of malevolence. Osborne and Tanner critique this as an ahistorical and universalist understanding of cognitive processes. They argue that Gell’s alternative to symbolic analysis is to replace it with “some kind of transcendental aesthetics” or a “universal perceptual-cognitive basis for visual response” that explains the ability of certain objects to mediate agency.96 Historians of Chinese art appear divided on the issue, with some scholars defending aesthetic and symbolic analysis and others adopting certain aspects of Gell’s theory of object agency. Art historian Jessica Rawson, for instance, has critiqued Gell for  94  Norman Bryson quoted in Osborne and Tanner, Arts Agency, 5 (from Bryson’s Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983). 95 Ibid. 96 Osborne and Tanner, Arts Agency, 7.  45  failing to acknowledge how different cultures might variously construct the notion of agency as it relates to objects, reflecting different values, beliefs, and worldviews. In her study of ritual portraits made for the Chinese court under the Ming emperor Shenzong (1573-1620), Rawson maintains that the ritual power of these imperial objects exists in multiple social spheres, including the relationship between the emperor and his court, and between the emperor and the spirit realm. While arguing for a more nuanced view of agency in these different social spheres, Rawson defends the use of aesthetic and symbolic analysis as strategies that can be situated and qualified within a cultural context: “what is missing in Gell’s approach is an understanding that systems of symbols or iconography, and even traditional methods of painting and carving, are not isolated systems. They are integrated with, and are maintained in use by, complex and, usually unquestioned, quite other systems of both practice and belief.”97 In defending the structuralist models that situate Chinese art within shared systems of belief and iconography, Rawson’s approach reifies the assumption that meaning can be fixed in the objects themselves. More critically, it is an approach that places the focus on the representation of auspicious meaning rather than its multivalent modes of meaning in presentation. Other scholars have used the debate around object agency to raise new questions and issues concerning the study of Chinese art. Art historian Craig Clunas, who has criticized approaches that focus solely on aesthetic or symbolic issues in Chinese art, begins his study of the “visual and material cultures” of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) with a chapter on “Time, Space, and Agency in Ming  97  Jessica Rawson, “The Agency of, and the Agency for, the Wanli Emperor,” in Arts Agency and Art History, ed. Robin Osborne and Jeremy Tanner (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 111.  46  China.”98 Moving away from issues of symbolic representation and towards issues of circulation and use, Clunas examines how the timed circulation of many commodities reinforced imperial time, seasonal time or family time. In revealing how different notions of time, history, and space could be “handled and seen” in everyday objects, Clunas situates his discussion of object agency within their spatio-temporal contexts of circulation and consumption.99 This may include coins and bowls marked with reign dates that move through different social spheres to enforce imperial time or auspicious paintings designed for seasonal display during lunar calendar festivals. In doing so, Clunas stresses the need to keep in mind both the “visual” and “material” aspects of Ming culture, a strategic move to challenge “a too easy acceptance of a material past and visual contemporary.”100 In keeping these two “unstable and perhaps ultimately unsatisfactory categories” in the foreground, Clunas’ research maintains a critical edge at the interdisciplinary intersection of art history and material culture studies without reducing all forms of cultural production to the visual and aesthetic domains. Clunas’ study brings an important interdisciplinary perspective to the study of Chinese art history that maps a way forward for addressing the archive and the repertoire without privileging one over the other. In a separate study on the Ming dynasty painter Wen Zhengming, Clunas explicitly states his commitment to this task: I am writing from a conviction that the relations between agents, relations in which the work is embedded, illuminate the object, but that equally the object enacts those social relations. In this dialectical engagement neither enjoys 98  Craig Clunas, Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997), 21-52. 99 Ibid., 32. 100 Ibid., 14.  47  unquestioned primacy. This is Appadurai’s point that methodologically we must pay close attention to the social life of the actual individual object, even as we accept that is multiple meanings are not inherent from the time of creation but are reinscribed on it by its movement through time and between social actors.101  Taking a cue from Clunas, my study advances the notion of a living archive to emphasize the dialectical engagement between objects and the social practices in which they are embedded. Many objects are only recognizable as nianhua through their specific modes of display and use. This includes everyday objects, ads, and posters that are regularly appropriated for ritual use as nianhua as well as the state collections of nianhua that continually adopt new prints and paintings under the category of nianhua. A living archive therefore draws attention to the repertoire of practices that continually shape our understanding of nianhua. In taking this view, it is possible to critique nianhua as an unstable category shaped by competing discourses instead of imposing a single disciplinary lens such as “folk art,” “popular religion,” or “visual culture.” The notion of a living archive comes with its own risks however. As an openended and highly suggestive term, it may be argued that virtually any form of cultural production may be understood as a living archive. What then sets nianhua apart from other forms of printing or painting? Why is it critically necessary to examine nianhua in particular, as a living archive? In this study, I am not only deploying this term to avoid the use of disciplinary lenses and fixed definitions. I will argue that the notion of a living archive actually allows for a more nuanced understanding of two defining features that set nianhua apart from other media. The first is nianhua’s attributed power to “pursue the  101  Craig Clunas, Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming, (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), 13.  48  auspicious, repel the portentous,” a unifying feature that sets nianhua apart from many other forms of printing and painting. As mentioned earlier, this concept has largely been studied in terms of visual representation rather than in terms of presentation, circulation, and ritual use. As a living archive, I will argue that nianhua’s auspicious or portentous associations are no longer limited to the picture plane; they can be analyzed in time and space. A second important characteristic of nianhua is its widespread status as an ephemeral ritual object. Since existing studies have focused primarily on decoding the visual symbolism of nianhua, the central issue of its ephemerality has largely gone untheorized. The notion of a living archive draws attention back to this critical aspect of nianhua production and use, which is intimately linked to the seasonal cycles of the lunar calendar and periodic rites of renewal that activate the auspicious power of nianhua through proper timing and placement in the home or business. The social significance of nianhua is therefore inseparable from their cyclic movement through time and space, as highly transitory entities rather than stable objects. The notion of a living archive therefore serves as an important departure point for delving into that which makes nianhua a unique realm of cultural activity in contemporary China. In addition to this, I am underscoring this concept in direct response to specific developments in the folk art revival movement that has spread across China and gained momentum since the early 1980s. As this study will show, the increasing involvement of state agencies in collecting, exhibiting, and commodifying nianhua has played a powerful role in relegating nianhua to a remote and rural past. In rethinking nianhua as a living entity, as an archive without walls, the goal is to critique these state-  49  led revival activities and to reveal nianhua’s continued resistance to being kept under “house arrest,” to borrow from Jacques Derrida’s description of the modern archive.102 I will argue that these issues carry high stakes for Mianzhu’s growing nianhua industry and all those who depend on it for a living.  Performing Engaged Research To tackle these issues, the chapters that follow draw heavily from firsthand observations and interview sessions with Mianzhu’s nianhua makers and users. The field research for this project was carried out during the summer months of 2006 and several weeks in the winter of 2007. In the summer of 2006, I came under the guidance of the artist and scholar Liu Zhumei, a researcher at the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum who has published extensively on the history of Mianzhu nianhua. Through Liu’s guidance and support, I gained access to the many historic nianhua and archived documents held in the museum. Before conducting any recorded interviews in Mianzhu, I spent many weeks following her lead in obtaining the necessary research permissions and establishing social relations with Mianzhu’s nianhua workshops. As an artist herself, she had close ties and long standing relationships with the nianhua producers I interviewed. This process of engagement, shaped by local custom and many shared meals, provided opportunities for me to conduct several in-depth interviews in the community. Instead of imposing a rigid interview questionnaire, I chose instead to document the natural flow of informal and open-ended conversations with nianhua makers and users in Mianzhu. However, a guiding point of inquiry revolved around nianhua’s 102  Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 2.  50  attributed function to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous,” a topic that seemed to come up in conversation quite naturally. As an open-ended concept, it often sparked the sharing of personal histories, memories, stories, or popular sayings tied to nianhua production or use. From the many hours of interviews, I selected excerpts that best exemplify the range of varied perspectives shaping Mianzhu’s nianhua industry. I include conversations with both urban and rural residents who have displayed nianhua in their homes. I also draw attention to excerpts that reveal the high stakes involved in the presentation of nianhua’s ritual efficacy. This is particularly the case for the three established lineageholding nianhua workshops in Mianzhu, where the notion of a nianhua “lineage” (pai  )  refers to a familial line of nianhua producers who construct and assert their lineageholding status through a variety of means, including their family genealogy, signature production skills, and territorial claims to a particular production site that may or may not belong to the family. Currently, the Wang, Chen, and Li family workshops are the only lineage-holding workshops still active in Mianzhu. With the support of my mentor Liu, I had the fortune of interviewing the three elders leading these workshops. When directly relevant, my position as an outside researcher becomes a part of the analysis of these interviews. The self-reflexivity of the researcher can be an asset here, as it serves as a continual reminder of the power relations and institutional agendas that inevitably come into play when “research” is conducted in a living community. In this regard, I will turn to the lessons of critical ethnography that illustrate how transparent research methods and a participatory approach to data collection can lead to greater collaboration between researcher and subject as well as a sensitivity to the impact of  51  research on local communities. In practice, this translates into a documentation of my interaction within the local hierarchy of social relations. While this study is not designed as ethnography, it will bring certain ethnographic strategies to bear on nianhua research. As discussed above, my study emerges out of the intersection of anthropology and art history in an effort to critique disciplinary divides and to blur the constructed boundaries between the archive and the repertoire. The interview sessions included in this study play a central role in this endeavor, as they vividly demonstrate the dynamic interactions between nianhua and the embodied gestures, stories, and discourses that activate the object while simultaneously being activated by the object. A key challenge here is the question of how to represent the interview sessions in written research without erasing the embodied forms of meaning making. What is lost in translation when one writes about the irreproducible repertoire of living practices? In probing this question, I draw attention to the non-verbal modes of communication in the interviews, including gestures, the use of props, and shifts in vocal intonations or rhythms. I have thus included video stills and photographs of the interview sessions throughout the chapters to capture the situated nature of such embodied interactions and their implications for the study of nianhua. In dealing with this problem of representation, oral history scholars have recognized the co-creative nature of the interview process itself, a “transformational process” that involves the “mutual embedding of one’s vision of the world in the other’s.”103 In other words, the oral history researcher cannot occupy an objective position because these histories arise as a result of their direct participation. In speaking to different nianhua makers and users, it is inevitable that their responses will reflect 103  Della Pollock, Remembering: Oral History Performance (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 3.  52  what they perceive as “research” and what they think my expectations are as an outside researcher visiting their community. The conversations are also colored by my institutional ties and affiliations, as I have adopted a fully transparent approach to requesting consent where all interviewed subjects have prior knowledge of how the research will be used. It is therefore critical to keep in mind that these interviews may not be representative of the entire nianhua community. They are highly situated interactions that provide only fragmentary snapshots of a wide range of debates occurring in Mianzhu today. Yet these momentary engagements may point to a continual unfolding of meaning around nianhua, where present conversations build on ones from the past. Oral history scholars such as Della Pollock and Sam Schrager have argued that the sharing of orally transmitted knowledge bears “the dialogical imprint of many voices and perspectives” because they are “cultivated in narrative environments” and not in isolation.104 An oral history interview is not completely idiosyncratic, as “no one person ‘owns’ a story. Any one story is embedded in layers of remembering and storying.”105 It is therefore possible to critique the oral history interview as part of a broader network of unfolding discourses, continually remade by its participating speakers and listeners. Drawing from what Chandra Talpade Mohanty calls the “politics of engagement” rather than the “politics of transcendence,”106 the researcher’s position consequently becomes part of the narrative of this study, as it contributes to the notion of  104  Ibid., 5. Linda Alcoff. “The Problem of Speaking For Others,” in Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity, ed. Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 5-32. 106 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003). 105  53  a living nianhua archive that continually evolves within different social spheres, including that of academic research. Chapter Breakdown This study is organized thematically into three chapters with each one illuminating a different aspect of the nianhua industry in Mianzhu today. Each chapter provides a set of theoretical strategies for unpacking the living archive, especially in response to the question of how to bridge the divide between the archive and repertoire. Organized in a loose chronological order, the chapters build on each other to reveal the ongoing contestations of meaning that occur in the industry, especially around nianhua’s attributed function “to pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous.” Chapter Two, “The Power of Ephemera: Ritual Praxis and the Contested Rise of the Nianhua Marketplace,” lays the foundation for this discussion by rethinking nianhua’s ritual agency in everyday life and livelihood. In responding to the interdisciplinary debates around object agency launched by Alfred Gell, I will argue for a view of agency that does not blindly privilege human agency in a universalist or objective framework but rather acknowledges the culturally constructed and contested nature of agency itself as it is shaped by different performative practices. Drawing on recent theories of distributed agency as set forth by cultural theorists such as Jane Bennett and Deleuze and Guattari, I will argue that agency is negotiated within specific spatiotemporal configurations of objects and practices, such as a winter street market, a nianhua workshop, or a household nianhua display. In taking up the cyclic movements of nianhua through these interconnected spaces, I will argue that nianhua’s ritual efficacy is not simply fixed in the object or “mediated” by it because the object is always changing  54  and ephemeral. Instead, it is the timed processes by which nianhua are circulated, destroyed, and recast that perform their social significance. As attention is shifted away from fixed representation and towards the lifecycles of nianhua, it is possible to see how nianhua activate auspicious time and space in ways that fulfill the everyday needs of its makers and users alike. Building on a performative view of ritual practice, Chapter Three, “The Picture Must Have Theater”: Performing Narrativity in Mianzhu Nianhua,” raises questions around narrativity and the oral transmissions of nianhua knowledge. I will examine the performative roles of nianhua storytelling within local printshops and of auspicious speech in people’s everyday interactions with nianhua. The chapter challenges existing methodologies that categorize nianhua archives according to narrative content, as images based on narratives drawn from theater, historical episodes, or legends and myths. Drawing on recent scholarship by art historians such as Julia Murray and Efrat Biberman, this chapter exposes the problems around imposing a “core narrative” upon nianhua that actually call up multiple narratives depending on the viewer(s).107 I will argue that many nianhua, including those that are not usually examined as narrative illustrations, serve as sites of “narrative density”: packed with layers of mnemonic, and aural cues that give rise to a range of narrative possibilities for knowledgeable viewers to deploy according to their immediate aims. In doing so, I will also point to some of the parallels between Sichuan’s ritual theater traditions and the nianhua industry that have been concealed by folk art typologies. For instance, the notion of narrative density pushes for an alternate  107  Julia Murray, Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology, (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007), 10.  55  interpretation of a high profile nianhua “treasure,” a set of late Qing dynasty scroll paintings titled Greeting Spring  that depicts a “Welcoming Spring” Lunar New  Year procession in Mianzhu, where the country magistrate appears with a ritual street theater troop. While existing studies impose a linear narrative based on the thricerepeating figure of the magistrate, I will argue that the prevalent use of rebus imagery suggests that the painting was designed and used as a ritually efficacious image to activate auspicious speech. Historical documents also provide evidence that the painting was given as a New Year gift between business associates, an occasion that would have been greatly enhanced by the sharing of auspicious wishes for the year to come. The key goal here is to recover the role of narrativity within nianhua’s different ritual contexts, including the ritual significance of many historic nianhua. Chapter Four, “To Build a Museum and a Village: the Race for Mianzhu’s Nianhua Heritage” situates ritual practices within the bigger picture of the state-led heritage industry from the mid-1990s and onward. As local and provincial authorities turn towards staging nianhua’s “intangible cultural heritage” (ICH), state agencies move beyond merely collecting and exhibiting historic nianhua to building nianhua tourist attractions. To critique these developments, I respond to heritage studies that move away from theorizing heritage as a set of tangible assets (such as objects, sites, and monuments) and towards evaluating it as a “cultural process.” This includes Laurajane Smith’s declaration that “heritage is not a thing” and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s assertion that heritage is “metacultural production.”108 I will argue that this shift towards interpreting heritage as a cultural process often relegates objects and sites to a passive 108  Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage (London: Routledge, 2006) and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Intangible Heritage as Metacultural Production,” Museum International 56, no. 1-2 (May 2004): 52-65.  56  role, where meaning is simply projected or imposed upon them by human activities. While I agree that the notion of heritage is indeed a cultural construct, the contested objects taken up in heritage discourses need to be kept in mind and examined within the specific cultural discourses and forms of livelihood that depend on them. The danger in dematerializing the notion of heritage is that it risks losing sight of the dialectical interactions between objects and practices that undergird and legitimize both the state’s institutional claim to heritage as well as the counter claims that arise in response. In the concluding chapter, I draw together these discussions to assess the advantages and disadvantages of approaching nianhua as a living archive. In particular, I comment on its implications for nuancing and demystifying nianhua’s attributed function to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous” in everyday life. I also stress the key contributions of this project to both the field of Chinese art history and to the ongoing urbanization of Mianzhu and other rural townships with strong claims to “cultural heritage”  .  Finally, I will reflect on the significance of this study in light of the Great Sichuan Earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008, a year after I completed my field research. Located on a major faultline just 86 kilometers from the epicenter in Wenchuan, Mianzhu was severely damaged by the earthquake that measured 8.0 on the Richter scale and left an estimated 69,000 dead. This study therefore offers the most complete documentation of Mianzhu’s nianhua industry just before the devastating effects of the earthquake. In light of these developments, I will address the important implications of this study for the ongoing efforts to rebuild Mianzhu and its centuries old nianhua industry.  57  Chapter Two: The Power of Ephemera: Ritual Praxis and the Contested Rise of the Nianhua Marketplace Although Mianzhu is often touted as one China’s “four great nianhua centers” of the Qing dynasty, its historic printing industry was actually known as the “door deity trade”  before the term nianhua was nationally popularized during the twentieth  century.109 The door deity trade earned its name by producing a far greater number of door deity prints compared to any other type of print. According to one estimate, Mianzhu’s printshops collectively produced twelve million door deity prints per year during the late nineteenth century, compared to just two million prints produced in other formats.110 Today, the works designed for temporary display on the household door are once again the most widespread and dominant commodities in the winter nianhua markets. These works fall under the broad category of nianhua, yet they are still referenced in Mianzhu by their specific names, as door deities, spring couplets, or lintel hangings. This chapter will focus on the resurgent production, circulation, and consumption of these seasonal nianhua, which adorn the doorways of virtually every neighborhood in Mianzhu. They form a distinct body of works linked together by certain shared rhythms and spaces, yet they also reveal the changing trends in the marketplace where new modes of production and use are continuously being introduced. The majority of these works are now digitally printed in mass quantities using a variety of printing machines, while a smaller number are still being produced using  109  Feng Tiren , “Mianzhu shanghui shihua” associations] in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao ji 14], ed. Wang Peisheng and Zhang Changlu zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1995), 13. 110 Gao Wen , Hou Shiwu , and Ning Zhiqi year pictures] (Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1990), 11.  [Historical accounts of Mianzhu's trade 14 [Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol. (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian , Mianzhu nianhua  [Mianzhu new  58  woodblock printing and hand-painting techniques that have been kept alive in Mianzhu’s lineage-holding workshops. Although many leading folk art scholars have lamented the disappearance of the traditional woodblock printing industry as a result of state circumscription and the introduction of mechanized printing technologies, the situation in Mianzhu resists such reductive assessments.111 As discussed in the introduction, the increased circulation of commercially printed nianhua did not destroy the industry but actually catalyzed and revitalized it, spawning a rich repertoire of ritual print activities in the community. It is this unique amalgam of old and new practices that sets Mianzhu apart from other historic printing sites in China, as it presents a complex picture of an evolving industry that never completely died out, but continued to evolve and adapt to the changing conditions of the marketplace. By limiting the discussion to these works, I will be able to hone in on how these developments are taking shape on the ground. In critiquing the resurgence of these seasonal nianhua, I am primarily interested in how the very notion of nianhua is being reshaped and recast within these winter markets and their ritual use in the home. I will argue that the door deities, spring couplets, and hanging money that flood the markets every year are not necessarily fixed categories defined by their production methods or modes of representation. Showing up in both urban and rural neighborhoods, these works come in a wide variety of printed and painted formats, including handmade prints and paintings, glossy mass-produced prints, and homemade strips of calligraphy. At times, even works that are not designed for ritual use 111  As discussed in the introduction, the two comprehensive and authoritative histories of nianhua written by Wang Shucun and Bo Songnian locate the demise of the traditional nianhua industry in the 1950s, with the state circumscription of the popular printing industry. These texts are: Wang Shucun , Zhongguo nianhua shi [Chinese nianhua history] (Beijing: Beijing gongyi meishu chubanshe, 2002), and Bo Songnian Zhongguo nianhua shi [Chinese nianhua history] (Shenyang: Liaoning meishu chubanshe, 1986).  59  end up displayed as door deities, including advertisements or household objects that bear some kind of association with the auspicious. In other words, a wide range of images and objects are made to perform the role of nianhua when they are strategically positioned and renewed in the home or marketplace. When examined in their lived contexts, these works push for a dramatic rethinking of what constitutes a work of nianhua, which has been largely defined around modes of representation rather than modes of presentation. By recasting nianhua in terms of its performed roles, this chapter addresses the many ephemeral goods that have been long excluded from nianhua studies as either vulgar or imitative versions of the real thing. To assist in this effort, I will draw on Catherine Bell’s theory of ritual practice, which stresses the agentive and performative dimensions of ritualizing processes, which are always evolving and geared towards achieving specific results. Shifting away from the structural analysis of “ritual systems” and towards a study of “ritual praxis,” Bell argues for an examination of “how a particular community or culture ritualizes” and “when and why ritualization is deemed the effective thing to do.”112 Bell’s emphasis on ritualizing processes is particularly useful for examining how nianhua are continually redefined and recast by ritual practices that are geared towards livelihood and other daily needs. In particular, Bell’s model stresses an inclusive view of ritual in its lived contexts as reflecting “the full spectrum of ways of acting within any given culture, not as some a priori category of action totally independent of other forms of action.”113 Instead of approaching rituals as “clear and autonomous rites,” Bell therefore stresses a conception  112 113  Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 81. Ibid., 82.  60  of ritual activity as unfolding processes, as “methods, traditions and strategies of ‘ritualization.’”114 In the case of the nianhua industry, this translates into a more inclusive perspective on the range of ritual goods and activities that continue to shape the industry despite periods of social upheaval and reform. In posing the questions of when and why certain images are taken up in ritualizing processes, it is possible to examine the evolving nature of the nianhua industry, rather than judge it against a seemingly coherent and untroubled past. The ephemeral nianhua of the winter markets require great attentiveness to how meaning is continually performed, rather than fixed in the physical object itself. The highly unstable status of these fleeting works resists fixed interpretations of any kind, as they are radically embedded within a flow of ongoing practices and processes tied to both human activities, as well as exposure to the natural elements of wind, sun, and rain. The fragile door deities, spring couplets, and hanging money are continually caught in a cycle of renewal and decay, making it almost impossible to pin down a reliable “object” of analysis. Instead of attempting to resolve this by isolating or “freezing” certain works in time and space, I am more interested in how the movement and transformative lifecycles of the works acquire social significance and agency in different situations. In other words, how can nianhua be reformulated as agentive processes, trajectories, or propensities? When and how are they harnessed or deployed to support people’s everyday needs and livelihood? In his study of Ming dynasty visual and material culture, Craig Clunas emphasizes the agency of objects in marking out temporal and spatial regimes in the  114  Ibid.  61  Ming marketplaces.115 Clunas points to how the timed production and circulation of many everyday goods (prints, paintings, bowls, vases, textiles, coins, clothing) reinforced imperial time, seasonal time, or the family time of progressive generations. These objects activated different ritual activities at different times of year and usually bore visible markers of these temporal regimes. Clunas thus points to how the overlapping temporal cycles could be “handled and seen” at all levels of society from the social elite to the very poorest, so that “no one body of thing occupied the time and the space of the Ming without contest.”116 In taking up issues of timed circulation and consumption, Clunas emphasizes both an object’s visible “marks of agency” as well as its physical movement through time as space as part of its potential effect.117 Taking Clunas’ work as a cue, I will also stress how Mianzhu’s seasonal nianhua circulate in ways that reinforce temporal and spatial regimes. Most significantly, the annual influx of nianhua in markets and homes marks out the auspicious dates and rhythms of the lunar calendar in ways that directly support livelihood. The flow of ephemeral works also transforms everyday spaces into sites of ritual activity, be it the temporary street market, household doorway, or nianhua workshop. While Clunas focuses primarily on the visual markers of temporal agency, such as reign dates and painted depictions of seasonal imagery, I will also examine processes of appropriation, where images and objects intended for one use are redeployed and re-circulated as ritual items. I will thus focus more closely on evolving processes of ritualization, to highlight  115  Craig Clunas, Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997), 1368-1644. 116 Ibid., 32, 52. 117 Ibid., 32.  