A senior Chinese folklore expert has warned that the mass production of New Year couplets is undermining a unique Chinese art with a history of over 1,000 years.
Professor Wu Bing'an, Honorary Director-General of the China Folklore Society, made the warning as an avalanche of machine printed, stereotyped and charmless couplets hit urban and rural streets prior to the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year festival.
A popular vertical verse-line twin calligraphy form, originating in the ancient Zhou Dynasty and fully developed in later dynasties, the Chinese New Year couplets have long been a festive label for the Spring Festival. Originally carved or written on twin walnut boards and, since the Song Dynasty, on red paper, the Chinese couplets are something to put on doors or gates during New Year, protecting one's house against evil and ill-fortune.
Folklore professor Wu says this unique art has been an important part of the rich and profound Chinese New Year cultural heritage. He continues that, although often composed of only a dozen words, the Chinese New Year couplets were always popular among the Chinese for their opportunity to produce unique phrasing and calligraphy. The making of a custom couplet is an act of true delicacy for many.
However, the folklore expert notes that, as fewer and fewer people nowadays know how to compose a couplet, nor employ brush calligraphy, most Chinese New Near couplets now hung are the products of factories. Although luxuriously printed, such cliched so-called couplets offer only a pale residue of a fine tradition.