The Big Spring Ox
Throughout China’s history, agriculture has been the primary industry, and the arrival of early spring marks the busy farming season. The Chinese nation’s agricultural culture has a long and rich history, nurturing the deepest foundation of Chinese civilization. This painting is a rendition of the Spring Oxen picture from the Qing Dynasty, treasured by the Shandong Museum. The style of the painting is simple and fresh, with realistic images and a strong sense of life, representing a true reflection of the folk culture of Northern farming. “The Big Spring Ox ” is a typical representative work from Yangjiabu, the home of Shandong Weifang New Year Pictures, printed using a wooden block. The picture has rich colors and a festive atmosphere, depicting the scene of busy farming on the day of Lichun in ancient times. It contains deep cultural and spiritual connotations, such as welcoming the spring, preparing for farming and production, and praying for blessings.
“The Big Spring Ox” is divided into upper and lower parts. The top of the picture has a catchy rhyme that reads, “A pair of horses and a big spring ox, you don’t have to worry about next year’s days,” expressing the simple hope for a prosperous and happy life aspect. At the bottom of the picture, the “one horse, two horses” symbolizes prosperous livestock and a good harvest for the year. At the same time, the “four hoes and three bings” (the three farmers sharing a “bing” cake, a homophonic pun) represent the desire for more labor. On the right side of the picture, farmers are driving the Spring Ox, symbolizing the beginning of spring plowing. In the “Spring Ox Painting,” children are depicted behind the ox, indicating that spring arrived a little later that year. If the child is drawn before the ox, spring comes earlier that year. The young laborer on the left side of the picture, carrying a hoe, is being fought over by two families, symbolizing the life security of the working class.
As a folk phenomenon and cultural image, the culture of the Spring Ox has internalized the conscious awareness of the laboring people over thousands of years. It is permeated with reverence and worship for nature and a deep desire and creativity to create a prosperous and beautiful life with one’s own hands.
by Guiqiang Chang