62  the active, conscious, and performative dimensions of these activities within Mianzhu’s winter nianhua markets. In shifting the analytical focus onto the role of nianhua within ritual practices, I do not mean to downplay the significance of the object or relegate it to a passive role within ritual activity. Instead, I will argue that the fleeting and ephemeral nature of these works blurs the boundaries between the material and mental realms, or between what Diana Taylor calls the “archive and the repertoire.”118 The works examined here offer a unique opportunity to move beyond these binaries and explore the radically dialectical interactions between objects and practices. To quote Clunas again, one must avoid imposing a false hierarchy between objects and practices: “I am writing from a conviction that the relations between agents, relations in which the work is embedded, illuminate the object, but that equally the object enacts those social relations. In this dialectical engagement neither enjoys unquestioned primacy.”119 Divided into three major sections, this chapter will unpack the processes of nianhua ritualization taking place across these interconnected realms: the seasonal marketplace, the home, and the lineage-holding workshop. In each section, I will include firsthand observations of the works in situ and interviews with nianhua users and makers to draw forth the performative aspects of emerging ritual strategies. On a macroscopic level, these three realms join together to form the core of the seasonal nianhua industry, yet the examples show that they are not coherently unified by a shared set of ideals or beliefs. Instead, the ritual practices emerging in each realm reveal diverse conceptions of  118  Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 16. 119 Craig Clunas, Elegant Debts: The Social Art of Wen Zhengming (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003), 13.  63  agency that are creatively geared towards meeting the shifting challenges of daily life. Thus I am deploying the notion of the “performative” to indicate how these practices are intended to achieve specific results and aims.120 In taking up the cyclic movements of nianhua across these three realms, I will therefore stress how nianhua’s attributed power to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous” serves as an open-ended site of contestation tied to people’s immediate needs and aims.  Harnessing the Seasonal Nianhua Market During the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, Mianzhu experienced a strong resurgence of open-air street markets. These temporary markets are locally known as jishi  , which is often translated as a “periodic market” or “market  fair.” The increase in scope and frequency of such markets was in line with a national trend, where liberal economic reforms implemented under Deng Xiaoping led to a widespread growth in rural periodic markets.121 In Mianzhu, as in many other rural townships, these markets vary widely in scale and the types of goods that are sold. Smaller scale markets rotate through the surrounding rural areas providing agricultural goods and simple everyday items. Larger markets bring more specialized items to the community and are usually held in conjunction with seasonal festivals of the lunar calendar or on religious holidays, such as the birthdates of popular deities. In this section, 120  I am referencing here the classical notion of the “performative” as first set forth by J. L. Austin who theorized “performative utterances” as a form of speech that can understood as “doing something rather than merely saying something.” J. L. Austin, “Performative Utterances,” in Philosophical Papers, ed. J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 233-52. 121 William Skinner, a scholarly authority on China’s rural marketing systems, has documented how the “remarkable increase” of the periodic market was fueled by a relaxation of controls over agricultural production, marketing, and the use of private plots, leading to their increase of over thirty percent in the five years between 1978 and 1983. William Skinner, “Rural Marketing in China: Repression and Revival,” The China Quarterly 103 (1985): 406-408.  64  I will examine the large winter street markets that circulate a changing variety of printed and painted ephemera as ritually efficacious nianhua. As competing vendors jostle for position and status in these markets, these ritualized gatherings continually adapt to new technologies, shifting public demand, and changing regulations imposed by the state. This is evident in a comparison of two photographs that document the recent developments of the nianhua street markets of Mianzhu. A black and white photograph taken in the early 1980s shows a simple makeshift stand that is put together with a few pieces of wood to create a long table, which is completely covered from end to end with a variety of printed works (fig. 21). A curious crowd is gathered around the stand to examine the works, which appear to be commercially printed works, judging by the thick and glossy appearance of the papers. In a different context, these prints may not be necessarily viewed as ritual goods. However, the strategic timing of these markets during the Lunar New Year season actively reintroduces these prints to the marketplace as ritually efficacious products for seasonal use. In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, local residents reengaged with large quantities of ritual ephemera in these marketplaces long before the state-led nianhua revival got fully underway in Mianzhu.122 Signaling the political shifts in the marketplace, the colorful print stand stands out in sharp contrast to the clothing stand behind it, which is selling the blue and gray “Mao suits” that were widely worn at the time. The prints signal a more relaxed social environment for the consumption of traditional items, as well as the return of seasonal goods tied to the Lunar New Year.  122  During the 1980s Mianzhu’s Cultural Affairs Bureau devoted the bulk of their resources towards launching travel exhibitions of nianhua rather than building up the local nianhua industry.  65  In contrast, a 2004 color photograph of an urban street in Mianzhu illustrates how nianhua markets have expanded in scale and scope, with a greater variety of goods and a more regimented use of street space (fig. 22). Compared to the early 1980s, these markets are more closely regulated by Mianzhu’s officials, who have tightened their protocols of collecting taxes and fees from itinerant peddlers. The photograph shows a temporary street market spread out on the main thoroughfare of a business district, flanked on both sides by the year-round storefronts that are also selling nianhua. The market is held near an auspicious landmark, a traditional gateway that can be seen in the background at the entrance to the boulevard. The area has been closed to motorized traffic and auspicious red lanterns line the streets on wooden poles, announcing the arrival of the Lunar New Year festival season. The street peddlers are selling a combination of digital prints, handmade works, paper cutouts for display on windows or walls, incense, bells, greeting cards, lanterns, and children’s toys. In the foreground, sets of gold gilded lintel hangings are laid out for sale. In the local Mianzhu dialect, these are also known as “hanging money” (guaqian ) or “joy cash” (xiqian  ), these works are designed to hang off the edge of the  door’s lintel in a row of five pieces to signal the arrival of prosperity and wealth. On display just behind the lintel hangings, the spring couplets are made with long strips of red paper bearing hand painted calligraphy of poetic verses for ringing in an auspicious new year. In considering the evolution of these periodic markets from the early 1980s to the present, the works are continually changing, but the markets’ timed appearance during  66  the twelfth lunar month remains consistent. A vibrant “multichronous marketplace”123 is seen in both photographs, with permanent storefronts that follow rhythms of the modern Gregorian calendar alongside a temporary marketplace that marks the rhythms of the lunar one. These two temporal regimes are harnessed to support livelihood in very different ways, often marking out an urban-rural divide between the higher-end urban shops and the street markets filled with rural itinerant traders selling inexpensive ritual ephemera. The year-round and temporary markets also mark out a spatial hierarchy between those with permanent access to privatized storefronts and those with only temporary access to the public space of the street. The changing configurations of these periodic street markets speak to their flexible and adaptable nature, as participating vendors use whatever means possible to sustain their winter sources of livelihood. The rapid growth of these markets in the 1980s took some scholars by surprise, as many saw urbanization and industrialization as potential threats to the periodic marketing system. For instance, in his famous 1964 essay on rural marketing in China, William G. Skinner predicted that the modernization of the transport system would lead to the disappearance of “traditional standard markets” while “traditional higher level market towns will have been transformed into modern trading centres.”124 However, recent studies show that “the continuous rise in attendance and the appearance of new markets demonstrate that the pivotal effect of modern transport has not materialized.” According to a study by Rozelle, Benzinger, and Huang, periodic 123  Eugene Cooper critiques the multichronous character of the agricultural activity in Dongyang County, Zhejiang Province. Responding to the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Alfred Gell on the role of calendars in agricultural communities, he argues that calendricalal knowledge serves as a both a source of symbolic capital as well as an instrument of political control and domination. Eugene Cooper, “The Annual Round of Agricultural Tasks in Dongyang County: Synoptic Illusion or Symbolic Capital?” Asian Folklore Studies 59 (2000): 240. 124 William Skinner, “Marketing and Social Structure in Rural China,” Journal of Asian Studies 2 (Feb. 1965): 195-228.  67  markets continued to grow because local officials had difficulty taxing them and many families could not afford to open permanent shops.125 These developments have thus chastened scholars against blindly equating modernization with the destruction of the rural marketing system and other traditional forms of exchange. The changing characteristics of Mianzhu’s winter nianhua markets thus represent the “agency of the indigenous sector” to reconstitute various forms of trade and livelihood by adapting to urbanizing trends and by tapping into the popular demand for ritual goods and services.126 As anthropologist Mayfair Yang points out in her study of rural Wenzhou, many ritual industries continued to evolve and grow during the post-Mao era, actually spurred by “new models of capitalism” rather than being displaced or replaced by them.127 Similarly, in Mianzhu, these winter street markets profited from both the influx of cheap mass-produced print ephemera and the annual demand for ritual goods during the Lunar New Year season. It is important to keep in mind that the seasonal nianhua markets carry a politicized dimension since nianhua were heavily criticized and banned during the Cultural Revolution. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, those who came to the winter markets to sell nianhua faced a social taboo against works that were seen as “feudal superstition.” While the state’s official sanction of the nianhua revival helped alleviate this obstacle at the end of the Cultural Revolution, many vendors had to deal with hostile remarks from the public. According to local printmaker Li Fangfu  , when he heard  125  Scott Rozelle, Vince Benzinger, and Jikun Huang, “Continuity and Change in China’s Rural Periodic Markets” (working paper, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, 2002). 126 Mayfair Yang, “Putting Global Capitalism in its Place: Economic Hybridity, Bataille, and Ritual Expenditure,” Current Anthropology 41, no. 4 (2000): 227. 127 Ibid., 227.  68  the state’s endorsement of nianhua made on public radio in 1979, he immediately began making woodblock prints to take to the winter print markets. However when he first set up his stand in the streets, he encountered sharp criticism from local villagers: I had returned to agricultural work during the Cultural Revolution. When I heard the announcement on the radio that they were going to renew the nianhua industry, I hurriedly made some prints in time to set up a stand in the streets for the winter markets that year. I walked to a nearby village market to sell them, and a man in the street angrily told me not to sell those old-fashioned works in his village. I had to inform him that a province-wide nianhua revival was underway all over Sichuan and that his village was indeed part of Sichuan, so I had every right to sell my prints in his village. I stood firm in my stand and refused to leave. Nowadays, everyone admires nianhua and my business is doing well, but that wasn’t always the case.128  At a time when the status of nianhua was in the midst of transitioning from a banned object to a desirable market commodity, local printmakers such as Li had to navigate an uncertain marketplace in order to sell their works. They also faced stiff competition from the growing number of vendors redistributing digitally printed nianhua, which are sold in great quantities for much lower prices. Li and many other printmakers were briefly hired by the Cultural Affairs Bureau in the early 1980s to reproduce works in the state nianhua collection, but the pay was far too low, so many opted to strike out on their own in the street markets instead.129 This is a significant indicator that the winter street markets initially played a more important role in supporting the livelihood of local printmakers that the state-led nianhua revival. Later in this chapter, I will address in greater detail how various nianhua workshops repositioned themselves in the marketplace. 128 129  Li Fangfu, in discussion with the author in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006. Li Fangfu and Chen Xingcai, in discussion with the author in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006.  69  In taking the bold initiative to produce new works and offer them for sale in an outdoor stall, Li actively stakes his claim in the emerging industry by participating in the winter markets, where he physically and verbally defends his right to sell nianhua. His action can thus be understood as a powerful ritual strategy of reclaiming a lost source of livelihood while responding to the immediate challenges of the marketplace. It is significant that the annual cycle of winter markets never ceased during the Cultural Revolution although the goods that circulated in them changed from year to year. When the Cultural Revolution drew to a close, these markets were immediately accessible to those who needed a venue to sell their products. They thus served as a critical catalyst for the recovering of the winter nianhua industry at the local level. It is possible to think of these markets as dynamic sites of ritual activity, where the annual demand for seasonal goods tied to Lunar New Year gives rise to a range of creative strategies tied to winter livelihood. This relates to Catherine Bell’s point that: [T]he study of ritual practice has meant a basic shift from looking at activity as the expression of cultural patterns to looking at it as that which makes and harbors such patterns. In this view, ritual is more complex than mere communication of values and views; it is a set of activities that construct particular types of meaning and values in specific ways…[Rather] than ritual as the vehicle for the expression of authority, practice theorists tend to explore how ritual is a vehicle for the construction of relationships of authority and submission.130 The winter street markets can thus be considered sites of ritual potential, where competing parties negotiate their respective positions while creatively harnessing the temporal and spatial power of the market.  130  Bell, Ritual, 82.  70  A brief anecdote here will further capture the highly innovative and performative nature of the activities shaping the winter street market. In one of the interviews I conducted with Mianzhu residents, a woman in her mid-fifties named Gong Jinlan recounted her childhood experiences of growing up in a rural area and attending the winter street markets. At the young age of eight or nine, during the years of the Cultural Revolution, she decided to set up a small stand of her own in the winter street market: Anybody could go to the winter markets to sell things, so I looked around the house to see what I could make for the market. I decided to set up a stall selling cups of sugared water with red food dye added to it to catch people’s attention. These were easy to make and I could make a few pennies at the market selling drinks while my grandpa sold peanuts…131 The simple yet rather ingenious act of selling red sugar drinks illustrates how market practices are spontaneously performed in the interest of making a quick profit with whatever materials one has at one’s disposal. While cups of red sugar water might not be palatable at other times of year, they take on special significance in the context of the Lunar New Year market, when anything with an auspicious association (such as the color red) could be marketed for ritual use to bring happiness, prosperity, and success in the coming year. Gong Jinlan’s story shows how all members of the community can participate in the winter markets, even a young girl with access to a few basic kitchen supplies. In bringing these drinks to the market, she presents them as ritual goods while also shaping a marketplace ritual that may be repeated in subsequent years if proven successful. Her experience captures the competitive spirit of these winter markets, where vendors attempt to carve out niche markets by creatively exploiting the demand for 131  Gong Jinlan, in discussion with the author in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006.  71  ritually efficacious goods. It also demonstrates how one can adapt the ritual practices of the winter markets to fit one’s own immediate needs and abilities. Records from Mianzhu’s historic door deity trade also document a changing industry, shaped by performative approaches to ritual print production and marketing. For instance, one of the most publicized works of Mianzhu nianhua is a pair of simple and roughly executed door deity prints dated to the late nineteenth century, done in a format known as tianshuijiao  , a dialect term that may be loosely translated as  “superfluous painting” or literally, “adding watery feet” (fig. 23). 132 As a way to make some extra income from the winter print markets, the workers in Mianzhu’s print factories would stay after hours to make these door deities out of leftover papers and paints. These works would then be cheaply sold to customers during the late-night markets, when many vendors had already packed up and gone home. Over time, this became a ritualized activity and the works were known as tianshuijiao. A similar term, ganshuihuo  , was used to refer to the batch of hastily made works of the winter  rush as opposed to the works produced in the slower summer months.133 With a few quick brushstrokes, the tianshuijiao producers would create the most inexpensive door deities in the marketplace. Printed and painted on small size papers, the works were designed for temporary display on modest sized doorways. These works are thus the innovative results of niche marketing to the poorest segment of the population, who could only afford the most basic door deity prints made with leftover materials. In the extant  132  The term itself may carry negative connotations, as in the saying “ ,” which literally means “drawing legs on a snake.” Figuratively, the saying means to ruin the effect of something by adding something superfluous, or to overdo something. 133 Wei Chuanyi , “Mianzhu nianhua diaocha cailiao" [Mianzhu nianhua interview records] in Zhongguo Mianzhu nianhua China’s Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Yu Jundao (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2007), 136-140.  72  example seen here, only minimal efforts were made to fill in the outline of the print and essential features are left unpainted, such as the sword and eyes of the warrior on the left. The tianshuijiao door deities thus reflect how innovative works and marketing strategies were ritualized as responses to challenges of the workplace and marketplace. Accounts of the early twentieth-century print trade also show how Mianzhu’s printshops and print guilds competed vigorously for access to auspicious locations and the most auspicious dates for setting up temporary markets. Interview records with 80year-old printmaker He Qufa  document a hierarchical arrangement of “large” and  “small” print markets in Mianzhu: The rhyme goes, “On the first day of the eleventh lunar month, the shop sign goes up. On the first day of the twelfth lunar month, the market stand goes up [ ].” The winter print market was made up of a big market and a small market. The small market was at the Eastern Gate Dam [ ], in Qingtong village [  ]. Starting from Qingtong village, the print  stands would extend fifteen li along the main road, all the way to Nanxuan Shrine [  ] just outside of town. The big market was inside the urban area at Nanhua  Palace, open every day until two in the morning. This market would continue to the thirtieth day of the twelfth lunar month. Another rhyme goes, “Go see flowers at the East Gate Dam, go see pictures at Nanhua Palace [ ].”134 These rhymes, which are excerpts of orally transmitted knowledge in the trade, underscore the role of auspicious shrines and temples as sought after trading sites. Up until the end of the Qing period, the timing and siting of these print markets was regulated by a powerful door deity guild known as the Fuxi Association, named after the  134  Ibid., 136-137.  73  guild’s patron deity Fuxi, a legendary emperor credited for creating fishing, trapping, and writing. The guild set up a meeting hall with a shrine to Fuxi at the Nanhua Palace in Mianzhu’s urban center, consolidating their presence and power in a central location. On selected auspicious dates, the guild would reserve the Nanhua Palace for large banquets, where several hundred people would gather to conduct business negotiations in the print trade while feasting, watching theater performances, and making offerings to the guild’s patron deity. To protect the industry from regional competitors, the guild also regulated issues around pricing, workers’ pay, trading rules, and production secrets. 135 These records show that a deft understanding of how to harmonize one’s business with the use of auspicious times and sites was a matter of survival in the trade. Indeed, the marketplace itself was seen as an auspicious and ritually efficacious event that boosted the prosperity and status of the community. This is captured in a short “bamboo stick verse,” or popular chant by the late Qing dynasty author Li Ximing , who captures the bustling marketplaces of Mianzhu, affectionately known at the time as “Little Chengdu:”  A Chant for Mianzhu Waterways and mountain roads rumble with the ruckus of shipping. Year-round shops and traveling merchants wheel and deal all night and day. Throngs of people flow together, as bountiful as the silky bamboo groves. The good name of “Little Chengdu” is a worthy one.136  135  Feng, “Historical accounts of Mianzhu's trade associations,” 14. Zhang Zhaoyuan . Mianzhu shi song [A selection of Mianzhu poetry] (Chengdu: Sichuan renmin chubanshe, 1998), 197. 136  74  The sounds, textures, and agitated energy of the crowded streets are brought to life and celebrated as an auspicious image of prosperity and abundance. The festive scene is full of movement and exchange, where the sense of prosperity is captured by the flows of people and goods over mountains and rivers. In the last two lines, the poem plays on Mianzhu’s name, with its literal meaning of “silky bamboo” and its nickname of “Little Chengdu.” In comparing the throngs of people to silky bamboo groves, the verse references Mianzhu’s name but also an important local resource that is used to manufacture large quantities of fine papers. The last line concludes that Mianzhu does indeed live up to its reputation as a “Little Chengdu,” a name that suggests that Mianzhu’s markets are only second to the provincial capital itself. In thinking through the power of these markets to transform a range of goods into ritual commodities, I would add here that it is the timed interaction between marketplace practices and ephemeral goods that produces the efficacious results of the marketplace to support prosperity and livelihood. In thinking through this dialectical relationship as the site of agency, I am persuaded by the notion of an “agentic assemblage,” as proposed by political theorist Jane Bennett. Referencing the theoretical work of Bruno Latour and Deleuze and Guattari, Bennett describes an agentic assemblage as a spatial-temporal configuration comprised of diverse human and non-human agents that each carry a  75  “certain vital force” yet as whole give rise to effects that are greater than the sum of the parts: Assemblages are adhoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the presence of energies that confound them from within. They have uneven topographies, because some of the points at which the various affects and bodies cross paths are more heavily trafficked than others, and so power is not distributed equally across the surface. Assemblages are not governed by any central head: no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently the trajectory or impact of the group.137  Instead of focusing on objects or practices in isolation, the notion of an agentic assemblage shifts the focus onto a certain spatial-temporal configuration of both objects and practices. Using an electrical grid as an example, Bennett argues that the competing efforts of various human players (legislators, technicians, company heads) within a complex cluster of charged electrical entities (electrons, power lines, or electromagnetic fields) produces distinctive effects despite “alongside energies and factions that fly out from it and disturb it from within.”138 The notion of an agentic assemblage thus acknowledges the co-existence of disparate entities that may “confound from within” while maintaining a certain common trajectory.139 This view of “distributed agency” acknowledges how competing entities and discourses may simultaneously shape the nianhua marketplace, which as a whole produces real effects in supporting livelihood in the community. In considering the nianhua street market as an agentic assemblage, it is  137  Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 23. 138 Ibid., 23. 139 Ibid.  76  possible to acknowledge a more nuanced view of how agency is continually negotiated between human and non-human entities, without taking for granted a hierarchical relationship between the two. In contrast to anthropologist Alfred Gell’s theory of “object agency,”140 which privileges human agency over object agency by situating objects as “mediators” or “indexes” of human agents, the notion of an agentic assemblage does not privilege human agents over non-human ones. In setting forth the notion of an agentic assemblage, Bennett challenges the life/matter binary in modern scholarship in order “to theorize a vitality intrinsic to materiality” and “to detach materiality from the figures of passive, mechanistic, or divinely infused substance.”141 Instead of reducing materiality to raw or crude matter to be creatively manipulated or infused with meaning by humans or divine entities, Bennett argues for a view of materiality that is “as much force as entity, as much energy as matter, as much intensity as extension.”142 Bennett further argues that agency should not be exclusively limited to human will or intentionality, as the “locus of agency is always a human-nonhuman working group.”143 Bennett’s works represents a growing body of work that challenges the positivist rhetoric of materiality that has pervaded Western scholarship since the Enlightenment era.144 For a study of nianhua, the notion of an agentic assemblage is useful for several reasons. Firstly, it acknowledges the presence of an ontologically heterogeneous field, where competing bodies, discourses, and practices may be grouped together for analysis. 140  Alfred Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 6-8. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, xiii. 142 Ibid., 20. 143 Ibid., xvii. 144 Among the most influential works to critique the life/matter binary in Western discourses are Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1993), and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum, 2004). 141  77  It is thus a concept that does not necessitate an objective or fixed interpretation of agency, but rather stresses how diverse conceptions of agency may come into play. Secondly, in challenging the life/matter binary, the notion of an assemblage moves past the reductive labels of “image-worship” or “superstition” that have plagued the study of popular Chinese images since the late nineteenth century.145 Interestingly, Bennett also draws extensively on the work of Francois Julien, who theorized the notion of shi  within Chinese cultural discourses. As a word derived from  military strategy, the notion of shi refers to the disposition, propensity, power, or trajectory inherent to a specific arrangement of things, the “dynamic force emanating from a spatio-temporal configuration rather than from any particular element within it.”146 The notion of shi thus pushes for a view of agency that is not fixed in any one “thing” such as an object or human, but rather tied to the spatio-temporal configurations in which such vital entities play a part. It also suggests that the agency of a particular event or arrangement may be unpredictable and emergent rather than guided by a central authority. Like the concept of the assemblage, the notion of shi resonates with how nianhua vendors’ actively harness auspicious times and spaces to boost the propensity of the market to draw customers, although it should be kept in mind that the specific practices they use to do this may vary widely and represent competing strategies. As I move towards a discussion of ritual practices in nianhua consumption and production, I will further stress how the notion of ritual agency is negotiated and performed in ways that mark out auspicious time and space.  145  I am referring here to the studies of Chinese popular images in the late ninetheeth and early twentieth centuries by Sinologists such as Henri Dore, Edouard Chavannes, and Justus Doolittle. 146 François Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China, trans. Janet Lloyd (Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 1999), 35.  78  “Out With the Old, In With the New”: the Transformative Spaces of Nianhua Use Although I found little evidence of nianhua used for ritual purposes inside the home, ephemeral prints and paintings appear on the exteriors of a countless number of household doorways in Mianzhu. In conversations with local residents, I asked people from different backgrounds why they continued the annual practice of renewing the various displays on their doors. For some, especially those of an elder generation, the renewal of door deities and spring couplets is a solemn ritual to ensure the divine protection and blessing of the home for the year to come. In these cases, this act is usually associated with a proper sending off and welcoming back of the deities so they can perform their protective duties for the coming year. Yet for most people I encountered, they explained it as simply a customary practice to ensure a festive atmosphere for their Lunar New Year reunions. Interestingly, “pursuing the auspicious, repelling the portentous” is often used as a catchall term for these different attitudes and practices. Instead of projecting a set of shared beliefs or ideas onto the actual print practices, I will stress the diverse range of approaches tied to ritual nianhua display. 147 I will begin with an example that shows how household displays directly reflect the diversity of works circulating in the markets. In a humble urban home located in an older residential area of Mianzhu, it is possible to see how old and new print practices  147  Anthropologists working in the area of Chinese popular religion have cautioned against using the term xin or “beliefs” in interviewing people and in referring to popular practices. This is because the term is often associated with the negative connotations of mixin “superstition” or may carry too strong of a meaning in terms of conviction or worldview. For a discussion of this issue, see Ole Bruun, Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003). Stephan Feuchtwang has also pointed to the problem of using a European language of religion to describe Chinese religious practices, where a sharp distinction between belief and performance should not be taken for granted. See Stephen Feuchtwang, Popular Religion in China: The Imperial Metaphor (London and New York, Routledge, 1993), 8-13.  79  merge together in one display. This particular residence is tucked away in a tightly packed row of single story households with doors that open to a narrow cobble-stoned lane. A pair of digitally printed door deities face inward on either side of the double leaf doors, a typical feature of older sanheyuan  homes that have a small center  courtyard, surrounded on three sides by living spaces (fig. 24). 148 These door deities bear little resemblance to Mianzhu’s historical woodblock printed door deities; they are generic representations of warriors who are only identifiable by the names printed in the upper corners, which mark this set as the historical Tang warriors Yu Chigong and Qin Shubao  . A pair of digitally printed spring couplets are symmetrically  displayed on either side of the door, two strips of red paper with calligraphic verses that call for wealth, prosperity, and peace to enter the home: “May the wellsprings of wealth pour into an abundant home, may peace and fortune enter a prosperous abode!” . These spring couplets are accompanied by a third strip of paper centered over the lintel that has fallen apart due to exposure to the elements. While the protective door deities guard the center of the door to repel the portentous, the calligraphic strips frame the outer perimeter to welcome in the auspicious. The notion of balance is an underlying principle here as seen in the symmetrical alignment of the works, the equal length verses of the couplets, and the tension between attracting prosperity and repelling danger. At the center of the door is yet another calligraphic strip of paper, with handwritten characters that read, “Auspiciousness when the doors open!”  . The work is placed right over the opening of the door and cut  148  There are also four-sided “quadrangle” homes in the area, where an inner courtyard is surrounded on all four sides by living quarters. For a discussion of domestic architecture in Sichuan and other areas of Southern China see Ronald Knapp, China's Old Dwellings (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000).  80  down the middle so each time the door opens the characters come apart and back together again. The strategic placement of this calligraphic strip brings an element of interactivity, as the work is physically activated each time the door is used. It was likely made by a friend or family member to supplement the commercially printed works. Such resourceful approaches to ritual print display are commonly seen in Mianzhu, where commercially printed and handmade works are regularly seen side by side on household doors. The timed renewal of these works and their seemingly adhoc combination of different kinds of images reveals a creative approach to transforming the household doorway into an auspicious space for ritual interaction. As people pass through these doors on a daily basis, they literally walk through the threshold of the words and their physical, visual, and conceptual influences. Auspicious characters play a potent role in the construction of lived spaces, as Ronald Knapp has pointed out through extensive examples from Sichuan and other provinces. 149 Strips of calligraphy bearing auspicious characters are also posted on ridge beams or doorframes during the construction of a home. The characters for prosperity/good fortune , emolument  , and longevity  are particularly prominent and auspicious; they often  appear on ritual print ephemera, greeting cards, clothing, household objects, and architectural details. The vocalization of such auspicious characters and rebus imagery speaks to the powerful role of the written word to bring about real consequences and serves as an integral aspect of engaging with ritual print ephemera.150 149  Ronald G. Knapp, China's Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation, (Honolulu: Hawai'i University Press, 1999), 81-132. 150 According to Di Wang, there were temples around Chengdu during the late 19th and early 20th century that offered the proper disposal of all written and printed words in a ritual manner that is reminiscent of funerary practices, where written words are treated as living entities. As a meritorious act, some people dedicated themselves to collecting written or printed pieces of paper that had been discarded in the streets in order to bring them to the temples for disposal. See Di Wang, Street Culture in Chengdu: Public Space,  81  When I queried local residents as to how they selected door deity images, many commented on their preference for visually pleasing works with auspicious features, especially bright red paper, gold calligraphy, shiny details, and bold colors. It is possible to consider these preferred formal characteristics as reflecting aesthetic concerns, although they do not conform to the preferred tastes of urban elites and folk art scholars such as Lu Shengzong. Many people specifically commented on the need to display the newest door deity imagery in order to fulfill the New Year aspiration of “disposing the old, welcoming the new”  . By far, the majority of the people I spoke with  preferred digital prints, which were seen as both “new” and “fashionable.” One middle aged woman told me that her uncle used to write the spring couplets for their family and neighbors until digital prints became readily available in the marketplace: “He used to use simple black ink on very thin red paper, but now the markets sell inexpensive couplets that are printed with shiny gold characters that are far more sturdy and auspicious.”151 Such remarks speak to a conscious preference for digitally printed nianhua, not only due to price and availability, but also due to their auspicious and ritually efficacious characteristics. However, in looking at the broader range of door deities across China, it is evident these formal preferences are often a reflection of privilege rather than of ritual necessity. In the rural regions of Shaanxi, even the most ephemeral and mundane materials can serve as door deities, such as lumps of ice (bing  ), a homonym for  Urban Commoners, and Local Politics, 1870-1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003). This practice was not limited to Sichuan however, but prevalent in many regions of China. For a broader discussion, see Justus Doolittle, Social Life of the Chinese: With Some Account of Their Religious, Governmental, Educational, and Business Customs and Opinions, vol. 2 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1865; Taipei: Ch’eng-wen Publishing, 1966), 167-169; and Ye Xiaoqing, The Dianshizhai Pictorial: Shanghai Urban Life, 1884-1898, Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies 98 (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2003), 213-217. 151 Local resident in conversation with the author, Mianzhu, December 2006.  82  “soldier,” that are to be placed around doors, animal pens, and gates. Chunks of coal or charcoal may also be tied up with a rope from the door lintel, as protective “black tigers” (heihu  ).152 In these instances, the concept of “door deity” is signaled through ritual  gestures that strategically establish auspicious associations with everyday objects never intended for ritual use. These examples challenge the notion that auspiciousness must be visually represented to be ritually effective, yet they are excluded from the existing nianhua research because they do not involve printed or painted images. This shows the limitation of folk art studies that focus narrowly on art media rather than interconnected forms of cultural practice. The open-ended nature of what constitutes a door deity is evident in Mianzhu, where ephemeral print ads, company calendars, and even movie posters have ended up as door deities on local households in poorer neighborhoods.153 In this lower-income urban neighborhood, a single-leaf door shows the use of a calendar advertisement as a single door deity (fig. 25). Single-leaf doors have become the architectural norm in more humble living spaces and apartment suites, thus singular door deity prints are commonly seen in Mianzhu. With the advent of consumer mass culture in the 1980s and 1990s, commercial ads are often passed out for free to promote businesses and/or statesponsored propaganda campaigns. In this case, the calendar print is produced by the City of Mianzhu Television Broadcasting Office and bears a New Year’s greeting to all its viewers: “May you have a joyous spring and an auspicious new year!” It includes a computer-generated image of young girl playing with a puppy in a garden of flowers and 152  David Holm, Art and Ideology in Revolutionary China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 147. The appropriation of a printed ad for display within the home as an auspicious image is not a new development. The practice has been documented by Ellen J. Laing in her study of Shanghai’s printing industry in the early twentieth century: Ellen J. Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early Twentieth Century China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004). 153  83  butterflies, a scene that is set above a calendar. This printed ad was not designed for ritual use, yet its inclusion of auspicious imagery made it a viable candidate for ritual transformation into a door deity. The inclusion of other works around the print ad also helps to reframe it as a protective door deity. Handwritten on thin red paper, a simple set of spring couplets with missing characters hangs precariously to the walls. The couplet references a popular verse: “With the arrival of spring, a propitious air fills the hall; with the approaching sunlight, an auspicious brilliance glows in the courtyard” . A third strip hung across the lintel reads, “Attaining good fortune, welcoming auspiciousness”  . In the past, calendar prints were usually displayed  inside the home as auspicious images, not on the front door. In this case, it is possible to observe how a particular mode of ritual display transforms a print ad to suit the interests of the user. If humble urban homes use whatever means available to put together a set of door deities and spring couplets, then wealthy rural families will often take extra steps to enhance their doors with auspicious and extravagant markers of status. In a newly built home in the rural outskirts of town, the double leaf doorway has been painted with a bright auspicious red color, protected with metal bars, and adorned with gold plated designs and an eight-spoked Buddhist wheel of life (fig. 26). The doors bear high-end commercially produced door deities, spring couplets, and hanging lanterns. Reflecting the rise of a mass commercial culture, the lanterns are prominently marked with gold corporate logos from a local liquor company. Again, it is possible to see an ongoing dialectic between advertising campaigns that appropriate auspicious design elements for  84  marketing products and domestic ritual practices that reappropriate such goods to enhance the auspicious space of the home. The creative approaches used here illustrate ritual practice as an active, flexible, and adaptive activity that makes use of available resources to engage a lived environment. Far from prescriptive, ritual print use is linked to the flow of goods in the marketplace and the changing architecture and social configurations of the city. Depending on the time of year, or even the time of day, the outdoor display of such works continually changes as if caught in an ever-turning kaleidoscope of shifting shapes, textures, and colors. Merging seamlessly with the environment and the passage of time, the annual lifecycles of nianhua can only be understood as processes of convergence and dispersal. The object cannot be taken for granted as a tangible entity with stable visual and material characteristics. Instead, it is often nianhua’s indeterminate and ephemeral qualities that lend the works ritual efficacy. It is the transformation of the object in time and space that requires analysis rather than the object itself as a fixed site of meaning and efficacy. In fengshui practice, which has regained popularity in Sichuan since the early 1980s, special attention is always given to the entrance of a home, starting from the earliest stages of home construction and continuing on for as long as the home is inhabited. 154 The main gate is the vulnerable interface between the home and the outside world; exterior displays of ritual ephemera play a critical role in situating the home within the larger environment of the street and neighborhood. This process is necessarily ongoing because features in the lived environment may change unexpectedly. For 154  Ole Bruun has documented the post-Mao fengshui revival in the Chengdu region. See Ole Bruun, Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination Between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion, (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003), chapter 4.  85  instance, the construction activities in a neighborhood may alter its existing layout and require a household to respond to negative topographical features using fengshui practices. In some cases, rural neighborhoods will collectively fund the construction of protective walls or other structures to deflect a perceived danger in the changing fengshui of the area. A fengshui specialist may be hired to come “see fengshui”  , a process  that usually requires a geomantic compass and a traditional almanac.155 What is “seen” here is not only in reference to what is optically perceived through the eyes, but to the entire range of techniques used by an experienced fengshui practitioner. The display of ritual ephemera on household doorways throughout Mianzhu is thus closely tied to concerns around fengshui. For instance, to counter the effect of negative fengshui elements around the home, additional objects are added over the door lintel to supplement the protective power of door deities, such as mirrors, scissors, sharp objects, or bagua symbols. In this particular doorway, a mirror is added to deflect the potential dangers of the alley that faces the door (fig. 27). In older neighborhoods such as this one, the complex spatial and temporal histories of fengshui activities and ritual print display are made visible in the build up of paper residue around doors and gates. These activities can be collectively understood as an active and multi-sensorial engagement with the town’s changing environment. In the same way that the winter street markets harness auspicious time and space for trade, door displays also harness auspicious time and space to suit the interests of the household. Mirroring the agency of the marketplace, these door displays can also be understood as agentic assemblages, spatio-temporal configurations of both objects and practices that transform the experience of a lived space. It is worth noting that in all the 155  Bruun, Fengshui in China, 148-50.  86  displays I studied, there was not a single household that sought to repair or renew the displays when they started to decay and fall apart. When I asked about this, one woman replied, “We only renew these during the Lunar New Year. It would be strange to replace them at any time of year, so we just let them fall off by themselves. Its best not to disturb them as it wouldn’t bode well for the home.”156 Another man replied that to renew the images at any other time of year “would be of no use whatsoever.” Regardless of the interpretation, the displays are simply left to decay without intervention, a practice that speaks to the integrity of the temporal cycle as critical component of ritual efficacy. I will briefly mention here two of the orally transmitted narratives that were repeated to me during my research visits to further illustrate how the adaptive and performative nature of posting door deities is distilled in the oral tradition. During one of my walks through an urban residential neighborhood in Mianzhu, an older woman standing in the street approached me and asked me why I was observing all the household doorways in the street. Once I explained my scholarly interest in the subject, she eagerly shared with me the following tale: Do you know why people started putting up door deities? It all started with one of the Tang emperors who couldn’t sleep at night because he thought demons were going to catch him! He could only sleep when his two best warriors stood right outside his bedroom door, but this was so much trouble so he then came up with the idea of painting their likenesses outside his door. This worked so well, that everyone began putting up pictures of door deities. [Laughs while gesturing at the doors in the street.] That’s what I heard people say anyway.157  156 157  Conversation with a local resident in Mianzhu, Sichuan, July 2006. Ibid.  87  I heard this narrative in Mianzhu countless times during the course of my research, although the versions have many different twists and variations that I won’t repeat here.158 It is essentially a story about the origins of ritually displaying door deities where two human warriors are suddenly transformed into ritually efficacious images known as “door deities.” In every version of the story, the Tang emperor tries to resolve his insomnia by strategically placing their painted likenesses on a doorway. With proven success, their specific function as protective door deities is established, giving rise to the subsequent ritualization of hanging up door deities. While the actual historical origins of this practice is another issue of debate, this popular narrative captures a subtle point concerning the role of the painted likeness, which is not simply a representation of a preexisting deity but in itself a transformative process whereby the creation of the painted image in a particular site is equated with the birth of a pair of deities for each side of the door. The story conveys the idea that the painted likenesses of the warriors may be equally or even more powerful than the living warriors themselves. Another popular tale that was often repeated to me concerns a monstrous beast known as the nian  beast, which is also the character for “year.” The central message of  these stories is that the nian beast must be frightened away from the home with bright colors and loud sounds or else it might eat people. It is for this reason that people wear bright colors and set off firecrackers in front of their homes during the Lunar New Year. It is possible that people repeatedly shared these popular tales with me because they saw 158  According to historical accounts and legends, these warriors guarded the residence of the Tang dynasty emperor, Tang Taizong (599-649), who eventually had their images painted on the palace gates. In the different versions of the story, these noble warriors protected the kingdom, frightened off demons, and helped cure the emperor from his affliction of nightmares and insomnia. Door deity stories, legends, and myths are documented in Michael Kardos, “God of the Gate, Protector of the Door: Door Gods (Menshen) in Chinese Popular Religion” (masters thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, 1998) and in Wang Shucun , Zhongguo menshen hua [Chinese Door-God Art] (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 2004).  88  me in the role of a researcher, and thus attempted to impart what they saw as historical or cultural knowledge on the topic of nianhua. Both of these stories are widely repeated in the folk art literature and other popular accounts of nianhua culture in the mass media. Yet regardless of the motives, the stories clearly speak to a strong preoccupation with protecting the home and the vulnerable household doorway by all creative means possible. In recognizing the active role of nianhua users, it becomes impossible to ignore the wide range of everyday goods and images that end up in the role of door deities. While folk art discourses have limited nianhua to popular prints and paintings, the actual diversity of ritual practices encompasses many other types of goods that can be appropriated to perform the role of nianhua. Cultural theorist Michel de Certeau has argued that consumption should be theorized as “another production,” albeit a “hidden one, because it is scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of ‘production’ (television, urban development, commerce, etc.), and because the steadily increasing expansion of these systems no longer leaves consumers any place in which they can indicate what they make or do with the products of these systems.” For de Certeau, the everyday practice of consumption is inherently creative and productive of meaning, yet less visible because it “does not manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.”159 In the case of these changing nianhua displays, the doorway serves as a distinct ritual space for such creative forms of consumption that mark out auspicious time and space.  159  Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), xiii.  89  Reunion and Regeneration: Nianhua and the Lunar New Year Having examined the changing modes of nianhua activity in the home and market, I will now situate nianhua within a broader repertoire of ritual practices tied to the Lunar New Year. The timed renewal of nianhua on household doorways can only be appreciated when it is connected to the many rites of renewal carried out during the “turning the year” or what anthropologist Stephan Feuchtwang calls “the annual apocalypse.” In his study of Chinese popular religion, Feuchtwang has argued that despite the presence of orthodox discourses expounding a well-ordered cosmic hierarchy, the Lunar New Year festival often betrays “another demonic cosmos of great destructive powers and the capacity to withhold or command them.”160 Thus what is celebrated is not a “benign imperial cosmos” but the family and community’s survival during the apocalyptic death of the old year and the precarious birth of the new year.161 According to Feuchtwang, the completion of this passage is thus a powerful manifestation of renewal and reunion that most Chinese families cherish: “The eve is a return home and a completion of the family household. At the very least a member of a Chinese family would feel absence from it. Many would regret their absence poignantly.”162 Building on this, anthropologist Charles Stafford’s study of contemporary Chinese Lunar New Year activities divides the festival’s ritual activities into that which happens in the days leading up to the Lunar New Year and that which occurs immediately afterwards. Prior to the turning of the year, a range of rituals are held for dealing with the movements of spirits, including “1) the ‘sending off’ of gods 2) the  160  Feuchtwang, Popular Religion, 55. Ibid. 162 Ibid., 25. 161  90  ‘greeting’ of ancestors 3) the ‘sending off’ of ancestors 4) the ‘greeting’ of gods.”163 At the moment of the Lunar New Year’s arrival, in conjunction with the ancestral greeting, “then for many days following, a series of reunions are held between various categories of living persons, including family members, friends, and colleagues.”164 Stafford argues that these activities underscore the preoccupation with renewal and reunion during a “crucial calendricalal juncture,” when “one encounters a fleeting solution to the separation constraint: a suspended moment during which work is halted, divisions and death overcome, the pace of visits intensified, and meals and games prolonged as if people could produce, through sheer collective will, a state of permanent, celebratory reunion.”165 In Mianzhu, I observed a less structured approach to celebrating the Lunar New Year, where these elements were still present in varying degrees or not at all, depending on the family or individual. For instance, the string of reunion meals with friends and family would begin well before the Lunar New Year and continue for weeks afterwards. To give a sense of the changing practices tied to the turning of the year and the role of nianhua within them, I include here additional excerpts from the interview session with Gong Jinlan  , a woman in her mid-fifties who grew up in rural Mianzhu as a child  before moving to the town center as a young adult. I met Gong through my parents who have many friends and relatives in Sichuan, so there was an immediate sense of familiarity and intimacy when we met for tea in her urban apartment. When I asked about her earliest memories of the Lunar New Year, she recounts how the usual Lunar  163  Charles Stafford, Separation and Reunion in Modern China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 31. 164 Ibid., 31. 165 Ibid.  91  New Year activities continued to take place during the Cultural Revolution, when she was a young girl: Life here did not seem to be affected much by the Cultural Revolution. I don’t remember ever seeing any Red Guards or anybody getting in trouble for celebrating the Lunar New Year. During the Cultural Revolution, you could still buy simple mimeographed prints [  ] in the rural open-air markets. These were  made on red paper with auspicious words and door deity images [Gestures the shapes of the small squares with her fingers.] We continued all our Lunar New Year activities, but they just weren’t as showy and loud as before…166  This account is significant because the prevailing view of the nianhua industry is that it ceased to exist during the Cultural Revolution, when works were officially confiscated, destroyed, and banned. However, Gong’s account serves as a reminder that these policies were not uniformly enforced in all areas, especially in rural areas less affected by national political movements. Furthermore, researchers have also documented instances where images of Chairman Mao and communist soldiers were circulated and consumed during the years of the Cultural Revolution in the place of door deities or other household deities.167 I go on to ask Gong how the Lunar New Year activities have evolved since those days, to which she gives a detailed account of both past and present practices: Celebrating the Lunar New Year was much more fun in the past than it is today. As soon as the eleventh lunar month arrived, we’d start curing meat, fish, and pig heads and tails. We’d cure the fish so that there would be “plenitude year after year” [  ] and we’d prepare pig heads and tails so that “what begins also  ends” [  ]. During the twelveth lunar month, we’d start all the preparations  166  Gong Jinlan, in discussion with the author in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006. See Stefan R. Landsberger, “The Deification of Mao: Religious Imagery and Practices during the Cultural Revolution and Beyond,” in China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Master Narratives and Post-Mao Counternarratives, ed. Woei Lien Chong (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 139-184. 167  92  in the home, including a full cleaning and the preparing of special foods. On the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, for the laba festival [  ], we had laba  congee to celebrate. Before, we used to make this by putting all sorts of ingredients in a pot, but now the restaurants make them with eight standard ingredients and people no longer go to the trouble of cooking it at home. But you know such dishes always taste better when they are made in the home! Ah, I really do miss those homemade dishes! [Sighs and rubs her stomach.]168  In mentioning specific recipes, it is possible to see direct parallels between the renewal of nianhua and the preparation of auspicious dishes. For instance, the preparation of certain foods is tied to the sounds of their names, which bear homophonic connections to auspicious phrases, such as the cooking of fish (yu phrase “plentitude year after year” (niannian youyu  ) to signal plentitude (yu  ) or the  ). At a time when the home  becomes a ritually charged space for the renewal of family ties, these activities work together to activate auspicious speech. Gong goes on to elaborate on the many traditional recipes that would be painstakingly prepared at this time of year, including meat stuffed tofu cakes, steamed red buns, sweet yams, fish, chestnuts, popcorn, and other flavored sweets. She then goes on to discuss the particular timed renewal of images in the home, including the stove deity image that would be replaced on the twenty-third day: After the laba banquets, it was time for people to start heading home and we would plan for visits to the ancestral burial sites. Before the twenty-third of the twelveth lunar month, we would have to go to the ancestral graves to burn money, candles, incense, and paper goods. By this time, all the hired help in the house had to leave so that there would be no outsiders in the home. We’d also make offerings to the stove deity on the twenty-third and put up his new picture next to our wood stove. Then all the children would get so excited because we would get 168  Gong Jinlan, in discussion with the author in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006.  93  to eat stove deity candy made of ginger, dough, and all sorts of flavors. On the last day of the year, we would have our big New Year’s Eve dinner and early the next day there was a race to the temple to see who could light the first incense of the year, which was considered most auspicious. Today people don’t go there themselves to the light the incense, but they’ll hire somebody to do it for them! Can you imagine this? [Throws her hands in the air as if in exasperation.]169  In yet another parallel between food and nianhua display, the renewal of the stove deity image coincides with the preparation of stove deity candy, which is sometimes smeared onto the stove deity’s mouth so that the deity provides a positive report on the family’s affairs when he makes his annual journey to the divine realms. When I ask her to discuss the ritual display of any other images in the home, she replies: We used to always hang up door deities and spring couplets. When I was a child, these were simple mimeographs, the kind made on red paper. There were no shiny prints back then, those only came later. We also had double-leaf doors back then, instead of the single-leaf ones in our apartment today. We’d place the door deities facing eachother and my grandfather wrote the spring couplets. By the first day of the New Year, the entire house had to be ready with new images. Inside the house, we had handprinted works of people, flowers, and other auspicious images. We had an altar [  ] set up in the living room [  ] so that you would be  facing the ancestors as soon as you opened the doors to the room. We put the names of the ancestors there with couplets on either side, and an incense burner in the middle surrounded by offerings such as food, liquor, flowers, and the back end of a roasted pig.170  Gong Jinlan’s description here captures the full transformation of the home into a ritual space for ancestral worship before the Lunar New Year. The renewal of the exterior 169 170  Ibid. Ibid.  94  doorway with door deities and spring couplets coincides with the renewal of the indoor altar, which also bears couplets on either side. When I ask her whether her family has continued to display such images over the years, she explained the major shifts in how the Lunar New Year is celebrated: Today we are in apartments with single-leaf doors and we just put up a single fudao [  ] image or nothing at all. 171 We buy them in the bookstores where  they sell really nice ones. These cost more and you can’t find them in the street markets, which only sell the crude ones. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, Mianzhu has been growing really fast, with paved roads in places were there were only dirt roads. Now people go to eat in restaurants and play mahjong all day. There are TVs and computers everywhere you go and little communication between the generations in one family. Before, the kids would perform songs and dances for the elders to get some more New Year’s cash out of them. The elders would also tell stories around the pictures in the home. My grandma couldn’t read, but she had lots of stories to tell and she liked to perform a fan dance for the kids. There’s no longer that kind of interaction between the generations. Even nianhua is commercialized and made for art collectors.172 Gong’s detailed account sheds light on the significant role these year-end ritual practices play in shaping family relationships and in maintaining the ties between the younger and older generations. It also situates the annual renewal of nianhua within a broader repertoire of ritual activities tied to renewal, including cooking, feasting, cleaning, reuniting with ancestors, playing games, and sharing stories. In performing these various activities, participating family members and friends strengthen their existing social bonds and create new ones. They also renew the bonds between the living 171  The fudao image is the written character for “prosperity” (fu ) displayed upside down on a doorway, window, or wall. Since the character for “upside down” (dao ) is a homophone for “arrive” (dao ), this method of display serves as a rebus image for the phrase “prosperity arrives” (fudao ). 172 Ibid.  95  and the deceased and between the worldly and the divine. It should also be added here that these activities take place in the realm of the marketplace as well, where company bosses are often expected to host banquets for their employees while all debts are collected and squared. It is thus possible to see how “pursuing the auspicious, repelling the portentous” is a concept that comes into play across a wide range of ritual practices tied to renewal, regeneration, and reunion in all facets of life. As an open-ended concept, it encompasses a vast range of associations both secular and divine. When asked, “What does ‘auspicious’ [  ] mean?” Gong Jinlan enthusiastically replied, “All things  good!”173 In selecting these particular excerpts from the interview, I am also highlighting the changing nature of these activities, which inevitably respond to shifting trends in fashion, technology, and the architectural configurations of the family’s lived space, such as the simplified modes of nianhua display on single-leaf apartment doors. Gong gives many examples of how the festival practices are changing, including the increasing number of people who eat in restaurants or who hire people to burn incense for them at the temple. She also points to how TVs and computers are replacing direct forms of human communication, producing a divide between the younger and older generations. Later in the discussion, Gong mentions a recent survey that reported seventy percent of Chinese families watch the Spring Festival Gala broadcast on the official CCTV networks across the nation. The gala is a variety performance not unlike the Lunar New Year street parades that are held on the first day of the New Year, although the gala shifts the spectacle experienced indoors and to the eve of the Lunar New Year, from about 8:00  173  Ibid.  96  pm to 1:00 am. For Gong, these changes have taken away from the intimacy and joy of the festival, which was “much more fun in the past.”174 Interestingly, this nostalgic sentiment repeatedly shows up in the scholarly literature on nianhua, including a recent essay by art historian Bo Songnian, who laments the commercialization of the nianhua industry and the decline in traditional rituals tied to the Lunar New Year.175 However it should be kept in mind that these are often urban perspectives that are not necessarily shared by those living in rural areas. During my research trips, rural residents or those who still return from the cities to their rural homes for the Lunar New Year often spoke with great enthusiasm over the elaborate festivities and homemade meals that were still carried out at home. For instance, one male rural resident argued that the traditional Lunar New Year rituals were not dying out at all but actually growing and expanding due to the greater wealth in his village: We display many new images around the home nowadays, as there is so much variety to choose from and the images are not expensive. They also get more beautiful every year. Many people are better off now, and they have the better means to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but certainly some are more fortunate than others.176 Overall, the emerging nianhua displays in Mianzhu and the firsthand accounts of Lunar New Year activities reveal diverse approaches to nianhua consumption that are not connected by a unified set of ideals or beliefs but rather a range of conflicting perceptions and attitudes. I have therefore emphasized a performative approach to the ritual practices that shape nianhua’s significance in the home, where a creative array of strategies are 174  Ibid. Bo Songnian , “Xingshuai cunwang zhongde nianhua yishu” Fall, Preservation, and Loss of Nianhua Art] Art Observation 2 (2005): 8-10. 