Beijing Paper Gods 北京紙馬 "The Appropriate Response God of Medicine" 感應藥王 - ROM2018_16232_26


Beijing Paper Gods 北京紙馬
"The Appropriate Response God of Medicine" 感應藥王

Medium:Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper
Geography: Beijing, China
Period: Nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Ht 28.8 x Wt 28.5 cm
Object number: 969.168.63
Not on view

Paper gods were created for worshipping the heaven and gods in various rituals. The Chinese term for paper gods varied from region to region and from time to time. For example, they could be called paper horse (zhima 紙馬), god horse (shenma 神馬), holy sacrifice (shenma 神禡), armoured horse (jiama 甲馬), and more. The production of paper gods was scattered all over the country. Beijing paper gods1 refer to the paper gods popular in the Beijing area. In general, Beijing paper gods were relatively large. Although they seem to be simply designed and roughly coloured, the woodblocks for printing paper gods were exquisitely carved, and the printed lines are rather strong and vivid. They emphasize the facial details and features of the main god. The style is often solemn and sublime.

On the north side of the Dongsi Archway, there is an alley named Wang Sesame Lane (Wang zhima hutong 汪芝麻胡同). According to an anecdote, it was formerly called Wang Paper God Lane (Wang zhima hutong 汪紙馬胡同). The old street name is proof of the existence of the Wang family workshop of paper god prints, which was located there in the past. There are many records related to paper gods in Beijing during the Qing dynasty. These records reveal that Beijing paper gods were also called “a hundred pictures (baifen 百份), indicating that the paper gods consisted of a hundred different deities, more or less. In addition to the Buddhist and Taoist deities, most of them were founders of various professions and folk gods created by commoners. Paper gods played an indispensable role in secular lives for important events such as the New Year celebration, wedding ceremonies, praying for children, and celebrating birthdays and longevity. Especially on New Year’s Eve, people placed baifen on the table of Heaven and Earth, burned incense, and bowed to pray. At midnight, people welcomed the gods and burned the images to communicate with the gods.

There are a total of 78 pieces of Beijing paper gods in the ROM’s collection. This set includes different types of gods, such as Daoist gods, auspicious gods, house gods, wedding gods, nature gods, and deified sages and masters. In general, the set of paper gods in the ROM’s collection is well printed and preserved. They can be regarded as representative of Beijing paper gods.

1 For more and further information about Beijing paper gods, see Yanwen Jiang’s essay, “Beijing Paper Gods: Image, Edition, and Skill.”

Publication: Wen-Chien Cheng, and Yanwen Jiang. Gods in my home: Chinese ancestor portraits and popular prints (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2019), 174-187.

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