1999 Student-Faculty Fellows: Seattle University

China: Popular Culture and Everyday Life:
A Study of the Taohuawu Woodblock Prints

Mentor: Kan Liang, History
Student: Sarah K. Fisher, ’99, Fine Arts


Sarah K. Fisher

This summer trip to China surpassed all of my expectations surrounding our topic of study. We were able to speak with several artists, historians, and professors regarding the woodblock prints, as well as witness hands-on the printing process. Especially in the city of Suzhou, the focal point of our woodblock print study, we found the influence of the ancient New Year’s pictures to be prevalent. Several artists we met with work in a modern style of woodblock printing. The cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou are still places of the arts: the cultural centers of traditional China, spotted with gardens, bridges and temples. What a thrill it was to walk down the narrow Taohuawu street in Suzhou, the very sight where four centuries ago print shops lined the avenue. In Beijing we met with Dr. Wang Shucun, an expert on the study of folk New Year prints. He graciously invited us into his home and willingly shared with us his passion for this lesser known art. It seems that there are few experts in this field throughout the world. What a privilege to speak with Professor Wang! One of the greatest experiences this summer was being present to the complexity of the Chinese culture. It seems that above all, this is the most important part of understanding content in Chinese art, whether that be contemporary or Qing dynasty. I am grateful that I had this experience.

Prof. Kan Liang

Thanks to the support of Asianetwork and Freeman Foundation, Sarah Fischer and I conducted a research on the Taohuawu Woodblock Prints this summer. Based upon the research, Sarah’s article has been submitted to Wittenberg Journal for East Asian Studies for consideration of publication. More importantly, this trip gives the student one of most important experiences of her life, enriching her college education.

For the purpose of this study we traveled to many cities in China, including Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing. We visited museums, art studios, universities, and research institutes. Meeting with Professor Wang Shucun in Beijing was certainly extremely helpful for our project. In the cozy study of his home, Wang treated us with watermelon and cakes, and discussed with us in great length. The visit with Wang not only solved many questions of ours, but also provided us with a better understanding of our project. We have purchased some sample of woodblock prints from Suzhou. We are preparing to make an exhibition in the Kinsey Gallery in Seattle University late this fall to share with the community our fascination with Chinese art and Chinese culture.

Research Findings

“Taohuawu Woodblock Printing: Changing Popular Culture in China’s Modern Dynastic Age” – As an important part of Suzhou’s heritage and history, the Taohuawu New Year’s block prints are masterpieces of China’s past and popular culture. As a window to the past, the prints illustrate indirectly the breakdown of traditional aesthetics dictated by the elite; their production reveals a flourishing economy. Directly, the prints evoke the vitality of nationalism, celebration and cultural continuance. Later Qing prints depict actual scenes from daily life, honoring similar values. As we have observe in pictures of the Taohuawu, from the late Ming dynasty to the Qing, there is a change which takes place in the content and quality of the Taohuawu woodblock prints. From colorful ‘door gods’ to representational landscapes, I believe this change represents the shift of dynastic powers, but also a growing consciousness of the West.