176 Conversation with a local resident in Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006. 175  [The Rise,  97  employed. These strategies reflect the changing conditions of everyday life, including the continuous influx of new goods, ideas, and technologies. The rural or urban home is thus a permeable space, intimately connected to larger trends in the marketplace. At the same time, the home serves as a site where emerging goods and technologies may be appropriated for new uses and ritual ends. Just as the periodic market harnesses auspicious time and space to maximize its potential for profit, so do the household displays of nianhua. The rhythms of the home and market are thus synchronized with the circulation of nianhua, supporting a wide range of activities tied to everyday life and livelihood. I will stress here the importance of the dynamic and dialectical relationship between ephemeral nianhua and the processes of ritualization that define and shape their meaning. Caught in a continuous cycle of renewal and decay, the works themselves are always changing and in flux. At the same time, the ritual practices tied to nianhua are also evolving in tandem with the changing conditions and spaces of everyday life. Perhaps the only stabilizing element here is the timing, the climatic turning of the lunar year.  Lineage-making Strategies for Reclaiming Authority in the Nianhua Marketplace I will now turn to the ritualization processes employed by local printmakers to rebuild their workshops in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. In particular, I will examine how local lineage-holding printmakers strategically reassert their identities and the ritual efficacy of their works in order to compete in the emerging marketplace. The notion of a nianhua “lineage” usually refers to a familial line of nianhua producers who construct and assert their lineage-holding status through a variety of means, including  98  their family genealogy, signature production skills, and territorial claims to a particular production site that may or may not belong to the family. Since the late 1970s, Mianzhu’s nianhua lineages have had to actively reconstruct their lineage-holding status with the help of few supporting documents or none at all because these were lost or confiscated during the Cultural Revolution. It must be noted here that the term “lineage” is a problematic construct, which has been unpacked in recent scholarship as an anthropological fiction with no direct correspondence to Chinese concepts of zong zu  , jia  , xing  , shi , fang , pai  , or  , to name a few of the related terms. The recent sinological literature has thus  pushed for a shift away from an apriori rationalization of the functional characteristics of lineage and towards an analysis of specific practices to address how the social rules, regulations, and operational principles of lineage must be performed and lived out in practice to be realized. Allen Chun has stressed this point and warned against the imposition of European concepts of “descent,” especially in the concept of zong which “may be viewed as a line of descent, but its essential meaning really has to do with the transmission of ancestral rites and obligations.” 177 It is a concept that stresses a “hierarchical continuity between ascendant and descendant” yet does not call up lineage segmentation or clan familism as do the terms fang or jia.178 Extending Chun’s argument, Mayfair Yang cites Bourdieu’s emphasis on situational practice and agency to advocate for an approach to lineage that moves away from focusing on the normative or “official” rules of lineage and towards an examination of the “the daily conversions of these rules 177  Allen Chun in Allen Chun, John Clammer, Patricia Ebrey, David Faure, Stephan Feuchtwang, YingKuei Huang, P. Steven Sangren, Mayfair Yang, “The Lineage-Village Complex in Southeastern China: A Long Footnote in the Anthropology of Kinship [and Comments and Reply],” Current Anthropology 37, no. 3 (1996), 439. 178 Ibid.  99  into strategies of power and counterpower by active agents exercising ‘practical kinship.’”179 Working along similar lines, the work of Sangren and Scheffler examines how a diverse range of lineage organizations, involving both kin and non-kin, are able to change structurally to adapt to diverse environments.180 In the case of Mianhu’s nianhua lineages, this adaptive power is enacted when the rules and principles around lineage transmission are manipulated, recast, and redeployed to access its symbolic capital in the marketplace. To unpack these issues, the following discussion draws on my interview sessions with the elder heads of the Wang, Chen, and Li family workshops. It is evident in each case that the elders have well-rehearsed presentations of their workshop histories, as they are accustomed to speaking with visiting scholars and officials. I was first introduced to the workshops by my mentor Liu Zhumei  , an artist and nianhua researcher at the  Mianzhu Nianhua Museum who has formed long-standing relationships with the workshops. During our initial meetings, Liu referred to my personal background as an American born Chinese whose father came from a small village in Sichuan. She explained that I was interested in exploring my cultural and ancestral roots by studying nianhua, a topic that I would share with Western audiences. Liu’s skillful introduction served as a powerful icebreaker in conversation as it provided a personal dimension to the project. In the following discussion, I will first address the ritualized forms of copying and innovation within the Wang family lineage of print designers (huashi  ) who have  extant lineage documents, including geneaology charts, sketches, and inherited paintings 179  Mayfair Yang, “The Lineage-Village Complex (Comment to),” 446. Key studies include P. Steven Sangren, “Traditional Chinese Corporations: Beyond Kinship,” Journal of Asian Studies 43 (1984): 391-415; Scheffler, Harold W. “Filiation and affiliation” Man 20 (1985): 1-21. 180  100  that carry the valuable traces of older generations. In these instances, the auspicious act of copying and redesigning these works is central to the continuous flow of skilled knowledge required for the prosperity of the family lineage and livelihood. This continuity allows lineage holders to experiment and innovate authoritatively within an established tradition. I will then address how the Li and Chen workshops (respectively known as the Northern and Southern schools of Mianzhu nianhua) link their production practices with territorial claims, as a way of (re)constructing their lineages without lineage documents. The different lineage-making approaches reveal competing strategies in the production of efficacious images intended to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous.” In particular, the workshops’ strategic performance of lineage discourses and practices plays a critical role in legitimizing their authoritative presence in the marketplace, especially in framing their prints and paintings as ritually efficacious items for a broad audience.  Wang Family Lineage Wang Xingru  (b. 1922) is a seventh generation lineage holder in a long  line of professional designers or huashi, as they are locally known.181 As a family trained in print design, the Wang painters specialized in figure paintings of popular deities executed with fine brushwork and detail, a type of painting referred to as gongbi hua . They were seen as ritual experts familiar with local religious practices and existing traditions of visual iconography. They make sculptures, architectural designs, coffins, prints, paintings, and murals. With the support of their long-standing lineage, the Wang 181  The term huashi is broadly used for those who design the original paintings for reproduction as prints. These designers are usually literate or semi-literate and live in urban areas.  101  designers contributed creatively to these traditions by bringing to each project their distinct repertoire of designs.182 The following discussions are based on a group conversation with Wang during the summer of 2006. I was accompanied by Liu Zhumei, my mentor, and Ning Zhiqi , a historian and director at Mianzhu’s Cultural Relics Bureau. Both Liu and Ning were well acquainted with Wang, who had collaborated with them on past research projects concerning nianhua history. The discussions were conducted in the local dialect, with Liu and Ning translating obscure terms into Mandarin when necessary. It is significant that Wang chose to share his lineage documents before taking out his many sketches and scroll paintings. In doing so, he first establishes the authority of his lineage-holding status, providing an appropriate social context for the viewing of his own painted works. From the onset of the conversation, Wang took a lead in presenting the information and guiding the discussion. It was immediately evident that he was experienced in sharing his workshop’s history with visiting scholars and officials. Wang brought out a wooden box that was fully packed with various lineage documents, however he chose only a few items for us to document and photograph (fig.28). According to Wang, these rare documents were kept safe during the Cultural Revolution because his father Wang Tianbao  (1885-1971) took great risks to protect them and  managed to bury them in a secret location. Wang Xingru was able to retrieve his father’s precious documents only after the nianhua revival got underway in the late 1970s. Many  182  Local archives list many names for the family lineages of professional huashi designers, including the Ma, Zhang, He, and Wang families. For a partial list of these lineages including the names of individual designers, see Liu Zhumei and Ning Zhiqi , “Mianzhu nianhua huashi ji yishu chengjiu" The huashi designers of Mianzhu nianhua and their artistic achievement] in Zhongguo Mianzhu nianhua China’s Mianzhu nianhua], ed. Yu Jundao (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2007), 103-113.  102  of the older works were in a state of serious decay, as worms had started eating through the documents while they were underground. The first work he showed us is his copy of the family’s geneaology chart, a traced copy that is composed like an unbound book, with a front and back cover and seven loose pages in the middle bearing diagrams of the family lines. The writings on the front cover are particularly significant here because they demonstrate the intimate link between a patrilineal bloodline and a profession (fig. 29). The center of the front cover foregrounds the family name and bears the four large characters: “Wang family genealogy chart” . The back cover reads, “May the Wang family school flourish forever” . Here, the first four characters name the lineage as the “Wang family school,” where the kinship term for “clan name” (shi “professional school” (bangpai  ) is combined with the term for  ).  In the center of the front cover, on either side of the family name, a pair of antithetical couplets references the central importance of the family profession: “Because it is so difficult to establish a profession, keep in mind the work of your ancestors. To sustain one’s acheivements is not easy, thus future generations should be warned.” . This couplet is flanked on either side by another set of couplets that call for ritual offerings to be made to the ancestors, in honor of their achievements: “May the virtuous achievements and honorable names of our ancestors flow forth for hundreds of generations. Through spring frost and autumn dew, may they receive sincere offerings for thousands of years.”  .  The top of the genealogy chart cover has a set of horizontally inscribed verses that read:  103  “With sacrificial offerings of fragrant foods, may the ancestors be honored with care and devotion”  .  These couplets directly link the preservation of ancestral memory to sustaining a form of livelihood. The center couplets repel the portentous by warning future generations against the difficulties of sustaining the family profession. The flanking couplets attract the auspicious by announcing the virtue and longevity of the lineage. Ancestral virtue is characterized as “flowing”  through the generations, like a river or  stream.183 The arrangement of the couplets on the genealogy cover mirrors the spring couplets placed around his studio entrance, reinforcing the efficacious power of the genealogy chart (fig 30). Like spring couplets protecting the entrance to a family’s abode, these inscribed couplets appear to protect the names listed in the genealogy chart. The written names of ancestors carry a powerful living presence in the context of lineage documents. This is most evident in the ancestral tablet placed on the Wang family altar, which bears the names of his forefathers (fig. 31). This tablet, which is placed next to a photo of Wang’s father, occupies the center of the altar where the Wang family members place regular offerings of food, drink, and incense. The altar itself is located in a prominent place in the center back wall of Wang’s painting studio, on a tall cabinet. This spatial arrangement joins the ancestral shrine with the work area in such a way that the ancestors appear to be keeping watch over the room, and over the survival of the family profession.  183  Keeping with the imagery of flowing water, a double meaning for “school” is a river’s “tributary.” Like tributaries carving new paths to expand the reaches of the river, so do the lines on the genealogy chart expand and fan out in complex and unpredictable patterns. This metaphor supports an understanding of lineage as connected to a common source yet also diverse and evolving in its continuity.  104  Keeping with their family traditions, Wang received a version of the chart from his father and made a copy of it by placing tracing paper over the original and reinscribing the characters by hand with a brush. Each inside page represents a single generation  , which are numbered at the top of each page, followed by the names of the  parents of that generation of offspring (fig. 32). 184 While the names of female family members are included, the lines of descent are only continued through the male offspring. When multiple sons appear in the same generation, each son would receive a set of lineage documents at the father’s discretion. Upon copying the chart, Wang added the name of his youngest brother’s only son, the only male in his generation and the last name to appear on the chart. Ritually traced by each lineage holder, the transmission of the chart is considered an auspicious activity that must be continually performed in order to maintain the family profession and to “sustain one’s achievements” for all future generations. The close relationship between the copied mark and genealogical transmission has been long recognized by scholars of Chinese painting history. Chinese art historian Wen Fong, in his discussion of Chinese literati painting and calligraphy, has noted: “The artistic process of replication parallels the anthropological concept of genealogy. Just as one’s mortal body both replaces and transforms that of one’s ancestors, the life and authority of artistic tradition, through endless replication, can remain forever ancient and forever new.”185 In this genealogical framework, the “styles of the canonical masters, as transmitted through tracing copies and replicas, may thus be considered a kind of DNA 184  The names of all the siblings in the same generation share a common character after their last name. The names of the wives for each son in the family are included but not the names of the daughter’s husbands, reflecting the understanding that daughters were married out of the family while the sons bring their wives into the family. 185 Wen C. Fong, “Why Chinese Painting Is History,” The Art Bulletin 85, no. 2 (June, 2003): 262.  105  imprint from which all subsequent idioms emerge.”186 Although Wen Fong is referencing elite literati traditions, the genealogical dimension of the copied mark also carries a powerful currency in Mianzhu nianhua. In Mianzhu, the painting term linmo  is  loosely used today to reference tracing or “side be side” freehand copying. As I will show below, this term is flexible in meaning and does not refer strictly to an exact copy; instead it often carries with it connotations of genealogical transmission and revelation. This is evident in a set of paintings completed by Wang Xingru’s grandfather Wang Zhengfa version of Gengzhitu  (1865-1929), who traced by hand a complete set of a Qing dynasty or “Plowing and Weaving Pictures.” In copying this  prestigious set of prints that was nationally circulated by Emperor Kangxi in 1696, Wang Zhengfa accomplishes two key tasks. First, he appropriates the visual language of royalty, authority, and moral virtue, resituating these values within the context of the Wang family lineage. Secondly, he uses this as a vehicle to display his own embodied mastery of the brush, a vital skill that is transmitted from generation to generation within the family line. Inspired by an earlier set of “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” from the Song period, Kangxi began distributing his own commissioned version of the prints as a form of state propaganda. The pictures were designed to boost the emperor’s public image as a benevolent Confucian ruler despite his Manchu heritage.187 Kangxi’s prints bear idealized scenes of rural families working diligently to support the nation with agriculture and silk weaving as encouraged by the court. Each scene is accompanied by Kangxi’s own poems 186  Fong, 262. The major terms for copying in Chinese painting reveal a broad spectrum of approaches: lin , mo , fang , ni , fenben , and beilin . 187 For a complete reproduction and description of the forty-six “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” circulated by Kangxi, see Wang Chaosheng , Zhongguo gudai gengzhitu [Plowing and weaving pictures of ancient China] (Beijing: Zhongguo nongye chubanshe, 1995).  106  that exhort Confucian virtues among the common populace, such as filial piety, frugality, and hard work. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, different popularized versions of “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” were circulated in regional print centers as ritually efficacious images to attract bountiful harvest, prosperity, and social harmony.188 In Mianzhu, Wang Zhengfa’s decision to copy the Kangxi version may reflect its local status as the most “traditional” or “classic” model of plowing and weaving pictures. By resituating these auspicious prints in the context of his family lineage, Wang Zhengfa expands the workshop’s repertoire of images while appropriating the prints’ status and prestige. As an interesting parallel to this, a pair of antithetical phrases on the back cover of the Wang genealogy chart calls for the blessings of the state to support the family profession: “A riteous nation is harmoniously ordered like the stars in the sky, may upright officials bring us peace. True wealth and honor are as precious as jade; may every generation prosper”  (fig. 33).  In contrast to the carvers, printers, and those trained in the final stages of coloring and painting, nianhua designers are primarily recognized for their ability to design and paint many different kinds of ritually efficacious images. In this context, Wang Zhengfa’s “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” can be understood as a display of his mastery of the brush in both painting and calligraphy. In particular, it showcases his ability to paint a wide range of figures, including men, women, and children engaged in many different activities of daily life and labor. As Wang Xingru explains, their family lineage specializes in figural painting: “We specialized in painting figures, which in the past were called gongbi pictures. We painted deities for home altars, such as the deity of the home, 188  For this study, I consulted a complete painted version of the Kangxi “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” held in the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada, with forty-six leaves of paintings in two albums. These works are dated to the late eighteenth century or later.  107  Guanyin, Zhongkui, the Wealth Deity, the Eight Immortals, the Sixteen Arhats, Eighteen Lohans, and the Twenty Four Filial Acts.”189 Wang’s grandfather painstakingly rendered the complete set of 46 prints of Kangxi’s “Plowing and Weaving Pictures” into a set of paintings by laying thin paper over the prints then copying the lines with brush and ink. In contrast to the original prints, Wang’s painted copy bears the delicate nuances of Wang’s energetic brushwork. If one compares a scene from Kangxi’s prints to Wang’s version, it is possible to see how the brushwork comes to the fore in Wang’s copy. In Kangxi’s version, the last scene in a series of plowing images depicts a family making sacrificial offerings to the deity of agriculture (fig. 34). It is a hand colored woodblock print reproduced after a painting by Jiao Bingzhen  , who was commissioned by Kangxi to design the entire set. Not  shown in this image are Kangxi’s calligraphic verses added to the top of the page. In Wang Zhengfa’s traced version of this same scene, the calligraphy along the top is also absent although the calligraphy inside the frame of the picture is faithfully reproduced (fig. 35). It is not clear whether the version he was tracing included the calligraphy. In contrast to the Kangxi version, Wang’s copy only includes the outlines of the image, leaving out the shading and the coloring. Wang’s hand painted lines stand out against the background, with each brushstroke visible on the surface of the delicate paper. In comparing the minute details of the altar, straw roofing, and fencing, Wang’s version bears fewer lines to mark out a textured surface in an abbreviated manner. The short grass and vines growing at the edges of the walls are only indicated by a few dots, delineating the compositional space these details would occupy if one were to paint them in with color. It is possible that these works were painted as designs to be carved into 189  Wang Xingru in discussion with the author, Mianzhu, Sichuan, June 2006.  108  woodblocks, although the lengthy collection of 46 images would have made this a very expensive and laborious task. It is more likely that Wang’s painted version served as a painting model, to be reproduced as paintings within the family workshop. Passed down through the family and copied by each lineage holder, the work becomes a vehicle for transmitting and performing the embodied mastery of the brush. Copying lineage paintings is thus a means of attaining certain skills and displaying one’s accomplishment. According to Wang, his father decided to train him in the family profession instead of sending him to school: I learned the art at the age of eleven. It wasn’t possible for my family to continue my education, and my father had a lot of work to do. There were often people coming over to rush him in his work, there was so much work and not enough people to do it. So he asked me to start working. That’s how I learned to paint.190 Thus instead of attending school, Wang learned how to read from his grandfather, who was going blind at the time: “When I was learning to paint, his eyes could no longer see. If I didn’t recognize a character, I’d write it on the palm of his hand with my finger. Then he’d tell me how to read the character.”191 Sparked by our viewing of his grandfather’s painting, Wang’s recollected memories reveal how he learned to read and write by copying characters onto his grandfather’s palm. This intimate act speaks to the significance of copying in ways that are not recorded on paper but only in memory. These forms of copying are as important as the ones that leave physical traces and speak to a kind of on-going transmission of knowledge through touch and observation.  190 191  Ibid. Ibid.  109  Scholars of Chinese art and drama have emphasized certain difference between the Chinese concept of mo  (usually translated as “imitate” or “copy”) and the Western  notion of mimesis, which is usually associated with a likeness or semblance in outward form. In his study of mo in Chinese drama, Chen has noted, “To understand the Chinese concept of mo, one must also understand the Chinese concept of aesthetic truth, especially theatrical truth. Revealed in all major traditional Chinese arts, such as painting and drama, is the idea that aesthetic truth is not empirical. Rather, truth lies beyond mere superficial likeness.”192 Citing drama critics from the Yuan dynasty to present day, Chen argues that mo is “closer in meaning to the words ‘revelation’ or ‘display’ than to ‘imitation’ or ‘duplication.’”193 Chen’s retranslation here sheds light on the Wang family’s “Plowing and Weaving Pictures,” which are not simply replicas of Kangxi’s prints but transformed copies that also reveal and display the genealogical marks of the family lineage. In examining the Wang family genealogy chart and lineage paintings, it is possible to see a complex form of shared authorship that is continually shaped by each lineage holder. Wang Xingru situates his own works within a collection of works produced by his forefathers, thus lending authority to his own paintings as transmissions of a living lineage. Wang Xingru’s brushwork simultaneously bears the mark of his ancestors as well as his own. It is possible to understand the Wang family paintings as produced by the individual as well as the lineage since these two categories are mutually inclusive rather than exclusive. This point challenges the idea that a collectively produced work takes creative agency out of the hands of the individual artisan by pointing to a 192  Jingsong Chen, “To Make People Happy, Drama Imitates Joy: The Chinese Theatrical Concept of Mo,” Asian Theater Journal 4, no. 1 (1997), 43. 193 Ibid., 40.  110  conceptual framework that simultaneously embraces individual and multiple authors. It should be kept in mind that the “individuation” of knowledge as described by Foucault in his famous essay “What is an Author?” did not develop in China to the same degree as it did throughout the history of modern Europe.194 In the context of a painting lineage, the creative process is not necessarily bounded by an individual “creator” but may be considered part of genealogical continuum. In the case of nianhua, it is the authority and supporting context of the shared lineage that supports an individual’s creative contributions to the profession. As Wang’s paintings show, the copied mark straddles continuity and change as variations are creatively exploited. In the words of Wen Fong, these traces are “forever ancient and forever new.”195 Wang’s lineage box also contains sketches from his ancestors, however the ones he showed us were his own contributions to the collection. Drawing out a thick stack of small-scale sketches, Wang laid out on the table various religious motifs, intricate patterns, auspicious creatures, cloud designs, rebuses, and written characters. Many of these sketches had written notes on them, such as notations on color, size proportions, and explanatory comments on the ritual significance of specific details (fig. 36). These sketches serve as a visual compendium of design concepts for producing ritually efficacious objects, including prints, paintings, sculptures, architectural components, temple murals, and coffins. Accrued over many generations, the sketches betray the profound wealth of ritual knowledge maintained in the family profession. They also illustrate how certain designs could be used in different configurations and in different media, generating a virtually limitless range of possibilities for the designer to explore. 194  Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author,” in Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970). 195 Fong, “Why Chinese Painting is History,” 262.  111  For instance, in a scroll painting known as Double Longevity  , auspicious patterns  from Wang’s sketches are incorporated into many aspects of the image (fig. 37). The painting, which depicts a pair of male and female longevity deities, is designed to be a birthday gift to be given to an elder. According to Wang, this painting is an appropriate gift to present to one’s parents in their older age. Both deities are depicted only if both the mother and father are alive, otherwise only the female deity is presented to the mother or the male deity to the father. The female goddess of longevity and the protector of elderly women is the immortal Magu  , who is often distinguished by her youthful  appearance, long nails, and her basket of gourds, fruits, and flowers swung over her shoulder on a pole. Her child attendant carries two peaches of immortality in a basket on his back. Standing beside them is the god of longevity, Shouxing  or Nanji Shouxing  , who carries a knotted staff with a gourd that contains life-sustaining water and in the other hand, a blessed citron fruit known as a Buddha’s hand  . All three figures  are bearing gifts of health and long life, reinforcing the painting’s intended function as a birthday gift. Wang incorporates a range of ritually efficacious patterns into the figures’ clothing to bolster the power of the painting to ensure longevity. Wang added these patterns to Magu’s robe, which is covered with images of fecundity in the form of flowers, vines, and leaves. Her basket is also transformed into an auspicious object with the addition of a longevity sign that appears woven into its structure. Similarly, her young attendant’s robes are covered in flowers. The Shouxing figure is appropriately adorned with longevity signs on his robe, patterns that are more flatly imposed onto the figure. These patterns enhance the ritual efficacy of the painting while dressing these well-  112  known figures in the unique marks of the Wang family workshop. The patterns also bear strong resemblance to the stamped designs found in many of Mianzhu’s historic door deity prints, suggesting a process of cross-referencing between printing and painting techniques. In examining Wang’s sketches and lineage documents alongside his finished works, it is possible to see how copying from an existing repertoire of patterns, designs, and auspicious imagery allows for many variations to emerge in different media. Wang’s thick stack of sketches is a visual library of efficacious signs that is an efficient way to create a range of ritual goods imprinted with the distinct marks of one’s workshop. As the Wang family works permeate public spaces in the form of murals, sculptures, and architectural designs, their designs become readily recognizable in the community. It is no wonder that the copying is considered an auspicious act in itself, as it serves a very practical function of distributing a distinct lineage identity while attracting recognition and prosperity to the family workshop.196 Historically, Mianzhu’s nianhua worshops have much at stake in developing unique lineage identities and recognizable repertoires of printed works. According to the archived records of the early twentieth-century print trade, door deity guilds fiercely guarded their trade secrets and production methods.197 They were aware of regional competitors and sought to brand their products with certain visible characteristics in order  196  The use of preparatory sketches, drawings, and copying methods in painting workshops has a long history in China. For a more detailed study on this topic, see Sarah Fraser’s study of the ninth and tenth century preparatory sketches found in the Dunhuang caves: Sarah Fraser, Performing the Visual: The Practice of Buddhist Wall Painting in China and Central Asia, 618-960 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). Also see Qing Pan, “Creativity Within Copying: A Comparative Study of Copying as a Way of Learning in Euro-American Painting and Chinese Painting Traditions” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 2007). 197 For a discussion of Mianzhu’s trade guild practices see Feng, “Historical accounts of Mianzhu's trade associations,” 112-119.  