Enjoy Music/Happiness Together 同樂會 - ROM2018_16231_29


Enjoy Music/Happiness Together 同樂會

Medium:Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Yangliuqing, Tianjin, China
Date: 1912-1949
Period: Republic of China
Ht 53 x Wt 29.6 cm
Object number: 969.168.33
On view
Gallery Location:The Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume

The representation of boys, like this right one of a pair (left one:969.168.32), was a popular theme in door pictures. Around the boys, on their heads, and in their hands, are various Chinese traditional musical instruments, vintage toys, and auspicious decorations.

A variety of musical instruments are depicted here, including sanxian 三弦 (three-string), sheng  (vertical-pipes), erhu 二胡 (Chinese violin), suona 嗩吶 (Chinese suona, a type of horn), guqin 古琴 (Chinese zither), and xiaohao 小號 (small trumpet). They are used to represent the boys' energy and cuteness, as well as the joyful and celebratory atmosphere. Some scholars argue that this type of door picture can also be titled lebugou 樂不夠. The character le 樂 has two pronunciations, le and yue, each with a different meaning: le means hapiness, and yue means music. Lebugou therefore can either mean "never enough music" or "never enough hapiness," suggesting ceaseless music and endless hapiness. Tonglehui 同樂會 is written on the flag in the right print, referring to a "grand event enjoyed by all." Works that include these images may be related to shibuxian 十不閒 (ten percussion instruments) in New Year pictures.1

The auspicious objects accompanying the boys are mostly toys, which are easily identifiable with straightforward, symbolic meanings. For example, the peony symbolizes wealth and honour, while a crowing rooster and peony together are homophones for "may you receive official ranks and honour" (gongming fugui 功名富貴). Three halberds (ji 戟) inside a vase with a stone chime (qing 磬) form a pun for "auspicious, happy, rising, and peaceful" (jiqing shengping 吉慶陞平). Five bats hovering above a vase of flowers refer to "the five blessings arising peacefully" (pingsheng wufu 平陞五福). Interestingly, the pattern of the "flag of eighteen stars" under the pom pom of the boys' headdress and the steam toy train at the bottom of the left print are unique to the Republic of China era (1912-1949). These details provide information about the production date of the pictures.

This pair of door pictures in the ROM collection shares the same composition as the versions collected by the Berlin Museum of Asian Art in Germany 2 and Wang Shucun 王樹村 3 respectively, with minor differences in details.

1 Shibuxian is an assemblage of percussion instruments and a particular way of performance. It was popular among the Manchus in the early Qing dynasty. The lyrics in the performance consist of auspicious sayings in the folk culture. Wang shucun has collected one Yangliuqing New Year print on this theme. He explains that it is "a happy scene during the festival, where children play and sing shibuxian indoors." See Wang Shucun, yangliuqing nianhua ziliao ji, fig. 7.

2 See Laing, Divine Rule and Earthly Bliss, 169-71.

3 See Jiang Yanwen, Zhongguo guban nianhua zhenben: Tianjin juan, 69.

Publication:  Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 70-71.

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