1939 (est.): Military Door Gods

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The book, “Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Popular Prints” came into conversation between Carolyn and Dr. Felicity Lufkin, sometime in 2002 or 2003. Dr. Lufkin mentioned that she had seen a pair of woodblock prints done by Huang Yao. This is the first time that Carolyn had ever heard of woodblock prints produced by her grandfather. Quickly she ordered the book on Amazon and when it arrived she was not disappointed.

It is not known how many of these woodblock prints were printed but it is documented that 500,000 copies of another woodblock print, “Zhongkui at War” was printed.This is the only image of the woodblock print that the Huang Yao Foundation has in its Resource Center.The doorgods were part of a collection of woodblock prints that were donated by Mr. Paul Wang to the Muban Foundation. Mr. Wang's father had collected them when he was still in China.

Military Door Gods

This image, a pair of doorgods were found in the book, 'Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Popular Prints : Selection from Muban Foundation (2002)' by Ellen Johnston Laing.

“Almost everything about this pair of door gods is unusual. Accompanied by two children, they directly face the viewer, instead of being seen from the side."

The two gods grasp rifles with fixed bayonets and have hand grenades at their sides rather than holding the traditional spears and swords. The color scheme is light rose, gray and pale blue, not the more usual bright reds, purples, yellow, greens and blues. These door gods have white faces accentuated by their large black beards, which jut off to one side, and by their black moustaches and eyebrows, all above curved pink cheeks, instead of the face makeup derived from the opera. The banners attached to the god's shoulders proclaim "Defeat Japan, revive China," and the discs held by the children state, "Those who have money should donate money, those who have strength should give strength". They wear the Nationalist parties sun emblem on their chest, the Nationalist flags and banners are in evidence. This pair of prints is a rare extant example of a traditional folk idiom used to convey a modern political message. According to the text printed in red along the lower left margin, the Nationalist government assigned these prints the registration number of 8716 and gave approval for their adaptation of the cartoon character Little Ox-nose. It also indicates that these were among the new prints published by the Popular Publishing House (Minjian Chubanshe).

This information is substantiated by data about Little Ox-nose and his inventor from other sources. Little Ox-nose was a fantastically popular cartoon character created in 1934 by the Shanghai newspaper man, Huang Yao. Little ox-nose's face was his most distinctive feature; it was constructed of one large circle for the head and a row of five smaller circles for this nose, eyes, and ears. Sometimes Huang employed Little Ox-nose for cartoons with political content. During the late 1930s, after the Japanese invaded Chinese coastal areas, Huang followed the Nationalist government when it moved inland to Chongqing.

There, according to a recent account, he designed "anti-japanese door gods," which he printed at this own press, the very same Minjian chubanshe. Despite being printed for propaganda purpose, these prints have sophisticated passages of "reverse" printing, in which the background of the design is printed in colour and the bare white paper is the actual design. Here this technique has been used for details such as floral patterning on the skirts of the gods, the Nationalist Party sun emblem on their chests, and more extensively in the banners, where the serrate borders, the Nationalist sun, and the characters on each pendant are in white. Another technique visible in these prints is overprinting a linear design in red on top of a coloured background as in the delicate spirals on the robes of both the main figures and the little boys, and the characters on the discs the children hold.”

Prof. Ellen Johnstan Laing, Art and Aesthetics in Chinese Popular Prints, Selections from the Muban Foundation

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