Most people know that China traditionally uses a lunar calendar, which is why Chinese New Year usually lands in February. For years, I had seen various printed versions of traditional Chinese calendars. Usually printed on thin rice paper, each month features a brightly-colored, auspicious figure, and always graced with many examples of that year's token animal - this year is the Year of the Rooster.
To be honest, I never looked closely at the printed figures, since the traditional-peasant style didn't appeal to me. I also had never given any thought as to whether the calendars were printed by machine, or by hand.
As it turns out, I should have been more attentive! Since fresh calendars are brought out just once a year as part of the many festivities, great care is taken in their selection. And because they are so important symbolically, most calendars are printed by hand, featuring brand-new images. When you put that all together, you end up with a true work of art.
We felt lucky to have the chance to visit one of the most famous Chinese calendar factories in the country, and watch how they are made. We visited in April, and even though the next New Year was 10 months away, this team was working at full speed to build up their inventory of hand-printed calendars. Their brand is so popular that they sell out every year!
Before explaining the process, here are some of the images used in the final products so you can see what a "typical" calendar image looks like. These three use very traditional good-luck imaegery. Children are often featured, for obvious reasons. The baby in the middle is riding a fish, the word for which is a homynym for "fortune." He's holding a lotus root in one hand and a lotus flower in the other, both symbols of long life. The two kids on the end are also carrying a lotus blossom.
Creating these naive images requires a complex, manual process. Each color is printed, by hand, from a wood block that is also designed and carved by hand.
the printing process looks very simple, but is anything but. The printer is the workshop's most experienced employee. He has worked here for 50 years.