"Improved Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs for Match Making" 改良十二相 - ROM2018_16491_20


"Improved Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs for Match Making" 改良十二相

Maker: Yichengyong
Medium:Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Yangliuqing, Tianjin, China
Period: Nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Ht 60.5 x Wt 107.2 cm
Object number: 974X411.2
Not on view

This picture depicts six men and six women, each riding on an animal from the Chinese zodiac. Each person holds a flag with the name of the zodiac animal that he or she symbolizes: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig. Under the main heading, a “Match-making song” is written on the right side, and a “yin and yang chart for marriage and family,” resembling the figure of the Eight Diagrams, is carved on the left side. The chart is a tool for choosing an auspicious date for a wedding ceremony. The instructions for how to use the chart are written on both sides of the diagram: “in big lunar months, count the date clockwise from the birthday of the groom”; “in small lunar months, count the date counter-clockwise from the birthday of the bride.” Using the methods presented in the graph and text, people could find out whether the zodiac signs of the groom and bride matched, and they could also calculate an auspicious date for the wedding. In ancient China, the knowledge of zodiac signs and match-making rules were essential because people believed they could determine the fate of a marriage. This New Year picture is a manifestation of such beliefs. The picture not only represents the practical knowledge of the old times, but also expresses people’s good wishes for happiness in marriage.

The space around the men and women is embellished with many treasures, such as silver ingots, corals, banana leaves, pearls, treasure coins, shoe-shaped ingots, and so on. At the lower left corner, the name of the print workshop, Tianjin Yichengyong, is shown.

The word “improved” in the title indicates that the production time of this print was later than Qing dynasty. Indeed, the five-coloured flags 1 hanging on both sides of the picture, the outfits worn by them, and their flags all indicate that this print was produced in the Republican era (early twentieth century).

1 The five-coloured flag, also called the “flag of five races under one union,” is the national flag used by the Beiyang government since 1912 when the Republic of China (1912–1949) was established.

Publication: Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 92-93.

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