113  to trade them at a higher value in the regional print markets.198 On a smaller scale, different workshops within Mianzhu also strived for prestige by mastering certain skills within the constraints of the guild rules, knowledge that was carefully guarded and transmitted through family lineages. Individual workshops and even individual artisans would thus occupy the vanguard of particular aspects of print production, competing for status in the industry in ingenious ways. Although many print formats or designs remained stable over time, the methods of production reflect great diversity and experimentation. Today, these ritual strategies are still vital components of how lineageholding workshops engage the marketplace. While Wang Xingru claims his place in a multigenerational lineage of nianhua designers living in Mianzhu’s urban center, the Chen and Li workshops are newly formed lineages that emerged after the Cultural Revolution in Mianzhu’s rural outskirts. In contrast to Wang, the Chen and Li workshops do not have lineage documents to draw on. Their situation reflects unique strategies of adaptation, where they reconstruct their workshop lineage identities by copying historic nianhua works. Chen and Li refer to their lineages as pai  , a term used for painting schools comprised of both kin and nonkin  members. While Chen Xingcai claims to be the head of the “Southern School” (nanpai ), Li Fangfu claims lineage in the “Northern School” (beipai  ). I will now draw on  interviews conducted with members of both schools to show how the process of copying plays into the territorial politics of lineage discourse to further boost the status of the workshops. 198  These characteristics include the production of thick, high quality paper known as fenjianzhi and the use of gold or silver leaf applied by either brush or small stamps. According to Li Fangfu, an elder nianhua maker, the door deity guild enforced certain practices to maintain the quality of works produced in their workshops. Inspectors would visit the workshops in search of works that did not meet the proper standards. Works that failed the inspection would be burnt.  114  The Northern School of Mianzhu Nianhua The Northern and Southern schools of Mianzhu nianhua are relatively recent designations, labels that only came into use after the Cultural Revolution in Mianzhu. As the state-led nianhua revival got underway, the terms came into widespread use as an abbreviated way to reference the two main geographic vicinities where nianhua was in production (fig. 38). 199 Interestingly, the Chen and Li workshops have since adopted these terms to construct the lineage-holding status of their workshops. In contrast to Wang, both Chen and Li come from rural families, where farming is the primary form of livelihood. They were trained as carvers and painters and worked in the seasonal print industry as apprentices and hired hands. While year-round designers such as the Wang focused on painting original designs, Chen and Li specialized in the final phase of adding color and details to printed outlines. In developing their own workshops, both Chen and Li have capitalized on these skills to construct unique workshop repertoires. The following interviews with Chen and Li were also conducted in the summer of 2006. I met Chen and Li through Liu Zhumei but she did not accompany me on these visits. Instead, I was joined by Han Gang  , a graduate art history student who assisted me with  translations of the Mianzhu dialect. Not unlike the conversation with Wang, both Chen and Li had well-rehearsed presentations of their workshop histories. They informed me right away that they often get visiting journalists, scholars, and officials who request interviews.  199  For a discussion on the Northern and Southern schools of Mianzhu see Shen Hong , Mianzhu nianhua zhi lü [Touring Mianzhu nianhua] (Beijing: Zhongguo huabao chubanshe, 2006), 107-128, 163-176.  115  Li Fangfu  , the self-proclaimed lineage holder of the Northern School,  agreed to meet with us for a recorded interview in his small street-level studio in Mianzhu’s urban center. He seemed eager to share the details of his training and his workshop’s history and immediately brought out a stack of prints (fig. 39). According to Li, he lost both his parents to illness by the age of six and was adopted into a print workshop at the young age of twelve. Li gained his skills in the Huang Anfu Workshop , which was located to the west of Mianzhu in an area known today as West Road  . During the land reforms of the 1950s, Li and his family were relocated to the  north of Mianzhu, where they settled in the rural farming community of Gongxing. As the nianhua revival gathered momentum in the 1980s, the Li family set up a year-round nianhua shop in a small alley known not far from the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum.200 Li’s workshop doubles as his street-side storefront. He and his wife live in a home in Mianzhu’s rural outskirts and they commute to the city each day to open the shop. The walls of his shop are covered on all sides in hanging scrolls, with a long table in the center and a glass case filled with smaller size prints (fig. 40). Unlike Wang, there is no family altar on display in the workspace. When asked about the characteristics of the Northern and Southern schools, Li explains the primary differences in terms of methods of production: The two schools are different due to their methods of production. The Southern School uses bold colors and they are vibrant and all made by hand on a flat pingan [  ] table. What is pingan? It means you work on a table’s surface, just  like making big flat cakes. You work on a pingan table. The Northern School works on a wall, just like in this room where you see all these hanging works on 200  This alley is now locally known as “Imitating the Ancients Road” , as several new nianhua shops and temporary stalls have sprung up alongside Li’s workshop in recent years. I will discuss these new shops in more detail in Chapter Four.  116  the walls. Why is this? All of these works are hung up on the wall then painted. First of all, this trains the hand in brushwork; secondly, it trains the body to be lively and energetic. Using these methods of production, one can produce more works in one day. Why is this? Once you finish a picture, you have to move it aside. If you are working on a wall, and you finish painting one picture, you simply step aside to work on the next one. This method is more efficient. It is also more conducive to training one’s hand.201  The key differences between working on a table versus working on a wall are explained here, as Li points out the merits of working vertically. For Li, it is not only preferable for gradually training one’s hand in brushwork; it is also a more efficient set up for mass production. This is set apart from the Southern School, which he associates with bold colors and working on a horizontal surface. This focus on brushwork and training aligns well with Li’s understanding of the efficacious power of the prints as being directly linked to the mastery of the brush. As mentioned earlier, Li commented on how painters possess an ability to infuse an image with a righteous spirit through their brushwork, a powerful means to repel the portentous. Having established the basic differences of the two schools based on production methods, Li goes on to describe one of the signature methods of brushwork used in the Northern School: The Northern School is best known for a method called mingzhang minggua . What is this? It is like these pictures here; the flowers have inside them yet  another circular stroke of color. The bright red has inside it a circular outline of dark red and the dark red has inside it a circular outline of white. There are also lines that divide the colors. This is called mingzhang minggua, where every color is outlined by another. If [the colors] are stamped on, it is flat and there are no 201  Li Fangfu, in interview with the author, Mianzhu, Sichuan, January 2007.  117  raised surfaces. [In these works,] you can feel the raised lines; they all stick up. This is the difference between the two schools.202 An approximate translation for mingzhang minggua may be “bright outlines” or literally “brightly displayed, brightly hanging.” A pair of Li’s warrior door deity prints shows the deity’s costume outlined in this method (fig. 41). Thick white lines are applied and visibly raised off the surface of the paper. They are described as “bright” because they usually produce a high contrast with the darker colors underneath. This method is actually widely seen in the older door deity works held in the permanent collection of the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum. However, Li claims this method for the Northern School and keeps it alive as part of his evolving repertoire of techniques to produce ritually efficacious images. Li’s discussion of the Northern School therefore constructs a continuous transmission of brushwork and signature production methods rather than a continuity of kinship relations. The term for “lineage” used by Li is always pai, in contrast to the various kinship terms of zu and zong used by Wang Xingru in reference to his position in the Wang family workshop. When asked if he will pass on his skills to his children, Li replies: My sons and daughter have learned these skills, but my grandson is in school and will need money, that is our first priority. To make these pictures, one must have a calm heart, otherwise the pictures won’t be done right. In this line of work, we must keep the perspective of a whole lifetime; we must cultivate our hearts, take care of our bodies, and try to make the best pictures. How can we make works that communicate something significant? We want to leave these for our future generations. That is our purpose. People survive [ 202  ] in society, but what does it  Ibid.  118  mean to live [ ] and to survive [ ]? To live is to preserve our fragile bodies. To survive is more difficult. Why? Because we must attain worthwhile skills and achievements that can be passed on to our future generations.203  Li’s comments here echo the auspicious phrases written on Wang’s genealogy chart, which also warned of the difficult problem of “sustaining one’s achievements” from one generation to the next. The family lineage and profession merge together as one entity. As Li states here, to “survive” is to attain worthwhile skills that can be passed to future generations. Although Li has trained his children to paint, he hints here that they are occupied with school and other forms of employment due to the need for money. If his children decide to carry on his work professionally however, they will be able to claim position in a familial line under their father and the so-called Northern School. They will also be the first to inherit their father’s paintings as lineage documents, the valuable traces of his brushwork and his lifelong dedication to the profession.  The Southern School of Mianzhu Nianhua In contrast to Li’s small-scale workshop, the Chen family workshop has grown into a rather large operation involving dozens of artisans and apprentices. With the financial support of the local and provincial government, the Chen workshop has expanded its repertoire of works and moved into a much larger workshop complex known as the Nianhua Village Mianzhu near Qingdao township  . The Nianhua Village is located just south of , where Chen Xingcai  was born and raised  (fig. 38). The Chen family has been established in this area for several generations. 203  Ibid.  119  According to Chen Xingcai, the elder patriarch of the Southern School, “Here in Qingdao, there were dozens of [printmaking] families and the West Road had over a hundred families making pictures. Now nobody is painting anymore.”204 As the last family workshop making woodblock prints in Qingdao, Chen’s workshop has made its territorial claim over the entire neighborhood by taking on the title of the “Southern School.” When asked about the primary characteristics of the two schools, Chen replies: The Northern School is actually from the West Road. So you know, it was only after the land reforms that they moved to Gong County under the jurisdiction of the North Road  . Gong county was  , so you know, when people talk  about it, they don’t realize that their actual origins don’t match the name.205 Chen’s response clearly undermines the status of the Northern School by drawing attention to how the Li family moved from one region to another. In his later comments, he refers to the North Road as West Road, a choice of terms that further underscores this discrepancy in origins. This is contrasted by his family’s long-standing connection to Qingdao village where they have thrived for at least four generations. According to Chen, “Qingdao is the Southern School.”206 When asked to elaborate on the unique characteristics of the Southern School, Chen comments on the school’s production of ink: It is the ink… I made this ink here. Other than my workshop, no one else makes this ink. There’s lots of ink to buy in Beijing, but my ink here is unique. The Southern School makes works on a flat surface. Those from the West Road stick their works up on a wall and paint upright. They only take them down when the works are just about finished. That’s the main difference.207 204  Chen Xingcai, in interview with the author, Mianzhu, Sichuan, January 2007. Ibid. 206 Ibid. 207 Ibid. 205  120  In a published interview with nianhua researcher Shen Hong  , Chen also describes  the Southern School in terms of its methods of production: Mianzhu’s Southern School has two main characteristics. Firstly, the painting is done on a table. The works are half printed and half painted. A woodblock is carved with the outline and printed, and then the color is applied. Secondly, the approach here is rigorous and strict. The colors must be clear and elegant and harmoniously matched.208 While Li focused on brushwork in discussing the strengths of the Northern School, Chen focuses on the Southern School’s use of ink and colors to create auspicious works. According to Chen, "Doing the coloring is the time when an artist is able to make full use of his imagination and experience. As a result, the same printing block will produce prints with diverse colors. That is what distinguishes Mianzhu nianhua from other nianhua schools.”209 Whereas Li’s studio was covered in hanging works, Chen’s works are produced and displayed on flat surfaces. With more space to work at the Nianhua Village, the Chen workshop uses different rooms for the different stages of printmaking and painting, including a carving room, a printing and drying room, and several painting rooms (fig. 42). These rooms surround a center square courtyard on all sides, in a traditional siheyuan formation. As I was led through each space by Chen’s grandson Chen Gang  ,  I observed how each step in the printmaking process contributes creatively to the final product. In particular, I noted how the team of carvers had much liberty in creating a  208 209  Shen, Touring Mianzhu Nianhua,165. Chen Xingcai, in interview with the author, Mianzhu, Sichuan, January 2007.  121  wide variety of small-scale stamps that were then passed to the painters who applied them as finishing touches to the painted works. In contrast to the patrilineal structure of the Wang family workshop, Chen has been training both the men and women in the family, including distant relatives and friends. However it is Chen’s sons and grandson who have taken on the leadership roles thus far. Chen’s two grandsons have been particularly innovative in approaching the family profession. For instance, his eldest grandson Chen Gang recently contributed new designs to the family repertoire such as a set of seven prints depicting young boys playing outdoor games (fig. 43). While most of the games are traditional ones, such as “dragon dancing” or “frolicking in the garden,” there are also completely new themes such as “boys making a snowman.” These works use the signature methods of the Southern School, including the flat application of bold colors and stamping. Yet Chen Gang takes the auspicious imagery of young boys and experiments with them in different settings and engaged in contemporary activities. These new designs thus embody fresh approaches to constructing ritually efficacious prints to pursue male progeny and fertility. These examples exemplify the drive to innovate within an established tradition, where new designs may be introduced and tested in the marketplace alongside well-established ones. By exploiting different production methods, the Northern and Southern schools claim authority over certain techniques and thus construct their lineage identities along those lines. In doing so, they also provide different emphasis on how to best produce a ritually efficacious image. Their strategies allow for each school to boost their status by reproducing prestigious works while carving out a unique niche in the marketplace. It is  122  also a strategy that sheds light on how diverse works may emerge from the same print center, offering a microcosmic view of how regional differences evolve in tandem with a changing marketplace. Local records from the early twentieth century reveal how professional lineages in Mianzhu similarly developed unique lineage-making practices to protect the skilled knowledge within a family. These include skills in highly developed technologies such as papermaking, metalwork, printing, carpentry, liquor production, and the procurement and production of herbal medicines. The close relationship between lineage and livelihood is perhaps most pronounced when families manipulate or transgress the accepted norms of lineage formation in the print trade in order to advance their workshop’s interests. For example, in the early twentieth century, the rural Yao family workshop collectively decided to allow one of their daughters to carry out lineage practices normally reserved for male offspring. Having recognized her natural talents at an early age, the family allowed their daughter Yao Chunrong  (1899-1995) to be trained in print design  and brushwork, essential skills for her to take a leading role in the workshop. According to Yao, when she saw two other women selling prints in the streets, she grew determined to set up her own stall in the winter print market, an environment that was primarily reserved for male traders. Overcoming many obstacles, she assumed the leadership role in a small-scale operation where she hired male artisans to reproduce and distribute her designs in larger quantities. These works sold quickly and as the operation grew, she led her family workshop to prosperity and widespread acclaim.210 Yao Chunrong went on to  210  Liu Zhumei, , “Mianzhu nianhua laoyiren Yao Chunrong” nianhua elder Yao Chunrong] in Mianzhu nianhua ziliao xuanbian Nianhua Selected Research Documents Vol. 4] (Mianzhu: Mianzhu Nianhua Society 11.  [Mianzhu [Mianzhu , 1982), 7-  123  an illustrious career in printmaking, as she participated in the nianhua reform campaigns of the 1950s as well as the resurgent nianhua industry of the 1980s and 1990s before her death in 1995 at the age of ninety-six (fig. 44). Yao’s story speaks to the power of lineage discourse to straddle both continuity and change in the development of a workshop over time. Under the training and support of her family workshop, she was able to legitimize her activities as part of an established lineage. At the same time, she was able to leverage this support to strike out a new path in the marketplace, ultimately subverting the patrilineal forms of lineage transmission that dominated the industry. In the end, the Yao family workshop worked together to recalibrate and manipulate existing lineage practices to advance their livelihood in the marketplace. Their risks paid off in terms of profit as well as reputation, further illustrating how the pressures of the marketplace may outweigh or influence the ritual protocols of lineage transmission. In this sense, ritualized lineage practices can be understood as performative rather than prescriptive; they evolve in tandem with the immediate needs and demands of livelihood.  Conclusion To return to the central problem raised at the beginning of the chapter, instead of approaching nianhua as a system of representation, what does it mean to approach nianhua as competing modes of presentation? By recasting nianhua in terms of its performed roles, I have moved away from treating nianhua as a fixed “thing” or object of analysis. Instead I have turned the analytical focus onto nianhua’s shifting lifecycles and movements through markets, homes, and workshops. In each realm, I have argued that the very notion of nianhua is reshaped and renegotiated, revealing the very notion of nianhua 124  to be a contested site of meaning that is deeply performative in the sense that diverse nianhua are continuously made to serve the immediate needs of everyday life and livelihood. Instead of treating the notion of nianhua as an objective or apriori category, I have instead focused on examples that show how various works are made to perform the role nianhua, thus establishing the status and significance of nianhua in situated practices. This includes the more obvious examples of appropriation, such as the print ads that appear as door deities, but it also encompasses the timed marketplace activities that frame a range of goods as ritual commodities for the Lunar New Year or the workshop activities that present the ritual efficacy of nianhua in terms of lineage discourses. In examining the many different ways nianhua are performed and presented, I have also stressed the absence of any overarching system of shared beliefs or ideals. This is a critical move that resists providing a functionalist interpretation of nianhua’s ritual significance that is limited to certain prescriptive roles. The examples discussed above show how nianhua are activated and implicated in an endless array of daily activities in the home, market, and workshop. This is precisely the import of Catherine Bell’s emphasis on the agentive and performative dimensions of ritual practice, which is not simply the expression or communication of cultural patterns, but that which “makes and harbors” such patterns.211 In terms of the nianhua industry, I have thus pointed to how processes of nianhua ritualization evolve and change in ways that reflect new social hierarchies and relationships. This is seen in the changing household displays of nianhua, which play a role in shaping the social relations within a family but also the social fabric of the streets and neighborhoods. The transformation of social relations is also evident in  211  Bell, Ritual, 82.  125  how Mianzhu’s lineage-holding workshops deploy ritual practices to assert the value of their works and to jostle for status and position in the emerging nianhua marketplace. While Bell’s ritual theory advances the methodological aims of this chapter, it is limited in its ability to address the complex dialectical relationships between ritual objects and ritual practices. While her focus is primarily on the role of human agents in ritual practice, her theory leaves little room for acknowledging the critical role of nonhuman agents. A key contribution of this chapter is thus its engagement with a locus of agency that is tied to spatio-temporal configurations of both human and nonhuman entities, or “agentic assemblages.” I have argued that the distributed agency of an assemblage moves away from fixing agency on stable objects/bodies and towards acknowledging how agency may be unevenly distributed and negotiated within a spatiotemporal configuration of both objects and practices, such as the nianhua street market. The ephemeral nature of the works examined here actively challenge the life/matter binary and push for alternate models agency that do not take for granted nianhua’s status as fixed or stable objects. In tracing the movement of nianhua through markets, homes, and workshops, it is evident that nianhua’s attributed ritual function of “pursuing the auspicious, repelling the portentous” cannot be simply interpreted in terms of the auspicious signs, symbols, or themes that appear in representation. Rather, it becomes critically necessary to acknowledge the role of nianhua in marking out auspicious rhythms and spaces through a diverse range of ritual strategies. As the following chapters will show, this methodological shift from the represented to the presented is an issue of immediate urgency, as the question of what constitutes an  126  auspicious work of nianhua carries high stakes for those aiming to make a living in the emerging nianhua market.  127  Chapter Three: “The Picture Must Have Theater”: Performing Narrativity in Mianzhu Nianhua The picture must have theater, or the myriad viewers will be bored. It must produce auspicious words if it is to please the people. The figures must be elegant and handsome, to attract people’s admiration.  Popular rhyme among Mianzhu’s nianhua makers  While a study of the ritual print practices tied to the seasonal markets opens up the nianhua archive to a broader range of printed and painted ephemera in daily life, this chapter will unpack the archive by rethinking the issue of narrativity in nianhua. This is a critical issue in the study of nianhua because many existing studies categorize nianhua according to its narrative content, as images based on narratives drawn from theater, historical episodes, or legends and myths. Nianhua authority Wang Shucun, for instance, has recently published a volume on what he calls “theater-based nianhua”  .212 In  this work, Wang draws together a large body of prints across time and space (mostly from northern print centers) that directly reference historical stage dramas. According to Wang, theater-based nianhua emerged in greater quantities as regional theater expanded in the Ming and Qing dynasties, when the works played a key role in disseminating elite social values and in providing entertainment and storytelling opportunities to the lower classes. To demonstrate the close ties between the theater and printing industries, Wang matches each print with the characters, scenarios, and narrative plots found in the corresponding theater production.  212  Wang Shucun , Zhongguo xichu nianhua Beijing gongyi meishu chubanshe, 2006), 3.  [Chinese theatre-based nianhua] (Beijing:  128  Wang’s study situates nianhua as illustrations or counterparts of a prior text, including both written and oral texts such as theater scripts, excerpts of vernacular fiction, or other historical texts. In doing so, the image becomes representative of a larger narrative or set of narratives, serving a communicative role to translate them into visual media. This is central to Wang’s argument that theater-based nianhua allowed theatrical performances to be relived inside the home, as an inexpensive form of mass entertainment that would prompt storytelling, singing, and the sharing of instructive lessons for the younger generation. Since Wang’s research into this topic focuses primarily on the nianhua of north China, he has not addressed the incredibly rich theater traditions of Sichuan and their profound influence on Sichuan’s printmaking industries. Wang’s approach here is mirrored in the Western scholarship on nianhua, including art historian Catherine Pagani’s study of Chinese popular prints based on the classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms  . Like Wang, Pagani argues that  the prints “reinforced ideas presented in theater” by “presenting the same tales and promoting the same cultural ideals.”213 For Pagani, theater also “provided the context for an image that would allow for a full understanding and enjoyment of a Three Kingdoms print.”214 Similarly, sinologist Li-ling Hsiao has argued that the many printed illustrations of theater performances found in the published plays of the Ming period are also designed to evoke the experience of theater for readers. Hsiao uses the term “performance  213  Catherine Pagani, “The Theme of Three Kingdoms in Chinese Popular Woodblock Prints,” in Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture, eds. Kimberly Besio and Constantine Tung (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 103. 214 Ibid., 94.  129  illustration” instead of “narrative illustration” to stress the emphasis on theatricality found in these images.215 In this chapter, I will argue that depictions of theater in Mianzhu nianhua play into a whole range of issues beyond simply conveying a narrative or evoking a theatrical performance, although these elements are certainly present. Instead of approaching nianhua as symbolic or communicative devices that represent an existing narrative or performance, I will stress their role as catalysts for creative storytelling sessions where references to theater can take on new meaning and ritual significance. Drawing on a growing body of scholarship that examines the limitations of interpreting visual media as fixed linear narratives, I will underscore this issue of performativity and push for a rethinking of established categories such as theatre-based nianhua or narrative-based nianhua. In her study of Chinese “narrative illustration,” art historian Julia Murray has pointed to the fact that there is no traditional term or category for “narrative” in the Chinese literary tradition, a problem long recognized by literary specialists.216 Murray thus warns against imposing a “core narrative” upon images that might actually call up multiple narratives and interpretations for different viewers.217 Keeping this issue in mind, Murray argues that it is still worthwhile to analyze different forms of narrative illustration in relation to the written narratives found in Chinese cultural discourses. For  215  Li-ling Hsiao, The Eternal Present of the Past: Illustration, Theater, and Reading in the Wanli Period (Leiden: Brill, 2007): introduction. 216 This particular issue is dealt with in Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu, From Historicity to Fictionality: The Chinese Poetics of Narrative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 37-52. 217 On this issue, Murray cites Barbara Herrnstein Smith, who challenges the structuralist notion that primal core stories underlie all manifestations of a particular narrative. For Smith, there are only versions or retellings of stories that are constructed in relation to each other, for specific purposes and within particular contexts. Julia K. Murray, Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 2007), 10.  130  Murray, the essential characteristic of narrative “is that something happens. There is a story, which means that one or more events occur in a sequence of time… in terms of visual art, narrative illustration might then be defined as a picture that relates a story” (author’s italics).218 In contrast to Murray, art historian Efrat Biberman has argued for an alternate conception of narrative illustration that does not take for granted the existence of coherent temporal orders within images. Biberman argues that paintings do not unfold temporally in the same way as written or verbal texts. Although the notion of narrative structure has been recast as a “meta-concept valid for various human activities” since the writings of Roland Barthes, there is still the tendency to bring various literary assumptions to bear on images. This includes the assumption that a “painting is a coherent, decipherable object” that can be “solved” with a narrative interpretation and that a painting may bear a “coherent structure within a given temporal order” and that this order is “fully available to the viewing subject.”219 Challenging these assumptions, Biberman points to the “persistent gap between the picture and the narrative discourse it entails,” which always produces “a visual surplus that cannot be verbalized.”220 Instead of imposing a temporal narrative structure upon a picture, Biberman argues that “viewing a picture is fragmentary by nature; its temporality is not necessarily successive and does not correlate with the strict criteria that narrative structure demands.”221 For Biberman, a theory of “narrativity in the visual field” must therefore acknowledge how “every viewer, in a sense, reinvents the narrativity she 218  Murray, Mirror of Morality, 12. Efrat Biberman, “On Narrativity in the Visual Field: A Psychoanalytic View of Velazquez's Las Meninas,” Narrative 14, no. 3 (2006): 241. 220 Ibid., 237. 221 Ibid. 219  131  finds in a picture.” Depending on the situation, this may or may not involve the narrative components such as “series of events, time duration, causal connections and plot.”222 In this chapter, I will contribute to this by adding that it is not only the “visual surplus” or lack of temporal order that sets pictures apart from other written or verbal narratives. The very notion of the “visual field” must also be qualified to address the multi-sensorial, embodied, and culturally specific modes of engagement with images. To do this, I will draw on the critical work of visual studies scholars and anthropologists who have complicated the very category of the “visual.” As visual studies scholar Mieke Bal has convincingly argued, the “act of looking is profoundly ‘impure’” in that it is “inherently synaesthetic” and an act that is “framed, framing, interpreting, affect-laden, cognitive and intellectual.” 223 There is certainly greater need to trouble the disciplinary divides separating the visual and non-visual realms of activity, as productive topics of critique rather than policed boundaries. Along the same lines, anthropologist Christopher Pinney has set forth the notion of “corpothetics” to move beyond debates concerned with the aesthetic value of art. In his study of popular religious prints in contemporary India, Pinney defines the notion of “corpothetics” as “the sensory embrace of images, the bodily engagement that most people (except Kantians and Modernists) have with artworks.”224 In shifting the analysis from aesthetics to corpothetics, Pinney attempts to “transpose the discussion of aesthetics onto political grounds” by acknowledging how the agency and social significance of popular prints are produced within “fields of conflict” that inform everyday life in the 222  Ibid. Mieke Bal, “Visual essentialism and the object of visual culture,” Journal of Visual Culture 2, no. 5 (2003): 9. 