Liu Hai Plays Tricks on the Golden Toad 劉海戲金蟾 - ROM2018_16877_3


Liu Hai Plays Tricks on the Golden Toad 劉海戲金蟾

Maker: Wangrongxing
Medium:Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Taohuawu, Jiangsu, China
Period: Nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Ht 36.4 x Wt 19.6 cm
Object number: 969.168.43
On view
Gallery Location:Painting Room

This piece is the left one of a pair of door pictures (right one: 969.168.44). It depicts the theme of “Liu Hai plays tricks on the golden toad.” On each print of this pair, a colourfully dressed boy lifts up one foot as if they are dancing with each other. On this left print, the boy teases a three-legged toad with the tassel of a coin string. He lifts up one foot as his other foot steps on the toad. Fowers, a Buddha’s hand citron (foshou 佛手), a lozenge (fangsheng 方勝), and a mugwort are depicted. On the top right side of the print, there is an auspicious cloud with the character “sun” (ri ).

The theme of “Liu Hai plays tricks on the golden toad” originated from a Daoist tale. Liu Hai was a historical figure named Liu Cao 劉操 who lived in the Five dynasties. He was a primer minister of the State pf Yan. He became enlightened with the help of a Daoist adept. He chose to be a Daoist priest to continue his cultivation and adopted the new title Haichanzi 海蟾子. A Chinese saying states, “Liu Hai plays tricks on the golden toad, and it sprinkles gold coins at every step.” Therefore, Liu Hai is regarded as a god of wealth.1 In the prints, the two boys share some similarities in appearance and gesture. The boy teasing the toad on the right is positively Liu Hai. The boy treading on the hehe (the treasure box and lotus) on the left is probably one of the two Immortals of Harmony and Unity (Hehe erxian 和合二仙).2 However, people more often treat the pair of prints as “Liu Hai plays tricks on the golden toad.”3 Such pairs of door pictures were mainly pasted on inner doors, indicating peoples’ wish for a wealthy and enjoyable life.

This pair of prints is from Taohuawu, Suzhou, Jiangsu. They are woodblock prints of ink and colour on paper, but with no hand painting. Taohuawu, together with Yangliuqing, are recognized as the most influential regions of New Year print production in China. A well-known saying states, “South Tao North Liu” (nantao beiliu 南桃北柳). Here “North Liu” refers to Yangliuqing in Tianjin, and “South Tao” refers to Taohuawu in Suzhou. Compared with the door pictures of Yangliuqing, the boys in this pair are simpler and cuter. The prints appear less sophisticated but are no less artistic. The shop name Wangrongxing is printed on both pictures. Wangrongxing was the most famous New Year print shop in the Taohuawu region during the Late Qing period.

1 Ma Shutian, Huaxia Zhushen, 204-7.

2 Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, 39-40.

3 The same edition of the prints is reproduced in Bo Songnian and Zhao Wencheng Zhongguo guban nianhua zhenben: Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai juan, 80-1.

Publication:  Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints, (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 72-73.

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