Image: New Year Paintings of the Ch'ing Capital Image: New Year Paintings of the Ch'ing Capital
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The "Court Year" represents the beginning of a new year in the Chinese lunar calendar, when people sweep out the old and bring in the new, putting misfortunes behind them to welcome good luck. Before New Year's Day, families paste or hang New Year couplets, images of home guardians, and auspicious characters by their front doors to avert bad luck and illness as they pray for a peaceful and prosperous New Year. On the eve of the New Year families get together for a reunion dinner, pray to the gods and make offerings to their ancestors. Old and young alike wear new clothes and greet each other with New Year's sayings. Then they stay up to midnight to see the old year out and ring in the new with firecrackers as they joyously proclaim happiness for all.

In the old days, officials would enter the imperial court on New Year's morning and pay their respects to and congratulate the emperor with "court congratulations." Among the people, friends and relatives express good wishes to each other, also known as "offering New Year joy." Back in the Ch'ing dynasty, the New Year holidays in the capital, Peking, was a time when shops along the streets would board up so that both young and old as well as men and women could all go out to greet the New Year, taking in the sights of various shows and performances. Many vendors would ply the streets selling firecrackers and such toys as Manchu peace drums, lanterns, and long glass trumpets, children playing and making the New Year even more festive. This special exhibition features twelve sets of paintings in handscroll, hanging scroll, and album leaf formats from the National Palace Museum collection. All related to the Chinese "Court Year," they include flower arrangements, many specially done for this time of year to symbolize peace and prosperity. Such works as "New Year's City in Peace," "Children Playing," and "Activities of the Twelve Months" represent images of joy in the Ch'ing imperial family that also reflect New Year's customs among the ruling Manchus. In particular, the painting entitled "Syzygy of the Sun, Moon, and the Five Planets" depicts the rare astronomical event of "the sun and moon together shining, the five planets gathered in the same quarters," which occurred on the first day of the first month of the Ch'ien-lung Emperor's 26th year (1761). Officials petitioned this auspicious omen of the heavens to the Historiography Institute, and the court artist Hsü Yang (1712-after 1777) was then ordered to do a painting for imperial approval. Although singing the praises of virtuous imperial rule, this work also serves an important archival function. It depicts the old city walls and observatory as well as the Tung-an and Tung-hua Gates at the ends of the imperial city in Peking, condensing important landmarks of the Eastern District into one long handscroll. The painting shows throngs of people and carts bustling about New Year's Day along with street shops lined one after the other, illustrating a sense of order and prosperity in the capital at the height of the Ch'ing empire under the Ch'ien-lung Emperor.




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