224 Christopher Pinney, “Piercing the Skin of the Idol,” in Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, ed. Chris Pinney and Nicholas Thomas (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2001), 158. 223  132  “messy reality of India.” Instead of framing the issues around the stylistic or formal features of the prints, Pinney’s emphasis is on “bodily praxis” or the “poetics of materiality and corporeality around the images.”225 In the discussions below, I will use these theoretical advances to rethink the role of narrativity in nianhua and to ask the question: What is at stake, politically and historically, in these embodied practices of narrativity that lie beyond the archive? To tackle this question from a few different angles, I will first draw on interview sessions with local printmakers who strategically deploy a range of performative gestures and storytelling techniques to boost the social capital of their workshops and their nianhua products. These knowledgeable producers creatively perform their mastery of nianhua in ways that directly meet the needs of the situation at hand, often using voice, gesture, eye contact, rhythm, and other storytelling conventions to shape the social relations between speaker and audience. I will then build on this discussion by connecting these “corpothetic” practices to the many gestures, costumes, sounds, props, and famous characters of theatre that appear in a wide range of nianhua, where they are transformed and put to new uses in the home or marketplace by nianhua consumers. In doing so, I will attempt to uncover some of the parallels between Sichuan’s ritual theater traditions and the nianhua industry that have been concealed by folk art typologies that organize works according to function or format. Instead of treating only certain works as narrative illustrations, I will argue that the embodied practices of narrativity are not reserved for a special class of nianhua. Instead, many works serve as sites of “narrative density,” a term I will use to describe how nianhua are densely packed with narrative cues (such as mnemonic and aural cues) 225  Ibid., 169.  133  that give rise to a range of narrative possibilities to be activated by knowledgeable viewers. This notion of narrative density is illuminated in the interview sessions discussed, but it also pushes for an alternate interpretation of a high profile nianhua “treasure,” a set of late Qing dynasty scroll paintings titled Greeting Spring  (fig.  56). While existing interpretations treat the work as a narrative illustration that unfolds temporally due to the presence of repeating figures in a street parade, I will argue that the painting can be understood as a site of narrative density, where a range of narratives may be activated to suit the immediate needs of its elite patrons and users. In particular, I will argue that the prevalent use of rebus imagery suggests that the painting was both designed and used as a ritually efficacious image to activate auspicious speech. The key goal here is to recover the role of narrativity within the ritual context of this important work, and thus establish a way forward for recuperating the ritual significance of many other historic nianhua.  The Medicine King: Performative Gestures and the Art of Storytelling I will begin with a critique of a storytelling session that vividly captures how an experienced speaker weaves together a narrative through embodied interactions with the many visual cues in a nianhua painting as well as the live audience. In particular, I will draw attention to the use of performative gestures as a key element of the corpothetics or “bodily praxis” of nianhua storytelling, where the speaker’s embodied movements activate and animate an image while shaping the social relations in the room. Comparative literature scholar Carrie Noland has theorized performative gestures as a “technique of the body,” whether conscious or not, that involves “any use of the body  134  that can become a source of kinesthetic feedback, and thus agency.” Noland argues that all gestures are performative in the sense that they shape and transform everyday experiences, be it “communicative, instrumental, or aesthetic.” Relying on both learned routines and direct engagement with what Martin Heidegger calls “everyday being in the world,” performative gestures may indicate and instantiate requests, refusals, pleas, invitations, and other powerful social actions.226 The interview session detailed below was recorded during a visit to Wang Xingru’s home studio in 2007, after we had developed a degree of familiarity from previous visits, as documented in the last chapter. There was an established understanding that I was only loosely connected to the official revival movement and that I would be recording our conversation for a graduate research project in Canada.227 On this day, graduate art history student Han Gang accompanied me and translated some of the local dialect terms into Mandarin when they came up in conversation. He had also met Wang on previous visits. Ning and Liu, the two scholars who introduced me to Wang also joined us on this visit, as they were interested in Wang’s stories for their own nianhua research. At first, I was not sure how their official status would affect the interview process. However, I soon observed that they had formed a long-standing friendship with Wang, who spoke openly and intimately on many potentially taboo subjects in their presence, including the Cultural Revolution, popular religion, and ritual nianhua practices. I also learned that Wang only agreed to share his stories with me because Ning and Liu ardently supported my research and prepared him for my visit. 226  Carrie Noland, Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 15-16. 227 While Chen and Li were accustomed to visits from the media and the presence of a video camera, Wang claims to have had few encounters with cameras, researchers, and journalists. However, he seemed to ignore the camera completely and looked directly at his audience when speaking.  135  During our informal group interview, which was conducted in the local dialect, Wang recounted much of his life story to us and then invited us into his studio to view his works (figs. 45, 46). The only work that he chose to narrate at length is a mounted vertical scroll painting of the “Medicine King” (yaowang  or yiwang  ) (fig. 47).  The Medicine King figure, also translated as the “Medicine Deity” or the “God of Medicine and Healing,” has a long and complex legacy in the history of the healing and medicinal trades, popular religion, and in painting, printmaking, sculpture, and temple building.228 Scholars have traced the origins of the Medicine King figure to the Buddhist canon, where the term first appears in translations of Buddhist writings concerning the Medicine Buddha.229 While the nature and identity of the Medicine King has evolved over time, during the Ming and Qing periods he was most widely identified with the Tang dynasty physician and Daoist adept Sun Simiao  (581-682), who is still honored  today in most Medicine King temples across China.230 In Sichuan, many Medicine King temples were recuperated after the Cultural Revolution, a development that was closely tied to the resurgence of Sichuan’s lucrative medicinal herb industry and the rise of temple tourism in the region.231 When I asked Wang Xingru to tell us about his painting of the Medicine King, Wang explained that traditional Chinese doctors often carried pictures of the Medicine 228  Susan Naquin provides an analysis of Beijing’s many Medicine King temples during the Ming and Qing dynasties, providing accounts of their diverse origins and how these temples have evolved. See Susan Naquin, Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). For a discussion of Medicine King lore and reproductions of Medicine King prints, paintings, and sculptures, see Paul Unschuld, Medicine in China: Historical Artifacts and Images (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2000). 229 The Medicine King has been identified with many physicians and Daoist adepts over the dynasties, including Bianque (ca. 500 BCE), Wei Shanjun (595-694), and Sun Simiao (581-682). 230 Yuan-ling Chao, Medicine and Society in Late Imperial China: A Study of Physicians in Suzhou, 16001850 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009), 71. 231 Cha Qing and Lei Xiaopeng , “The modern development of Sun Simiao worship and Medicine King Festival practices in Western Sichuan” , Sichuan jiaoyu xueyuan xuebao [Journal of Sichuan’s College of Education] 12 (2007): 23.  136  King, especially the traveling doctors in the countryside. He then signaled to us that he would share an orally transmitted narrative by standing straight, taking a step forward, and reciting a line of verse. He also held his pointing stick out to his right side as if marking out a performance space. In taking this stance, he appeared to assume the position of authority in the room, to physically assert his role as the narrator of the story that is to come (fig. 48). In the following excerpt of Wang’s entire story, I have included descriptions of shifts in gesture and intonations that indicate a co-creative interaction between his performed narrative and the painting: There is a pair of antithetical phrases for the Medicine King that goes: “Due to lack of pain, the dragon embarks on the open ocean. Due to a toothache, the tiger emerges from the apricot forest.” [Here, “lack of pain” also means good health and “apricot forest” refers to the profession of traditional Chinese medicine.] The tiger was eating people and he happened to eat a woman who had a silver hairpin in her hair. It got stuck in the crevice between his teeth. [Bares his teeth and points to them.] The tiger was in terrible pain but couldn’t do anything about it. Knowing that the Medicine King travels every day on the path by the foot of the mountain, the tiger went to sit at the crossroads to wait for him. As soon as he saw him coming, he started nodding, wagging his tail, and bowing with folded paws. [Imitates the tiger’s actions and bows several times.] The Medicine King was a traveling doctor and thus he walked long distances in all four directions and through the hills. [Makes a large circular gesture with his stick.] His attendants accompanied him and carried a chest of medicines. [Points to attendants in the painting with his stick.] They would be summoned to wherever there was illness and they could cure any ailment. In setting up his narrative here, Wang begins by quoting a set of poetic phrases. This is a conventional practice in casual storytelling and serves as a mnemonic for the story to follow. The melody and rhythm of the rhyme offer mnemonic support, while 137  relating directly to the visual cues of the narrative, such as the tiger and dragon depicted in the painting.232 The opening verse is thus double coded for efficiency of recall, drawing on the auditory as well as the visual. It also establishes the authoritative knowledge of the speaker, who is immediately positioned as an experienced narrator of orally transmitted verse. This convention is well documented in the scholarship on Chinese storytelling as well as the published vernacular stories of the late Ming and Qing periods. These stories were often prefaced by a poem to evoke the rhetoric and authority of an oral storytelling session by a professional storyteller in a teahouse.233 Wang’s swift and gestural use of the stick is significant here because the stick is normally used to hang up and take down paintings, as it has a metal hook at the end for this very purpose. However in just one powerful gesture, this functional tool is suddenly transformed into a theatrical prop and pointer, bringing to life the entire scene as a performative and theatrical space rich with semiotic possibilities. Just as the narrative density of painting begins to unfold, one can also see how in one gesture, the narrative density of the stick is also activated. He continues on with a renewed relationship to the prop in hand: When he arrived at the crossroads, he saw this yellow spotted tiger nodding and wagging his tail. He thought it was quite strange that this fierce tiger should appear so friendly so he approached the tiger and asked, “What are you doing here?” [Points his stick forward to enact the role of the deity.] This is all 232  In Jan Vansina’s study of oral history, she emphasizes the role of mnemonic cues and the active nature of recalling memories: “Studies of memory emphasize that remembering is action, indeed, creation. Its mechanisms are cueing and scanning.” I borrow from her study the idea that mnemonic cues play a key role in storytelling, although here the cues are both visual and verbal. Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 42. 233 Key studies include W.L. Idema, Chinese Vernacular Fiction: The Formative Period (Leiden: Brill, 1974); Vibeke Bordahl, The Eternal Storyteller: Oral Literature in Modern China (London: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 1999); and Victor Mair and Mark Bender ed., The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).  138  according to what people have said. The tiger vigorously nodded his head, pawed at his mouth, and wagged his tail while gently approaching the Medicine King. The Medicine King replied, “Tell me, what is the matter with you? You don’t want to eat me?” The tiger nodded again and used his paw to point inside his mouth. [Nods and points to enact the role of the tiger.] The Medicine King finally understood and asked the tiger to open wide his mouth. The tiger also understood and opened his mouth large and wide. The Medicine King took one look and saw the silver hairpin stuck between his bleeding teeth, so he told the tiger, “You must open your mouth wide so that I can reach inside and pull that out. Then I will take some medicine from my chest and apply it to your mouth. But it is not possible to do this today because if I stick my arm in your mouth, you will feel a lot of pain and bite my arm in half!” What can be done about this?  Using gestures and shifts in his vocal intonations, Wang moves swiftly between enacting the different roles of the Medicine King and the tiger. At this point in the narrative, Wang takes a quick pause and speaks slightly slower to indicate another rhythm: This is why all traveling doctors walk through the streets and alleys with a metal ring, which can be either copper or silver. This ring is hollow and filled with beads, so it makes a rattling sound as the doctors walk. This is how people knew that a doctor or herb trader was approaching.  Having inserted this side commentary in a different voice, it is clear that Wang is weaving multiple narratives together. By embedding a mini-story within a larger story, he offers some historical background on traveling doctors and their metal rings. As he returns to the narrative about the Medicine King and the Tiger, it becomes apparent that the metal ring plays a key role in the story:  139  So, the Medicine King told the tiger, “After three days, I will return to cure you. I need to make a metal ring, so that when you open your mouth, I can stick the ring in your mouth. When I reach in to pull out the pin, you will feel a lot of pain and feel a strong urge to clamp down and bite my arm. The ring will protect my arm from your bite. Once it is in place, I can pull out the pin and apply medicine to your mouth. For three days, you must wait for me here.” [Mimes the actions of prying open a mouth and pulling out the pin.] After three days, the Medicine King finished making a ring and returned to the crossroads to cure the tiger. The tiger was very grateful and let the Medicine King ride on his back. This is why in theater performances, one sees the Medicine King sitting on a tiger’s back. [Gestures to the painting.]  Wang’s narrative here clearly demonstrates a continual interaction with the painting, through gesturing, pointing, and the inclusion of specific narrative references to details in the painting. It is evident that Wang draws on a variety of visual cues and mnemonic elements in the painting while narrating these details in a coherent and structured story. In a dialectical manner, the painting also guides and confirms Wang’s evolving narrative as he repeatedly points to the visual evidence. However Wang’s referencing of the painting does not seem to follow a linear order of fixed temporal scheme. Instead, Wang’s gesturing to the painting seems spontaneous as he moves fluidly through his performance. Similarly, the narrative itself seems flexible enough to accommodate tangential narratives, such as his side commentary on the significance of the metal ring to traveling doctors. While Wang recounted a story that focuses on the relationship between the deity and the tiger, the painting depicts the deity holding up a sharp pin in one hand while tugging on a dragon’s beard with the other. The deity is also wearing a robe with a frontal view of a dragon’s head. In other stories associated with the  140  Medicine King, he is said to have cured the Dragon King  , the deity of the seas, who  rewarded him with a recipe book of cures, or in certain versions, a treasure chest of medicines.234 In the painting, the deity appears to be holding an acupuncture needle up to the dragon above his head, although Wang’s story suggests that it may also be the hairpin pulled from the tiger’s mouth. These different possibilities reveal the narrative density of the painting, which clearly bears many potential narratives connected with the figures in it. Wang does not mention the deity’s two attendants who are emerging from behind the deity on either side of him. To the left side of the deity, an attendant carries a gourd bottle with a red cap, an object associated with healing, protection, and longevity. Gourd bottles, which were used to mix and hold medicines, also became a shop sign for apothecaries. The calabash gourd (hulu  ) depicted here may also serve as a rebus  with the homophone for “protection” (hu  ).235 To the right of the deity, another  attendant carries a medicinal chest, which may be referenced as the reward provided by the Dragon King. In sum, these details may call up a whole host of other narratives, including the various myths and stories associated with Sun Simiao’s disciples.236 Interestingly, Wang describes important objects that are not depicted in the painting. By inserting a brief account of how traveling doctors used a rattling metal ring to announce their arrival in a populated area, Wang links the painting directly to the  234  In other versions, the Medicine King cures the Dragon King’s son who is disguised as a snake or the dragon of Kunming Lake. For a synopsis of the tale, see Jeremy Roberts, Chinese Mythology A to Z (New York: Facts of File, 2004), 140. 235 For a brief discussion of calabash gourds in Chinese art and folklore, see Patricia Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and visual imagery (Rutland: Tuttle, 2008), 50-52. 236 Sun Simiao’s most famous disciple is Meng Shen (621-714), a noted alchemist and physician who authored the Shiliao bencao . For a study of Medicine King stories and lore, see Paul Unschuld, Medicine in China: Historical Artifacts and Images (Munich: Prestal Verlag, 2000).  141  professional world of traveling doctors. In the story, the metal ring protects the Medicine King’s hand from the tiger’s teeth. It also allows the doctor to cure his tiger patient and gain the tiger’s loyal service as his protective steed. The story thus communicates the powerful efficacy of the ring, to “attract the auspicious and repel the portentous.” For Wang, this explains the significance of the metal rings carried by traveling doctors in the non-story world. He further explains how these hollow metal rings serve a practical function of alerting people of a doctor’s arrival. There is thus a direct correlation between the efficacious power of the ring and its role in supporting the doctor’s livelihood and the health of the community. The metal ring also mirrors the role of the Medicine King image, which according to Wang, is also carried around by traveling doctors to aid in their work. In an allegorical manner, Wang’s narrative discussion of the metal ring reflects back on the significance of the painting as an auspicious object. At the end of his narrative, Wang links his story to practices in the theater industry, concluding that the story clarifies “why in theater performances, one sees the Medicine King sitting on a tiger’s back.” This simple conclusion opens up a theatrical view of the painting, where the central figures are likened to theater performers. In the Mianzhu region, and especially in Chengdu, the Medicine Deity figures prominently in ritual theater performances.237 Today, although traveling doctors are rare, the deity’s birthday is still honored in regional temple festivals, where theater troupes would perform for the deity and make pleas for the health of the community. In the story, the four-way crossroads described by Wang is quite reminiscent of a theater stage or outdoor square (chang  ). Like an established site for ritual theater that is aligned with the four  237  In nearby Zitong county of Sichuan, the Medicine King Gorge is now a burgeoning tourist attraction and monument. Local theater troupes regularly perform dramas based on the Medicine King figure, locally known as one of four “theater deities” .  142  directions, the crossroads is at the conjunction of four paths. In the story, the Medicine King and the tiger meet at the crossroads at the “foot of the mountains,” a liminal site between the human community and the wild, and between the earthly and the divine realms. In his performance, Wang recreates and inhabits the liminal space of the crossroads through gesture and mime. In adopting theatrical conventions, such as the intonation of different voices, dramatic gestures, miming, and using the stick as a prop, Wang takes on multiple identities in rapid succession.238 Immediately after concluding this narrative, Wang moves closer to his audience, shifts his tone of voice to a lower pitch, and offers this painting to me for purchase. His movements convey the end of the lively storytelling session and a transition to the more serious business of negotiating a deal. I had not expected the offer to be made so abruptly, although I knew that sharing oral narratives was a well-established “tool of the trade” for making a sale. In the context of promoting his works, Wang’s narrative boosts the prestige of his studio as well as the market value of his works. In this regard, it may be considered a success since I did indeed purchase the painting and promote it by including it in this study. According to literary scholar David Rudrum, a performative view of narrativity requires one to ask whether or not a narrative is “successful”: whether or not it fulfills its aims in a particular social context. Instead of simply asking how narratives take on different forms, Rudrum calls on narratologists to question what narratives “are capable of doing.” 239 In Wang’s case, his performative storytelling may  238  Vibeke Bordahl, The Oral Tradition of Yangzhou Storytelling (Surrey, England: Curzon Press, 1996), 84. David Rudrum, “Narrativity and Performativity: From Cervantes to Star Trek,” in Theorizing Narrativity, ed. John Pier and Jose Angel Garcia Landa (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 255. 239  143  be understood as successfully fulfilling his aims when his works are purchased and publicized by his visitors, including researchers such as myself. As an important parallel to Wang’s storytelling, the presentation of performative gestures also plays a central role in the iconography of the Medicine King and in the ritual theatre performances of the deity that serve to strengthen and protect the health of Medicine King followers. In many pictorial depictions, the deity is depicted either seated or standing over a tiger and holding up a needle to a dragon. This gesture displays the Medicine King’s mastery over the elemental life forces of yin and yang, where the tiger below is associated with the yin element and the dragon above with the yang element. This particular gesture is clearly related to theater performances of the Medicine King, as documented in a late Qing dynasty print from the northern print center of Yangliuqing (fig. 49). In this print, the central figure of the Medicine King has one leg holding down a tiger and another arm outstretched, holding a needle up to a man who is wearing a dragon costume and standing on a chair. In contrast to Wang’s painting, the print presents all the details of a theater performance, including the chair that serves as a prop to indicate the dragon’s movement in the sky. In the folk art literature, Wang’s painting of the Medicine King would be categorized as an “altar painting”  , distinguished from narrative based ones such as  the Qing example of “theater-based nianhua.” However, the typologies constructed by scholars to organize such nianhua works by function or format inevitably conceal their rich and multifaceted connections in narrative discourse. Through his theatrical storytelling, Wang actually situates the painting within multiple discourses: the medicine and healing professions, theater, ritual practices, poetry, and local history. In doing so, he  144  not only positions himself as an authoritative and experienced narrator, he also establishes the cultural and social value of the painting on many fronts. Wang’s storytelling also connects the painting to zhiguai  narratives, often  translated as “records of the anomalies” or “stories of the strange” that were shared in casual oral storytelling since the fifth century BCE. These stories enjoyed a resurgence of interest during the Ming and Qing periods and continue to play a role in contemporary Chinese film, short stories, and popular culture in general.240 Wang’s story is closely related to the many zhiguai narratives that focus on a prominent tiger character who exchanges either knowledge or skills with a human. In his study of “righteous tigers” in zhiguai tales, Charles Hammond describes the tiger as a powerful “archetype of ferocity” that also embodies the Confucian virtues of righteousness, loyalty, courage, and generosity. 241 Much like the personality of door deities or demon quellers depicted in nianhua, tigers are both fearsome and revered. Wang’s storytelling is not only a rich store of cultural and historical knowledge; it is also a critical strategy for asserting this knowledge and authority in the marketplace. To return to the question of what is at stake in acknowledging the embodied repertoires of nianhua practice, Wang’s narrative illuminates the role of nianhua in realms outside of the folk art industry, where a painting of a Medicine King might be circulated in homes, temples, and medicine shops as a ritually efficacious image. In Sichuan, images and stories of the Medicine King are circulated in Medicine King temples  , where a  240  For a comprehensive history of zhiguai, see Xiaohuan Zhao, Classical Chinese Supernatural Fiction: A Morphological History (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005). 241 Hammond’s study includes many zhiguai narratives that bear strong similarities to Wang’s tale, including one that recounts a man pulling a bone from a tiger’s throat and another of a man pulling a thorn from a tiger’s paw. In both cases, the tiger provides a great reward for the human’s kindness and courage. Charles Hammond, “The Righteous Tiger and the Grateful Lion,” Monumenta Serica, 43 (1996): 191-211.  145  range of ritual activities takes place to prevent and cure disease. The annual Medicine King Festival  and ritual theater performances are also held at the temples, which  serve as important trading and networking venues for those in the traditional healing and medicinal herb industries. These events have been further advertised as tourist attractions, especially for urban visitors seeking a more “cultural experience” of rural Sichuan. The Medicine King Festival of Yunxi  village near the township of Shenfang  is a  particularly popular tourist destination. Painted or printed images of the Medicine King may serve as important sources of social and cultural capital for these different communities, where the narrative density of the image may be activated in a variety of embodied activities, both secular and sacred. There is also much at stake in recognizing the living and evolving dynamism of nianhua storytelling. I will briefly give an account here of how a young nianhua printmaker has developed his own repertoire of gestures and stories for presenting nianhua to potential customers. During one of my visits to the Chen family workshop in 2006 with Han Gang, we met with Chen Xingcai’s eldest grandson Chen Gang, who was working as a print apprentice at the time. In addition to carving, printing, and painting works, Chen Gang was responsible for greeting visitors, taking them on extended tours of the studio, and for selling works (fig. 50). Among the many narratives Chen relayed to us, I will include here his discussion of the Bicycle-riding Maiden  , a well-known image in the Chen family  repertoire of prints (fig. 69). The topic of the Bicycle-riding Maiden arose when Chen Gang guided us into the carving area where various tools, half-carved woodblocks, and print samples were spread around the tables. One of the half-carved blocks on the table  146  depicted the outline of the Bicycle-riding Maiden. As Chen was explaining the process of carving, he picked up this block and pointed to the chiseled marks on the block as an example of “yang carving,”  , where the negative space is carved away to leave the  lines protruding out of the block (fig. 51). I then asked Chen if he knew the history of the image. Here is my translation of his full response, with a record of his gestures in brackets: I’ve been making this print for many years now. I believe it is quite old, from several generations ago. Back in those days, the print designers [  ] imagined  this kind of bicycle for riding and made a picture of it. The handlebars of the bicycle looks like this. [Points to carved outline on the block.] The artisans from the past imagined it like this since there weren’t even bicycles back then. Take a look at what they came up with! [Holds up the block.] They were rural people and they gave the bicycle a dragon’s head. They completely imagined this. Take a look at these steel wires; they are all twisty and curvy. [Traces the lines with his fingers.] I heard all of this from the others. In any case, a master print designer from the past drew this image according to his imagination, this Bicycle-riding Maiden [Adds emphasis on the title of the work.] It is even quite famous now. We all call it the Bicycle-riding Maiden. There are some things that represent Mianzhu, such as “double-bang firecrackers” [  ]. This print is a representative  work, as it is more famous than the others.242  In this short narrative, Chen Gang explains how rural designers of the past imagined the fanciful details of the bicycle. To confirm his interpretation, he points to the auspicious dragonhead and curved wires, repeatedly asking us “to look” and see for ourselves. These visual markers serve as mnemonic cues for his narrative as well as the concrete evidence confirming his narrative for his audience. Chen’s narrative can be 242  Chen Gang, in interview with the author, Mianzhu, Sichuan, July 2006.  147  traced to an interpretation of the print that has been published in folk art research and in the media, which often repeat this detail that the print designer’s depiction of the bicycle was based on imagination or hearsay rather than direct observation of an actual bicycle. However, it is significant that Chen assigns oral origins to the narrative and not written ones: “I heard all of this from the others.” This simple statement conveys Chen’s selfaware position as both a receiver and giver of orally transmitted knowledge. While he does not explicitly state who “the others” are, he is most likely referring to the other members of the Chen workshop.243 In recognizing the other voices that have shaped and authorized his telling, Chen performs his own role within an established community of nianhua makers and speakers. Chen’s embodied telling takes places in the performative present, recreating the meaning of the work in his own words and gestures. Caressing the block, Chen immediately establishes his own personal relationship to it: “I’ve been making this print for many years now.” This casual opening supports his authority to speak and firmly locates the print within the Chen family print tradition. He then establishes the age of the print as being “quite old” and of rural origins, two highly valued features in the folk art industry as discussed in the introduction of this study. Chen’s gestures and expert handling of the block are essential forms of non-verbal communication that perform the value of the block as well as his own embodied skills as a trained apprentice, attesting to what narratologists have termed “narrative competence,” the acquisition of skills to both receive and transmit narratives within a social and cultural context.244 Instead of situating Chen’s story as derivative of folk art publications, it is important to recognize his  243 244  Later in the conversation, we are told that he has never visited the museum. Emma Kafalenos, Narrative Causalities (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006), 2.  