Studies on New Year Pictures in China

James Flath’s research focuses on Chinese print and popular culture, and on Chinese architectural heritage.

The Cult of Happiness: Nianhua, Art, and History in Rural North China

封面James A. Flath, 2004, The Cult of Happiness: Nianhua, Art, and History in Rural North China, UBC Press. 288 p. Sample chapter.

History and art come together in this definitive discussion of the Chinese woodblock print form of nianhua, literally “New Year pictures.” By analyzing the role of nianhua first in the home and later in commercial and political theatres, James Flath relates these artworks to the social, cultural, and political milieu of North China as it was between the late Qing dynasty and the early 1950s. Among the first studies in any field to treat folk art and folk print as historical text, The Cult of Happiness offers original insight into popular conceptions of domesticity, morality, gender, society, modernity, and the transformation of the genre as a propaganda tool under communism. An extraordinary account of the cultural life of rural North China over the period. Read on line

  • Reviewed by Craig Clunas,  China Review International, Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2005, pp.97-99 (Article) DOI: 10.1353/cri.2005.0123. Avalaible on Project MUSE
  • Reviewed by Ralph C. Croizier, University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 75, Number 1, Winter 2006, pp. 345-347 (Article) DOI: 10.1353/utq.2006.0042 . Avalaible on Project MUSE

The Nianhua Gallery

This site is dedicated to the visual culture of pre-modern rural China, and through that visual culture it is hoped that readers will gain a stronger appreciation for how people lived and celebrated in the domestic Chinese setting. Most of the prints found on this site are reprints – meaning that they were printed in modern times from wooden printing blocks that were in use during the early part of the 20th century. The prints, therefore, date from the 1980s and 90s, but they do accurately reflect much older designs and themes. The prints originate with the traditional nianhua printing centres of Yangjiabu in Shandong province, Zhuxianzhen in Henan, Fengxiang in Shaanxi and Mianzhu in Sichuan. Although these centres had wide influence, one should not assume that the visual culture of one region applies to another region as well. In fact, one of the goals of this site is to explore how visual culture was, or was not shared between one part of the country and another. In general, however, the reader may also find that once regional differences have been accounted for, China did enjoy a remarkably unity in visual culture despite the extremes of geography and regionalism.

See also

  • James Flath, ‘Social Themes in Yangliuqing Nianhua of the 1930s’ Arts Asiatique 66, 2012
  • New Year Prints (and chubby babies) on

Cite this blog post
Jacqueline Nivard (2014, February 2). Studies on New Year Pictures in China. URBACHINA. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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