148  embodied telling as a strategic creation in its own right, for the purposes of supporting the family business. Anthropologist Johannes Fabian reminds ethnographers that talk about culture “is itself a cultural practice, a rhetorical strategy, and that this is also the case with (talk about) popular culture.”245 As an experienced speaker in this setting, Chen kept his audience in mind as he selected specific details to share about the woodblock. As academic researchers and potential buyers, Han Gang and myself could play a role in boosting the fame and status of the workshop through our writings, photographs, and purchased works. These factors may have influenced his decision to focus on the work’s historical value and rural origins. It is likely that he would take a different approach for another audience. In keeping in mind the co-creative relationships of narrators and audiences, these interviews must be approached as delicate inter-subjective exchanges rather than direct transmissions of cultural knowledge from one individual to another. There are many historical precedents for such innovative storytelling approaches in the oral culture of nianhua. For instance, Wang Shucun has commented on orally transmitted narratives that were innovated to suit the needs of the nianhua industry during the late Qing period. In his study of door deity prints from Sichuan, Wang records the following story that was orally disseminated by printshops in Mianzhu: There was a couple with a wife who had been pregnant for ten months but could not give birth to the baby. Someone said that if they tore off the head of the door god and burnt it, the child would have no problem descending from heaven. The husband believed this so he ripped off the head of the door god, burnt it to ashes and mixed the ashes into a drink for his wife to consume. When she drank it, the baby was born. Stories such as a door god’s head helping with a birth are but 245  Johannes Fabian, Anthropology with an Attitude (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 95.  149  mystified tales told by print workshops to market their products to a wider audience. They also reflect the long and complex history behind Mianzhu’s door god industry.246  According to Wang, sensational stories such as this one were circulated to attract customers and to propagate new print rituals in order to increase sales and profit. These examples not only challenge the idea that oral transmissions are static and unchanging, they demystify them by revealing their pragmatic nature. Although Chen’s story does not prescribe a ritual practice, it links the workshop prints to a highly valued discourse in the contemporary print industry - that of folk art research. His storytelling is not only a way of marketing the workshops’ prints and paintings, it is also a way of claiming authority over nianhua history and knowledge. In comparing these narratives, it is clear that orally transmitted stories draw on different discourses to raise the profile of a print workshop within its immediate environment. As such, orally transmitted narratives can be understood as bringing auspiciousness in the form of livelihood, prosperity, and social status. These examples show that nianhua are not only visual texts, but also performative ones that engage all the senses. Nianhua can thus be considered complex sites of social engagement and narrative power, playing important roles in “orality, dialogue, life stories, and community-building or what may be more generally called living history.”247  246  Wang Shucun , Zhongguo menshen hua [Chinese door deity pictures] (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 2004), 42-43. 247 Della Pollock, Remembering: Oral History Performance (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 1.  150  Transformations Between Theater and Print While the example of the Medicine King suggests close ties between theater and nianhua traditions, it should be kept in mind that the two industries are no longer closely intertwined as they were in the past. While historic records show that Mianzhu’s door deity guilds hired theater troupes for their banquets and sold their prints at temple fairs where auspicious theatrical performances would be held, these intimate connections gradually dissolved as both industries underwent intense periods of reform and revival. Starting in the early 1980s and concurrent with the state-led revival of traditional nianhua, the Sichuan CCP Provincial Committee issued a directive “to get Sichuan opera moving” with an emphasis on “salvaging, inheriting, reforming, and developing” traditional opera.248 Like the term nianhua, the notion of chuanju  or “Sichuan  theater” is a blanket term for diverse forms of regional theater in Sichuan. In the same way that the notion of folk art groups together many objects, the misnomer of “Sichuan theater arts”  groups together an array of performative practices involving music,  248  Colin Mackerras, “Theatre in China’s Sichuan Province,” Asian Theatre Journal 14, no. 2 (1987): 191192. As early as 1978, Sichuan was the first province to revive and publicly perform traditional musicdrama plays as distinct from the “newly written historical” items. By the late 1980s there was an average of one troupe for each of the 177 counties. Like rural printmakers, these troupes were most active during the Lunar New Year, the slack season for agricultural activities. While some farmers turned to printmaking, others performed in theater productions to bring in extra winter income.  151  singing, dance, and ritual theater.249 In Mianzhu, these practices had many names such as “singing theater”  , “wooden bench theater”  or “encircling drums”  .250  The relationship between these different forms of theater and nianhua is further complicated by the extensive appropriation of theatrical elements in nianhua over time, so that the references take on very different meanings in the ritual consumption of nianhua. For instance, a traditional stage production in Chengdu dramatizes the exploits of the famous female warrior Mu Guiying Family Generals  , a character from Romance of the Yang  , a Ming dynasty novel that gave rise to countless theater  productions across China. In the promotional material for the Chengdu Sichuan Opera Theater  , a photograph of Mu Guiying captures the highly stylized gestures  and costumes of Sichuan theater (fig. 52). The performer wears a costume reserved for high-ranking military generals, with flags on the back, fringed streamers around the waist, two long pheasant feathers on an elaborately decorated helmet, and a long spear in hand. In the nianhua that are most often associated with Mu Guiying, the figure is recast in a new identity to fulfill the specific goals of ritual print use. In these works, the identity of the female warrior is often blurred, as in this widely reproduced pair of female door deities from Mianzhu (fig. 53). In the published literature on these prints, the figures are 249  As many scholars have noted, the theater traditions of Sichuan are extremely diverse and have absorbed the influences of musical systems from surrounding regions since the 17th century, including Kunqu opera and the gaoqiang musical variant from Jiangxi, clapper opera introduced from Shaanxi, and the huqingianq musical variant from Hunan and Hubei. It is often noted that only dengxi or “lantern theater” is native to Sichuan, a small-scale folk opera that developed from the ritual theater of agricultural communities. See Ursula Dauth, “Strategies of Reform in Sichuan Opera since 1982: Confronting the Challenge of Rejuvenating a Regional Opera” (PhD dissertation, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1997). 250 For a description of Mianzhu’s local theater traditions see Huang Zonghou , “Mianzhu nongcun de chuanju huodong" [Sichuan theater activities in Mianzhu's rural villages], in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao xuanji Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol. 14] ed. Wang Peisheng and Zhang Changlu (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1995), 102-107.  152  usually associated with the female warriors Mu Guiying and Qin Liangyu although there are no distinguishing features here to tell them apart. Both Mu Guiying and Qin Liangyu are well-known figures in the regional drama traditions across China, although female door deities are rarely seen in other parts of China. They are probably prominent in Sichuan because some famous female warriors are native to the region. For instance, Qin Liangyu lived in the Ming era and comes from Zhongzhou, Sichuan. She led an army to protect the region by resisting the invasions of Sichuan led by Zhang Xianzhong. 251 In contrast to the martial appearance of the theater performer, these printed door deities are dressed in elegant women’s costumes with fashionable “lotus shoes,” signaling the bound feet of elite women. The sound for “shoes” (xie “harmony” (xie  ) is a homophone for  ), a feature that enhances the auspicious quality of the image. There are  no flags to indicate their military status although they do wear the helmets with pheasant feathers normally associated with the theatrical garb of martial figures. Their hands are poised in a feminine gesture, lightly holding the phoenix feathers and their facial expressions are sweet and subdued. The door deities are thus portrayed in a more gentle and domesticated manner suited to household display. In comparison to the theatrical portrayal of Mu Guiying, who is in a bright red costume, these female door deities are dressed in costumes of paler colors and simpler floral patterns. According to Alexandra Bonds’ detailed study of Chinese opera costumes, the costumes of high-ranking military figures are often bright in color and embroidered with dragons or fierce animals and tight geometric patterns. In contrast, ladies of high 251  For a brief discussion of female door deities in Sichuan art, see Wang Shucun, Chinese Door Deity Pictures, 37-39.  153  position usually wear pastel colors with floral patterns.252 It appears as if these prints have mixed up these theatrical references as the female door deities wear the elegant dress of household ladies yet they also have martial helmets on their heads and wield the large weapons of female warriors. In this particular example, they have a sheathed sword hanging from the waist and a large “reclining moon blade”  in hand.253  In these works, it is possible to see how the theatrical figure of a female warrior is transformed into a door deity. The elements of costume and gesture are made to perform a new role here, which is to attract the auspicious while protecting the household gate. As door deities without clear markers of identity, the narrative density of these works is intensified in the sense that they now call up a broader range of famous female warriors, including the two mentioned already but also Hua Mulan  and Liang Hongyu  . The prints have thus appropriated and transformed aspects of the theatrical repertoire, putting them to different uses and producing new narrative possibilities. As discussed in the last chapter, the great variety of door deity prints produced and consumed in Mianzhu demonstrates how a door deity is not attached to any fixed identity or persona. Instead, the notion of a door deity is more like a performed role that many different figures can play when properly positioned and renewed. The idea that many actors/identities may perform the role of a particular deity, such as the Medicine King or the door deity, may be related to a similar conception in Sichuan’s ritual theater, where various skilled performers may enact the efficacious powers of a deity as if the deity were living and present in the performance itself.  252  Alexandra Bonds, Beijing Opera Costumes: The Visual Communication of Character and Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 2008), 245-248. 253 While Sichuan theater performances of Mu Guiying usually show her with a long speak or bow and arrow, the weapons vary in nianhua depictions and are sometimes omitted altogether.  154  In the case of Sichuan’s famous “face-changing theater”  , a performer may  even take on multiple roles in a single performance by rapidly removing thin layers of painted silk masks that are tightly bound to the face (fig. 54). This produces a thrilling special effect where the performer’s face changes from moment to moment in the performance, often in rapid succession or when the audience least expects it. As a performative gesture, “face-changing” is a display of the performer’s physical mastery of a protected trade secret that is simultaneously conveyed as the mastery of various identities and life forces, including the countless deities and heroic figures of ritual theater.254 Similarly, it is possible to see how the ritual displays of Mianzhu’s door deities harness a range of auspicious figures to serve the single purpose of controlling the many positive and negative influences around a household doorway. The transformation of theatrical signs into rebus imagery is another prominent example of how theatrical elements are made to play new roles in a wide range of nianhua. A rebus is a representation of a word or syllable by a picture of an object with a similar sounding name, such as a rhyming word or homophone. The key element here is the sound of the object’s name, which serves as a cue for vocalization that prompts the viewer to enunciate its name and thus call into being various auspicious notions. In a Qing dynasty print, for instance, four young boys greet a mother figure as they arrive at their household steps while a fifth boy observes the scene from behind a table inside the home (fig. 55). The boys bring an array of auspicious objects that are commonly seen in theater props or costumes. These objects are the most colorful elements in the image and jump out boldly on the picture plane. Each one is a rebus on its own, yet in combination 254  For a discussion of Sichuan’s “face-changing theater,” see: Wang Dingou Sichuan theater arts] (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 2007), 22-8.  Sichuan juehuo  155  with the other objects, they may carry double or even triple meanings based solely on a play of aural associations. To illustrate the many narrative possibilities in this seemingly simple print, I will first provide an interpretation of how the rebuses might work individually to call up auspicious speech, then in various combinations. In the center of the image, a young boy draws a boat on wheels that bears a tall red vase (ping  ), which may be a homophone for peace (pingan  vase are three halberds (sanji  ). Rising out of the  ), a homophone for “levels” (sanji  three successive levels of official promotion. The word halberd (ji homophonous for “auspicious” (ji  ), as in the  ) is also  ). This suggested meaning of promotion is  confirmed by the official’s cap just in front of the vase on the boat and the boy behind the table, who carries a reed pipe (sheng “rise” (sheng  ), which is homophonous for “promotion” or  ). The boy behind the boat carries a lotus blossom (lianhua  or lianzi  ), which carries connotations of “many sons” due to the homophonous words for “successive” (lian  ) and “sons” (zi  ). The bright sashes (dai  means “to bring” and is a homophone for “generations” (dai  ) worn by the boys also  ), a reference to male  progeny carrying on the family name. The boy facing the mother figure carries a jade or stone chime (qing blue color (qing  ), a homophone for “celebration” or “congratulation” (  qing). The  ) of the sashes also resonates with this celebratory meaning.  In combination, these rebus signs call up a whole host of auspicious sayings. The placement of the objects on a rolling boat (chuan  ) thus calls up the expression, “May  official positions roll in every generation; may you have three successive promotions” (guan dai liu chuan, lian sheng san ji “halberd, chime, and vase” (jiqing heping  ). The triple combination of the ) appears in many nianhua prints and  156  is homophonous for the phrase, “auspiciousness, felicity, and peace” (jiqing heping ). The mother figure holds an auspicious carved scepter (ruyi translates as “as you wish.”255 Combined with the lotus (lian “year” (nian  ), which literally  ), which rhymes with  ), the ruyi scepter and the lotus call up the saying “may your desires come  true year after year” (niannian ruyi  ).  The image may also be associated with the theme of wuzi duokui  ,  which translates as “five boys competing for a helmet,” where the term for helmet (kui also refers to finishing “first place” in the civil service exam. The phrase references the famous story of the scholar official Dou Yujun  (ca. 907-960) who had all of his  five sons successfully pass the civil service exam. The number five also calls up the required knowledge of the Five Classics for the civil service exams. During the Ming and Qing periods, images of five boys took on many variations tied to the notions of officialdom, promotion, and fertility seen here. 256 These themes are not unique to Mianzhu, but are commonly seen in the woodblock prints from the other major print centers across China, such as Yangliuqing, Suzhou, and Weifang.257 In a theatrical context, halberds, colorful sashes, official caps, and lotus blossoms figure prominently as stage props or elements of costume. They might be used to signal  255  These ruyi , or “wish granting scepters” were commonly presented to the emperor and empress on auspicious occasions. In woodblock prints, they often appear in the hands of deities and immortal figures, especially Daoist figures such as the Eight Immortals and other deities, as the ruyi bears a resemblance to the fungus of immortality. For a discussion of ruyi imagery, see Patricia Welch, Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery (Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle, 2008), 258-259. 256 Since the Ming era (1368-1644), images of a hundred boys or five boys were widely popularized in various media, including porcelain, tapestry, painting, prints, and sculptures. For a study of children in Chinese art and the repeated imagery of young boys, see Terese Tse Bartholomew, “One hundred children: from boys at play to icons of good fortune” in Children in Chinese Art, ed. Ann Barrott Wicks (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002) 57-83. 257 For a broader discussion of the thematic depictions of young boys in Chinese prints and paintings, see Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art (San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2006).  157  the particular identity and moral character of a performer, such as an upright official or brave warrior. However, in the context of this nianhua print, these markers of identity take on aural associations with auspicious concepts such as male progeny, emolument, and prosperity. Collectively, these theatrical props have been transformed into vocal and narrative cues to serve a new ritual agenda, to attract auspiciousness into the home. Most significantly, these rebus signs speak to the efficacious power of the human voice to literally call into being and bring to life auspicious notions. During the course of my fieldwork, it became evident that the rebus may serve as a mnemonic device for people to recall the meaning of a work. For instance, when asked about the significance of their prints, Chen Xingcai and his grandson Chen Gang often repeated outloud the auspicious phrases tied to the rebuses in the prints. When asked why they displayed certain nianhua in their homes, they would repeat the auspicious phrases associated with each print or painting. I also noticed that rebuses were used to interpret new works that people were viewing for the first time. When I showed my mentors Liu Zhumei and Ning Zhiqi images of the Mianzhu nianhua held in the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, they worked through the meaning of each work by sounding out loud the different auspicious words and phrases of each rebus. When it comes to nianhua, rebuses do not follow a predictable set of rules. The images may reference auspicious words through a variety of ways, as a rhyme, direct homophone, or one syllable within a longer phrase or saying. Add to this the subtle tones of the Mianzhu dialect and it is possible to find a great deal of variation in one rebus. The pervasive presence of rebuses in Mianzhu nianhua suggests a strong preoccupation with activating the auspicious words, phrases, and stories associated  158  with them. The sharing of auspicious speech is still an integral aspect of viewing nianhua today, especially during the Lunar New Year. As seen in the interview with Gong Jinlan in the previous chapter, it is not only nianhua that call up auspicious phrases but also the different dishes that are prepared for the annual reunions. Similarly, the power of voice has been well documented as an integral part of traditional Chinese theater. Scholars have long recognized the central role of the voice in traditional performances that place greater emphasis on singing, music, and lyrics than on tight plot development.258 Elizabeth Wichmann has emphasized the aural dimensions of Chinese theater, where it is usually stated that one “listens to theater” theater”  or “sings  .259 The central role of music and singing has led some to translate Chinese  theater as “opera,” although it also encompasses dance, acrobatics, and elaborate stage and costume design. The mastery of the voice in singing Chinese theater requires rigorous training and breath control, and is often likened to a shamanic practice that can either awaken deities or frighten off demons through the sheer power and vibration of song.260 This shared concern explains the keen interest in appropriating theatrical references to produce efficacious speech. Among rural communities, theater is a much older tradition than nianhua, which only appeared after the invention of printing technologies. It is thus likely that prints were used to approximate and appropriate the 258  William Dolby, “Chinese Drama,” in Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, 2nd ed., ed. William H. Jr. Nienhauser (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1985), 13-30. 259 Elizabeth Wichmann, Listening to Theatre: The Aural Dimension of Beijing Opera (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1991), 1. In regards to this issue, Wichmann has argued that xiqu should be translated as “music drama” rather than “Chinese opera.” However, in most scholarly studies, the term Chinese opera is still commonly used in place of xiqu. 260 A path breaking study of Chinese ritual theater that examines the shamanistic roles of actors is Piet van der Loon, “Les Origines Rituelles Du Theatre Chinois [the Ritual Origins of Chinese Theater],” Journal Asiatique CCLXV (1977). Loon’s findings were further confirmed in later studies such as Barbara Ward, “Not Merely Players: Drama, Art, and Ritual in Traditional China,” Man 14, no. 1 (1979), and David Johnson, ed. Ritual Opera, Operatic Ritual: "Mu-Lien Rescues His Mother" in Chinese Popular Culture (Berkeley: University of California, Chinese Popular Culture Project, 1989).  159  perceived power of ritual theater for use in domestic rituals. To return to the popular rhyme I quoted at the beginning of this chapter, “The picture must have theater, or the myriad viewers will be bored. It must produce auspicious words if it is to please the people,”  The key phrase here is: “It  must produce auspicious words” which is explicitly expressed in terms of vocalization, as that which literally leaps “out of the mouth”  .  Historians of Chinese art tend to draw on literary metaphors to interpret rebus imagery. According to Qianshen Bai, “to decipher a rebus painting is to treat a picture as a form of writing, to read its image as if it were a text.”261 However, the idea that rebuses are a form of writing needs to be qualified in the context of nianhua prints. The rebus is not only used for communicating ideas, it carries an active performative dimension because it prompts the use of the voice for ritual efficacy. The rebus is thus performative in the sense that it is considered “world-changing” and not merely “world-describing.” In the ritual use of woodblock prints, the act of reading alone is not enough to activate the rebus. It is the embodied act of speaking (or singing) out loud that is critical to activating the full potential of the rebus in a nianhua print. As the above example demonstrates, rebus signs are also unlike words because they can carry many different meanings at once, when viewed alone or in combination with other rebus signs. Instead of isolating certain works as “theater-based,” as illustrating specific stage performances, there is a need to broaden the scope to consider the pervasive influence of regional theater on many different types of nianhua works, from ephemeral single-sheet 261  Bai also argues that the Chinese language is predispositioned for rebus use, citing Yuan Ren Chao, who says, “In this word-sign system, the Chinese language creates many homophonic words, each represented by a different character. Compared with other languages, Chinese has many homophones, and the homophonic rebus got an early start in Chinese history.” Qianshen Bai, “Image as Word: A Study of Rebus Play in Song Painting (960–1279),” Metropolitan Museum Journal 34 (1999): 65.  160  prints to simple scroll paintings. I have underscored how theatrical references are made to perform new meanings and ritual functions when adapted to a variety of nianhua works. In particular, theatrical references are often used to prompt auspicious speech in the form of efficacious stories, sayings, and verse. Instead of treating nianhua as mere illustrations of theater for the purposes of communicating the values or morals of the elite classes, it is vital to question the appropriations and transformations of meaning that take place when theatrical elements show up in ritually efficacious prints and paintings.  Recovering Narrative Density in Greeting Spring One of the most celebrated works of Mianzhu nianhua is a set of four horizontal scroll paintings titled Greeting Spring  , currently housed in the Mianzhu Cultural  Relics Bureau. The scrolls were painted by Huang Ruigu  (1866-1938), a  professional painter and native of Mianzhu. Huang was commissioned to paint the scroll set for a Mianzhu-based dye company managed by his family. In contrast to the ephemeral printed nianhua, Greeting Spring is a finely executed, permanent work painted by and for local elites. Mianzhu’s Cultural Relics Bureau has played an instrumental role in publicizing the painting as a work of nianhua, even though it reflects the world of urban elites. Officials and scholars who have published writings on the painting justify this move by explaining how the painting falls into the broad category of non-official art works created in Mianzhu, where the painter would have been involved in the nianhua industry as a professional urban painter and designer. This ever-broadening use of the term nianhua, which has been primarily reserved for popular prints, reflects the changing institutional agendas that seek to promote a wide range of local works under the rubric of  161  nianhua. In Mianzhu, this particular painting has also been framed as a historically accurate depiction of a Qing dynasty street parade, a problematic analysis that I will take up in this section. Greeting Spring is comprised of four horizontal scrolls that add up to about six meters in total length (fig. 56). It depicts in great detail a late nineteenth-century street festival that marks the first day of spring on the traditional farmer’s calendar, known as lichun  , or the “Establishment of Spring.” 262 The Cultural Relics Bureau released  these four images of the different scrolls, but the original was not available for viewing during my visits so I could not verify firsthand whether the images are complete representations of the work. The published images show four distinct scenes from the festival. The first scene shows the county magistrate leading the procession through the streets and out the city gates (fig. 56a). The second scene depicts a troupe of musicians followed by a team of dragon dancers and theatrical performers dressed as famous immortals (fig. 56b). A third scene includes an elaborate procession of ritual street theater with costumed performers carried on raised platforms among a throng of onlookers and peddlers (fig. 56c). The fourth scene shows the procession reaching a temporary pavilion outside the city walls and the magistrate leading the rituals there to welcome the Spring Deity. This scene also shows the magistrate seated before the county bureau  , presiding over the final ritual of the  day, when a paper effigy of the Spring Ox is beaten open (fig. 56d). In the discussion  262  The lichun festival has a much longer and complex history than the Qing dynasty’s mandated lichun rituals. As the first of the 24 solar terms that divide the traditional Chinese calendar, lichun can be traced to ancient rites marking the arrival of spring. For a historical survey of lichun practices and festivals, see Li Lulu , Zhongguo jie [Chinese festivals] (Fuzhou: Fujian renmin chubanshe, 2005), 3439; and Goran Aijmer, New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2003).  162  that follows, I will examine these scenes in greater detail to argue that the paintings contain multiple viewing and narrating possibilities. In particular, I will point to the many narrative cues and rebus images that activate auspicious words, phrases, and stories. Ning Zhiqi, who is a widely published historian and director of Mianzhu’s Cultural Relics Bureau, has argued that the painting is organized into three narrative frames that sequentially depict the main ritual activities of the historic lichun festival. In particular, Ning emphasizes the thrice-repeating figure of the county magistrate and his entourage. In his first appearance, the magistrate is carried on a sedan chair as he leads the procession out of the town walls to the “spring field”  (fig. 57). In his second  appearance, the magistrate arrives at the spring field, where a temporary outdoor altar is set up under a pavilion to house the Spring Deity  and the Spring Ox  , who are  represented by sculpted effigies made of bamboo strips and colored paper. In this scene, the magistrate and his official entourage are preparing to make sacrificial offerings to the deities in a ritual activity known as “Welcoming Spring”  (fig. 58). Once the  offerings are completed, the spring deities are carried back to town to spread their auspicious presence throughout the streets for all to see. This ritual street procession is known as “Touring Spring”  and ends in front of the county bureau, where the deities  are installed in a tent for the evening. All of these activities take place on the eve of the first day of spring. The magistrate makes his third appearance the next day, on the first morning of spring to oversee the ritual of “Beating Spring”  , the climax and  conclusion of the lichun festivities. He is depicted in front of the county bureau on a raised seat behind a table (fig. 59). Below the steps of the bureau, the Spring Deity and Spring Ox are set up facing the magistrate. Qing soldiers beat the ox apart at the very  163  hour of spring’s arrival to release small effigies of Spring Oxen, to attract abundance, fertility, and good farming conditions for the year to come.263 An official messenger kneels before the magistrate with an unfurled scroll that announces the arrival of spring. An extraordinary aspect of the painting is the attentive detail given to the acts of theater in the street procession, where precise details of ritual protocol are brought to the fore. While Ning suggests that this information was included to create a true-to-life representation of a historical event, it is likely that this attention to ritual detail enhanced the auspicious efficacy of the image as well as its symbolic capital. For instance, one can observe the ritual minutiae represented in the scene where the magistrate prepares to make sacrificial offerings at the altar set up outside the town walls. In this detail of the altar, it is possible to identify a wealth of calendricalal information embedded in the proportions, colors, and costume of the Spring Deity and Spring Ox figures (fig. 60a). The selection and placement of colors on the two deities are based on an imperial colormatching scheme that indicates it is the thirtieth year of the Guangxu era (1903). This is evidenced by the white color on the center of the ox’s head, which represents the first “celestial stem” “earthly branch”  of jia of chen  , and the yellow color of its body which represents the fifth . 264 Every year, the precise size, proportions, and colors  263  It is possible that the “beating spring” ritual is the early origins of the Latin American piñata games. The origins of the piñata are often associated with Marco Polo’s visit to China in the thirteenth century, when he observed the beating spring ritual and collected an animal effigy made of paper and ribbon to carry back to Italy. See http://www.mexonline.com/history-pinatas.htm 264 The traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar is part of a sexagesimal calendricalal system, where each year is identified by one of the ten celestial stems and one of the twelve earthly branches. There are a total of 60 stem and branch combinations, making for a repeating 60 year cycle. In addition to this, each year is associated with one of the five elements (water, fire, metal, wood, earth) and one the twelve astrological animals.  164  of the Spring Ox and Spring Deity sculptures are designated by Qing court astrologers to disseminate key details of the imperial calendar.265 This connection to ritual efficacy becomes even more apparent when the painting is situated alongside the many “Spring Ox pictures” (chunniu tu  ) that were  circulated as inexpensive single sheet woodblock prints. During the late Qing, large quantities of chunniu tu were distributed across China to communicate key details of the imperial calendar for each year. These prints were color coded to reflect calendricalal information and often included a record of the long and short months of the lunar calendar as well as the dates for the 24 annual festivals. Due to the ephemeral nature of these prints, I was not able to locate an extant example from Sichuan. In this late Qing example from Shanxi, however, it is possible to see the correspondences between the image and the calendricalal information for that year (fig. 60b). The positioning of the Spring Deity behind the ox indicates the late arrival of spring; meanwhile the one bare foot on the deity indicates good weather for spring farming. Along with other prints of domestic deities, these chunniu tu were annually renewed in the home to “attract the auspicious, repel the portentous” for agricultural activities.266  265  According to Ning’s study, the ox must be four feet tall and eight feet wide to represent the four seasons and the eight major solar terms. The Spring Deity must be 3 ft and 6.5 in. tall to indicate the 365 days of the year, and he holds a whip that is 2 ft. 4 in. long to represent the twenty-four solar terms. These measurements do not change from year to year. The colors of the ox and deity do change, however, to indicate the unique “stem and branch” of each year as well as the exact time of day for the beginning of spring. These details were unified by the Qing imperial court and widely distributed through the mandated lichun rituals as well as the chunniu tu. See Ning Zhiqi , “Sichuan qingdai chuantong minsu de zhengui huajuan Mianzhu Yinchuntu" [Mianzhu’s Greeting Spring Picture: A Qing dynasty scroll painting and treasure of traditional folk culture in Sichuan], in Mianzhu Wenshi Ziliao Xuanji 9 [Anthology of Mianzhu's historical studies vol. 9], ed. Liji Zeng (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1990), 38-45. 266 For a discussion of “Spring-ox pictures” with illustrated examples, see: Li, Chinese Festivals, 34-39.  165  The abundant use of aural or rebus imagery also supports the Greeting Spring’s status as a ritually efficacious image, especially one that is meant to catalyze auspicious speech. In the same scene with the spring altar, two robed officials flank the pair of spring deities on either side (fig. 58). They are each holding up signs that are composed of the characters “auspiciousness”  and “joy”  . Hanging above the altar table, a set of  spring couplets presents the wish for successful attainment of high official rank and multiple promotions. Behind the magistrate, who appears under a red parasol, an attendant holds up a large “spring”  character made of flowers and cypress branches.  The magistrate is also greeted by a kneeling figure who unfurls a scroll that reads “Joyful Announcement of a Bright Spring”  . The widespread inclusion of auspicious  words and sayings appear to serve as aural cues that call for the vocalization and narration of auspicious speech. A close look at the onlookers in this scene shows various individuals engaged in this exact activity of watching, pointing, and speaking around the altar. The crowd here is engaged in the ritualized activities of sharing auspicious speech known as “Speaking Spring”  and “Watching Spring”  .267 Although the magistrate’s attendants are  holding up signs that call for quiet and calm, the crowd appears defiantly boisterous with individuals engaged in conversation, moving about, and even playing instruments. Several people are depicted with open mouths, wide eyes, and excited gestures. The contrast between the signs that call for quiet and the busy crowd infuse the scene with a strong aural dimension. In depicting these ritual activities, the painting appears to prompt its viewers to do the same. 267  For a more detailed description of these ritual theater activities in Mianzhu see Huang, “Sichuan theater activities in Mianzhu’s rural villages,” 102-107.  166  The provenance of the painting suggests that the work was intended as an auspicious gift to be given from one elite family to another. Originally commissioned by a dye company, the painting found its way into a family that ran a medicine shop in Mianzhu.268 A prominent clue that the painting was intended as a gift for the medicine shop owners lies in the painting itself, which includes a large shop sign in the foreground that reads, “Our shop sells genuine chewable medicines of Sichuan and Guangdong. ” (fig. 61). In addition, the close ties between the medicinal herbs industry and the nianhua industry have been well documented in local archives.269 Medicinal herb traders often distributed nianhua works and supplies, including paper, prints, paints and dyes. It is quite likely that this painting was gifted as a form of symbolic capital to strengthen relations between elite business partners.270 The imagery in the painting strongly supports such a possibility, where the medicine shop is richly enveloped in auspicious and prosperous activities of every kind, including harmonious interactions between the world of merchants, officials, farmers, ritual performers, and deities.  268  The painter Huang Ruigu was commissioned to paint this, as his family helped run the medicine company. One of the descendants of the family that ran the medicine company gifted the painting to the Cultural Affairs Bureau in the 1960s. The provenance of this work is briefly discussed in Ning, “Mianzhu’s Greeting Spring Picture,” 38. 269 For a record of the historical links between the medicine and print industries in Mianzhu, see Zhang Minglun , “Luetan jiushi Mianzhu jige shichang de ‘jingjiren’ huodong" [A discussion of a few early industries in Mianzhu and the activities of entrepreneurs], in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao xuanji [Anthology of Mianzhu's Historical Studies vol. 8] (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1989), 152-57; and Mianzhu Historical Documents Work Committee , “Mianzhu muban nianhua" [Mianzhu's woodblock printed nianhua], in Mianzhu wenshi ziliao xuanji [Anthology of Mianzhu's Historical Studies vol. 1] (Mianzhu: Sichuan sheng mianzhu xian zhengxie xuexi wenshi ziliao weiyuanhui, 1982), 31-40. 270 This continues to be a common practice in Mianzhu today, where paintings or calligraphic works are gifted as part of an important business transaction. Auspicious paintings are also commonly gifted for birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries.  167  If the painting is understood as an auspicious gift for a business contact, what is the role of the scenes of ritual theater? As mentioned earlier, theater troupes played an integral role in the world of trade relations and politics. Trade guilds such as the door deity guild regularly hired troupes to perform for banquets and important events such as the opening of the guild hall, the setting up of the guild’s altar, or honoring the birthday of the guild’s patron deity. Huang Zonghou has documented the complex social relations between Mianzhu’s theater troupes, trade guilds, temple authorities, and even underground brotherhoods such as the Paogehui  .271 Up until 1949, every village  in Mianzhu’s rural vicinity had its own theater troupe that competed for prominence in the region. Although there are fewer troupes today, theater troupes still conduct annual ritual performances in front of storefronts to ensure a year of prosperity for the business during the Lunar New Year. For instance, lion and dragon dancing troupes, such as the ones depicted in Greeting Spring, are still known to perform for businesses during the Lunar New Year festivities in exchange for money or gifts. Along with an ensemble of musicians and firecrackers, the lions frighten off demons and negative influences to protect the business from harm for the year to come. In this sense, the power of ritual theater to “pursue the auspicious, repel the portentous” is closely tied to concerns around livelihood. Its depiction in a painting suggests a similar message, where the painting itself approximates the role of theater to perform an auspicious wish for a business venture or partnership. Taking up far more space than the scenes with the magistrate, scenes of ritual street theater in Greeting Spring also call up a wide range of narrative possibilities. For instance, in this scene, six “raised pavilions” 271  are carried through the crowd, with  Huang, “Sichuan theater activities in Mianzhu's rural villages,” 104.  168  costumed figures atop each one performing different theatrical tales (fig. 62). Each pavilion carries one or two performers stacked on top of one another. Vertical and horizontal beams are hidden inside the costumes, creating an optical illusion of the stacked performers being held up in the air by a single hand. These performances are ritually performed during the Lunar New Year to attract the blessings of the deities who are brought to life by the performers. At the same time, the deities are expected to ward off demons or malignant spirits. According to Ning Zhiqi, the six scenes are single-act theater performances from the region that include, from left to right: Beheading of the Ungrateful Husband - Rushing the Palace , The Jade Hairpin - Autumn River Snatching the Umbrella on a Boat  , Qin Xianglian and Chen Shimei , Entreating the Moon , Wang Ruilan and Jiang Shilong .272  , and Journey to the West - the Pilgrim Sun Wukong  Each of these acts are packed with narrative potential, including the auspicious costumes and props that reference a variety of popular beliefs, vernacular stories, and sayings. This type of theater is locally known as “Racing Deities” Offerings”  or “Wax  , which refers to theater performed in the street (and not on a stage) at the  end of the year, and usually by rural troupes.273 It was annually performed to honor a  272  Ning, “Mianzhu's Greeting Spring Picture,” 42. Where there is a dash in the listed acts, the name of the drama is followed by the name of the specific scene that is being performed. Several of these acts are from the same drama, although it was common for single acts to take on a life of their own, to be performed as one-act dramas or zhezi . 273 For a detailed study of laji ritual street theater in Sichuan, see Feng Shudan , Sichuan xiju yishi [A history of Sichuan theater] (Chengdu: Sichuan sheng xijujia xiehui, 1992), 7-24. This format of street theater is also known as “Illuminated Carnival in Elaborate Costume” and was traditionally performed by rural theater troupes and musicians. Still performed today, popular acts in rural areas include “Lion dancing” and “Playing Dragon Lanterns” , which evolved from earlier acts such as “Welcoming the Cat” and “Welcoming the Tiger” According to Feng, laji street theater is one of three main historical foundations of Sichuan theater as we know it today and is distinguished by its highly localized characteristics that evolved in rural areas. The other two foundations include “song and dance” and “variety shows” .  169  whole pantheon of deities who would ensure a year of abundance, good farming conditions, and prosperity for the entire community. Those with a firsthand experience of these street performances, or the longer dramas on which they are based, could draw on their own memories to narrate the painting in a more intimate fashion.274 In sum, the painting’s detailed depiction of different ritual practices points to multiple layers of narrativity tied to the development of the lichun festival. Efrat Biberman has critiqued the basic assumption that “a painting is a coherent, decipherable object” that can be solved with a single narrative interpretation. For Biberman, narrative interpretations often attempt to “solve the puzzle of an image” by imposing a spatial and temporal order onto an image.275 In doing so, the assumption is that painting bears a coherent structure and temporal order that each viewer is capable of extracting. It is thus critical to draw a distinction between the fixed narrative interpretations provided by art historians and the actual viewing experiences tied to a painting. I have therefore opted for a view of the painting as a work of narrative density, with many different narrative cues that can be accessed to form a variety of temporal sequences. It is thus possible to think of Greeting Spring as a densely packed “hypertext” that may accommodate both linear and nonlinear interpretations, depending on the viewer(s). As seen here, narratives may be creatively composed around the repeating figure of the magistrate as well as the many theatrical performances and aural cues.  274  These theater acts are still widely performed in China today, and the characters and stories would be identifiable to a knowledgeable viewer. Perhaps the most popular of these is Journey to the West, one of the “four great vernacular novels” of the Ming dynasty that has continued to incarnate in a wide variety of media, including oral narratives, novels, comics, television, film, and animation. 275 Biberman, “On Narrativity in the Visual Field,” 241.  170  Conclusion In rethinking the role of narrativity in nianhua, I have emphasized the multisensory and embodied forms of engagement with nianhua of both the past and present. In particular, I have stressed the prominent role of performative gestures, storytelling, and auspicious speech in shaping the social significance of nianhua in both the home and marketplace. This chapter thus represents a critical move away from treating nianhua as visual illustrations of pre-existing narratives found in written and verbal texts. The interview sessions and visual material discussed in this chapter show that nianhua do not always communicate narratives in a linear or structured fashion comparable to written or verbal texts. Instead, the works may serve as dynamic sites of narrative density, embedded with a range of narrative cues that may be activated by knowledgeable viewers in both gesture and speech. The narrativizing practices surrounding nianhua thus require close attention to their lived contexts, where different speakers and audiences may play a co-creative role in shaping the flow of the narrative. In this sense, no two narrative “tellings” are ever the same; they reflect complex processes of reactivation rather than the duplication or repetition of fixed narratives. Narrativizing practices are not rigidly confined to the nianhua object, which may only be understood as narrative works when they are narrativized in practice. Although nianhua may activate and guide a narrative performance in a variety of ways, the performance itself is also mediated by the speaker(s) knowledge of nianhua, personal memories, and immediate social engagement  171  with a particular audience. In the words of Diana Taylor, “materials from the archive shape embodied practices in innumerable ways, yet never totally dictate embodiment.”276 While opening up the visual to the sensory immediacy of touch, sound, gesture, and movement, the “corpothetic” forms of engagement with nianhua also shed light on the problematic categories used to identify certain nianhua as narrative illustrations. In this regard, I have focused primarily on the problematic category of “theater-based” nianhua by drawing on many examples that fall outside of this category. Wang Xingru’s Medicine King painting is an altar painting, but it is also a work with high narrative density and direct ties to theatrical performance of the Medicine King, as seen in the elaborate storytelling session with Wang, who draws on a range of discourses and narrative cues in the painting to weave together a strategic presentation of the painting’s significance. Wang’s storytelling also incorporates a variety of theatrical elements such as gesture, mime, vocal intonations, and the use of props to establish the authority of the speaker and to dramatize the significance and value of the work at hand. At the same time, theatrical references pervade a wide range of works that are not usually examined as “theater-based” nianhua, including door deity prints and popular scroll paintings that have appropriated and transformed theatrical elements for new uses. In taking up the notion of narrative density, I have also offered an alternate analysis of the famous Greeting Spring painting, a historic work that has gained prominence in Mianzhu’s contemporary nianhua industry. A close examination of the ritual theater and rebus imagery depicted in the painting reveals the multiple narrative possibilities that are prevalent throughout the work. In particular, I have pointed to  276  Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 21.  172  evidence that the work was both designed and used as a ritually efficacious painting to activate the exchange of auspicious speech and/or auspicious wishes for a business venture or partnership between elites involved in the herbal medicines industry of the late Qing period. Instead of limiting the painting to a narrative interpretation based solely on the repeating figure of the magistrate and a linear unfolding of the street parade, I have attempted to recover alternate possibilities of embodied interaction and ritual use. To return once again to the initial question of what is at stake, politically and historically, in these embodied practices of narrativity, this chapter has stressed its performative nature, which is a powerful source of social and cultural capital for nianhua makers and users alike. These embodied practices push for a more situated and nuanced view of how nianhua of both the past and present participate in a range of secular and sacred discourses beyond the realms of art and folk art. Most significantly, they expose the connections that have been concealed by folk art typologies that order and organize nianhua archives into neat categories based on ritual function or format.  173  Chapter Four: To Build a Museum and a Village: the Race for Mianzhu’s Nianhua Heritage  Thus far, this study has examined the recovery of the winter nianhua markets in Mianzhu, along with its evolving repertoire of ritual activities tied to both nianhua production and consumption. I have only touched on the role of the state-led nianhua revival as a catalyst for these developments and as a source of folk art discourses that tend to privilege historic nianhua over its contemporary incarnations. In this final chapter, I examine more closely Mianzhu’s state-led nianhua revival and its use of heritage discourses to launch a folk art industry based on the reproduction of historic nianhua. Having laid out a preliminary framework for discussing the many ritual practices tied to nianhua, it is now possible to critique how the state-led nianhua revival has approached the issue of ritual practices, including its stated intent to preserve and protect nianhua’s “intangible cultural heritage” (ICH)  .  While official heritage discourses of the 1980s focused primarily on the tangible assets of heritage, including monuments, artifacts, and sites, by the mid-1990s there was growing national interest in expanding these activities to include the intangible assets of heritage, especially the ephemeral and embodied repertoires of traditional music, dance, and theater. These developments were directly influenced by ongoing collaborations between Chinese authorities and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a relationship that blossomed during the 1990s and onward.277 277  In China, UNESCO’s interest in ICH was already making a nationwide impact in 1992, when its Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific launched the “Memory of the World and China’s Traditional Music Sound Archives.” For a historical overview of heritage revival activities in China and UNESCO’s involvement see Geremie Barme, ed. "A Tale of Two Lists: An Examination of the New Lists of Intangible Cultural Properties," China Heritage Newsletter 7 (2006), accessed November 3, 2011, http://www.chinaheritagenewsletter.org/features.php?searchterm=007_twolists.inc&issue=007.  174  As a result, significant state funds and resources have been poured into building a centralized heritage bureaucracy in China, staffed with skilled heritage workers that UNESCO helped train. Sinologist Geremie Barme, who has followed these developments closely, has observed the rapid growth and immense scale of heritage protection activities in China, which is organizing “one of the world’s largest forces of conservationists and conservation bureaucrats.”278 In 2001, UNESCO’s director general released its “Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” to raise awareness of its changing strategies towards heritage protection. In response to harsh critiques that ephemeral forms of cultural knowledge were seriously threatened by the objectification, isolation, and exoticization of tangible forms of heritage, UNESCO revised its position to specifically acknowledge embodied forms of cultural activity with the following definition for oral and intangible heritage: People’s learned processes along with the knowledge, skills and creativity that inform and are developed by them, the products they create and the resources, spaces, and other aspects of social and natural context necessary to their sustainability; these processes provide living communities with a sense of continuity with previous generations and are important to cultural identity, as well as to the safeguarding of cultural diversity and creativity of humanity.279 The proclamation solidified UNESCO’s position on a controversial issue and renewed its agenda of evaluating and listing the world’s oral and intangible heritage. Since then, China’s heritage bureaucracy has aggressively pursued recognition on UNESCO’s 278  Barme, “Tale of Two,” 2006. “2001 UNESCO Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity: Guide for the Presentation of Candidature Files, Article 3: ‘Definition,’” accessed October 15, 2011, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001246/124628eo.pdf. 279  175  prestigious list of ICH, setting off a nationwide race to identify and publicize regional forms of ICH. As a highly sought after goal, UNESCO recognition brings both political and economic capital on the world stage, glorifying China’s geopolitical influence as a cultural nation while attracting foreign investment for heritage management, development, and tourism. Thus far, the historic nianhua centers in China have yet to gain a spot on UNESCO’s list, although twelve centers including Mianzhu, Sichuan did make the race to be included in an internal list of ICH issued by China’s State Council in 2006. 280 The list includes ten categories of ICH, including folk literature, folk music, folk dance, traditional drama, storytelling, acrobatics and sports, folk art, handicraft skills, traditional medicine, and folk customs. The twelve historic print centers are listed under the category of “folk art,” under the title of “woodblock printed nianhua”  . This list  is significant because it resituates nianhua as form of intangible rather than tangible heritage, and because it specifies woodblock printing as the particular type of knowledge it seeks to protect. This shift is mirrored in the state-led revival activities in Mianzhu, which were initially focused on the tangible assets of nianhua heritage, such as the collection and exhibition of nianhua artifacts as well as the building of a Mianzhu Nianhua Museum in 1994 to house the state’s nianhua collection. By the early 2000s however, local and provincial authorities had shifted their efforts towards rebuilding Mianzhu into a folk art heritage attraction that would include an entire themed Nianhua Village built with traditional architectural forms and a combination of restaurants, nianhua shops, living 280  China Cultural Relics News, “Representative Items of National Intangible Cultural Heritage” , news release issued by the State Council, January 6, 2006, accessed October 15, 2011, http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/007/features/501_firstlist.pdf.  176  spaces, farm plots, gardens, and pavilions. State funds were also dedicated to an annual Nianhua Festival that would include a changing line-up of cultural performances based on themes drawn from historic nianhua. In taking up the discourses around ICH, state agencies moved beyond merely collecting and exhibiting historic nianhua to the building of historic nianhua sites and the staging of historic activities at those sites. Instead of marketing the nianhua object, the revival moved towards marketing the intangible nianhua experience. In response to these developments, local nianhua workshops, artists, entrepreneurs, and visitors have also played an important role in either validating or rejecting the state’s carefully orchestrated presentations of nianhua heritage. Many workshops and independent artists have asserted their own claims to nianhua heritage, playing off and countering the state-led projects in creative and often unexpected ways. The critical scholarship in heritage studies mirrors this shift in that scholars have moved away from theorizing heritage as a set of tangible assets (such as objects, sites, and monuments) and towards critiquing it as a “cultural process” and socially constructed concept driven by a variety of competing discourses and practices. In the opening line of Uses of Heritage, leading heritage studies scholar Laurajane Smith states provocatively, “There is, really no such thing as heritage.” Smith uses this statement to expose and to argue against the naturalizing effects of heritage, which is identified with “ ‘old,’ grand, monumental and aesthetically pleasing sites, buildings, places, and artifacts.” Instead, Smith draws attention to the role of heritage as an abstract form of “hegemonic discourse” that validates certain practices and performances while obscuring and undermining others.281 Instead of taking for granted the material reality of heritage, Smith argues that the tangible assets of heritage are only known by the cultural values assigned 281  Laurajane Smith, The Uses of Heritage (London: Routledge, 2006), 11.  177  to them in the first place. Thus in an effort to critique and deconstruct the focus on materiality in hegemonic heritage discourses, Smith sets forth an alternate conception of heritage that is established through cultural processes such as “memory, performance, identity, intangibility, dissonance, and place.”282 Smith’s approach reflects a larger debate concerning the “dematerialization of culture,” especially in museums and heritage sites that are moving towards more interactive and performative strategies of portraying the past and its tangible remains.283 Performance and heritage studies scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has argued for a view of heritage that is not about the tangible objects or sites of objects: “I wish to underscore that heritage is not lost and found, stolen and reclaimed. It is a mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past.”284 Like Smith, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett stresses the ways in which heritage discourses assign new meanings: “The heritage industry is a new mode of cultural production and it produces something new.”285 However, this shift towards interpreting heritage as a cultural process often relegates objects and sites to a passive role, where meaning is simply projected or imposed by human activities, where “tangible heritage, without intangible heritage, is a mere husk or inert matter. As for intangible heritage, it is not only embodied but also inseparable from the material and social worlds of persons.”286 In an effort to move away  282  Ibid., i. Anthony Jackson and Jenny Kidd, introduction to Performing Heritage: Research, Practice and Innovation in Museum Theatre and Live Interpretation, ed. Anthony Jackson and Jenny Kidd (Manchester University Press, 2011), 1-7. 284 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 150. 285 Ibid., 150. 286 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Intangible Heritage as Metacultural Production,” Museum International 56, no. 1-2 (2004), 221-222. 283  178  from attributing intrinsic value to the objects of heritage, the move towards dematerialization swings to the other extreme of treating tangible objects as raw and “inert matter” at the mercy of heritage discourses. Reflecting the life/matter binary that informs much of Western scholarship, the debate around tangible versus intangible heritage must be approached with caution, especially with regard to how objects are either materialized or dematerialized in scholarly discourses aimed at redefining heritage. Although the critical scholarship is useful in exposing heritage as cultural processes, I will argue that the contested objects taken up in heritage discourses need to be examined within the specific cultural discourses and situated practices that shape their meaning. Thus in critiquing the state-led nianhua revival in Mianzhu, I will argue for the need to keep in mind the evolving relationships between nianhua and the embodied practices that continually shape their meaning. The danger in dematerializing the notion of heritage is that it risks losing sight of the dialectical interactions between objects and practices that undergird and legitimize both the state’s institutional claim to heritage as well as the counter claims that arise in response. In the following sections, I will focus on the central role of historic nianhua in supporting a wide range of competing claims to nianhua heritage. I am primarily interested in how these claims are invested with power and legitimacy through specific modes of engagement with historic nianhua, especially the reproduction and recirculation of these works in the marketplace. I will focus on the critical role of historic nianhua in supporting large state funded projects such as the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum, the Nianhua Village, and the Nianhua Festival. I will also address the range of critical responses and counter-activities that developed as a result of these heritage-building  179  projects, including the different claims to heritage advanced by local printshops, entrepreneurs, and independent folk artists who are also keen on appropriating the power of historic nianhua.  Mianzhu Nianhua Museum: Putting the Past in its Place In 1978, just as state policies relaxed around traditional forms of cultural production, the notion of heritage protection was redeployed to legitimize the state’s control over cultural resources at the local level. The vigorous energy dedicated towards heritage preservation and management reflects a certain anxiety over the state’s changing stance towards traditional arts and culture. In Mianzhu, officials dealt with this uncertainty by reinstating the more familiar and tested methods of the 1950s and 1960s, including the collection of nianhua from local households, conducting interviews, and setting up production teams to produce state sanctioned nianhua.287 As in the reform era, the bureau once again exerted state jurisdiction over all historic nianhua as state artifacts and renewed the 1960 provincial mandate to “rescue of folk art heritage” . While the earlier print reforms sought to rescue heritage in order to weed out “feudal superstition”  and to produce politically sanctioned nianhua, the 1980s  revival movement sought to recuperate previously banned works in order to launch a folk art export industry. In this section, I will examine how this process of recuperation culminates in the extensive displays of historic nianhua at the Mianzhu Nianhua Museum, a state-run institution that opened in 1996 to “preserve, protect, and promote” 287  Shi Weian , "Sichuan sheng wenhua guanzhang peixunban jianggao" [Lecture for the Sichuan Cultural Affairs Bureau directors' training]," in Mianzhu nianhua zhiyin - Shi Weian yu minjian yishu Mianzhu Nianhua: Shi Wei An's Collected Writings on Folk Art , ed. Hou Rong (Chengdu: Sichuan meishu chubanshe, 1984).  180  Mianzhu’s nianhua heritage. I will draw attention to the problematic provenance of the museum collection as well as the tensions and incongruities that emerge between the actual works and the museum’s strategies of heritage display. The provenance of the museum’s prized collection historic nianhua is shrouded in mystery. Works were first collected in 1960 when state nianhua researchers Shi Weian and Fu Wenshu were charged with the duty of rescuing Mianzhu’s nianhua heritage. With the assistance of elder printmakers and local informants, they collected some 200 historic nianhua roughly dated to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These were taken from local households, abandoned storage rooms of former printshops, and even a salvage yard that was preparing to burn a large pile of prints as garbage. The specific details of these collection activities are lacking, as the mission was only recorded in summary form by the leading researcher Shi Weian. According to Shi, the team collected “about 100 door deity works that included over twenty pairs of hand painted door deity designs dating to the Ming and Qing period, 118 carved wooden blocks and rubbing blocks, and other miscellaneous painted works.”288 According to firsthand accounts, the bulk of the works were transferred from Mianzhu’s Cultural Affairs Bureau, where they had only survived the Cultural Revolution due to the clandestine efforts of the bureau chiefs. In April of 1966, two of the bureau directors, Huang Zonghou  and Hou Shiwu  made a secret pact to  build a fake wall in the main office to hide the most treasured works. Two years later, the works were discovered by a group of maintenance workers, who began burning the old  288  According to Shi, they found the works just in time as they were being carted to a salvage yard to be sold as paper waste for recycling. The works were stored as overstocked items from an old paper shop that was being cleaned out by the descendants of the owner. Shi Weian , “Mianzhu menshen yishi” [Mianzhu door deity anecdotes], Deyang Daily , March 2, 1996.  181  printing blocks as firewood to keep warm. By the time Hou arrived to stop the workers, thirty blocks had been destroyed. The remaining eighty-eight carved blocks, prints, and paintings survived to form the most complete and high quality set of historic nianhua from Mianzhu. 289 Despite the rather haphazard survival of these works, they were immediately displayed in nianhua exhibitions that framed them as a representative collection of traditional Mianzhu nianhua. During the 1980s, a series of touring exhibitions were organized, showcasing these works as “traditional nianhua” displayed