Reaching As Far As She Can
Ye Shan April 21, 2017Comments(0) Post Your Comment E-mail Print Save

Caroline Lin, an illustrator who lives and works in Beijing, is known by many netizens for her beautiful paintings, which she has posted on her microblog. During the past three years, Lin has created several series of paintings, all of which have depicted items related to traditional Chinese culture, such as Chinese deities, the 24 solar terms, meteorological equipment used in ancient China, and images and patterns with auspicious meanings. Lin says she wants to be a "messenger" who uses her drawings and paintings to record beautiful things related to traditional Chinese culture, and who uses her works to tell the stories about those things, especially to people who are interested in traditional Chinese culture.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a decision, on November 30, 2016, that China's 24 solar terms be inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Each term describes a day, which marks one of the 24 divisions of the solar year, according to the traditional Chinese calendar.) 

News of the UN's decision reminded people about a series of paintings (about the 24 solar terms) that Lin posted on her microblog in 2015. Lin had spent two years completing the paintings, which outlined the meanings of the solar terms, and which explained what to eat on the day of each term. 

In April 2016, Lin and her husband, Xiang Hui, established a studio, entitled Hui Lin. Their intention was to use Lin's art, as a measure, to record and help share items that showcased the beautiful Chinese culture. "Hui once asked me, 'Why don't we do things that are likely to become popular in a short time?' I shook my head and answered, 'There are so many trendy and popular things in our world today. But I want to record the things the beauty of which people nearly forget.' I spent two years completing the series of 24 solar terms. Now, I'm determined to spend more years, maybe 20 years, to record such things," Lin says.

Beautiful, Old Traditions

Lin, a native of Handan (a city in North China's Hebei Province), graduated with a bachelor's degree in industrial design from Jiangnan University in 2006. She developed an interest in traditional Chinese foods and handmade crafts when she was young. 

China's 24 solar terms reflect ancient people's philosophy of keeping their lives in harmony with nature, says Lin. She gives a few examples: "Chunfen (spring equinox) marks the day when the weather becomes warm. Qiufen (autumn equinox) means the weather gets cold. Jingzhe (the waking of insects) means thunderstorms become frequent … Chinese have the tradition of eating certain foods during each solar term. People cook preserved meats on the day of Daxue (the great snow) so they can eat the meat during the Spring Festival." 

Inspired by the relationships between the solar terms and foods, Lin began creating the paintings of the 24 solar terms. She hoped to tell people what to eat during each term, and she hoped to share the tradition involved with each term.

Lin conducted considerable research to make sure the information contained in her paintings was correct. "Before I painted babao yuanxiao (glutinous rice ball with fillings made from eight ingredients), I met Wang Xifu, a 90-year-old successor of the chefs who used to cook for Chinese emperors. Wang told me the differences in the rice balls in North China and South China. The rice balls in North China are bigger than those in South China. The methods of making or rolling the rice balls are different. Babao yuanxiao, the most classic glutinous rice ball, should be placed in a certain kind of container," Lin says. 

She surfed the Internet and found some pictures of a container, which was printed with Chinese characters meaning "auspicious."

"I visited Wang again after I finished the painting. However, he told me the containers used by emperors did not have the Chinese characters. The characters were added to the containers after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The new type of containers were often given as gifts to foreign guests," Lin says. 

That episode made Lin realize there were so many interesting stories related to Chinese culture. She wanted to share the stories with others.

Warm Memories

Since April 2016, Lin and her husband have posted paintings and videos on their studio's WeChat public account. Those works have reviewed the histories of the 24 solar terms, Chinese deities and handmade crafts, and they have reviewed the many images and patterns with auspicious meanings. 

However, Lin said it was difficult getting people to quickly accept the stories related to Chinese history and traditional culture. "The things my husband and I introduce to others seem far from their everyday lives. For people of our age, we are used to eating fast foods. The majority of young people today like to have milk and bread for breakfast. But many of our parents prefer to have soybean milk, sold by street vendors, for breakfast. Some of us also had the experiences of having soybean milk for breakfast when we were kids. In that sense, the taste of soybean milk reminds us of the memories in our childhood. The purpose of Hui Lin is to remind people of those warm things in our memories," Lin says. 

She recently began painting the images of Chinese asterisms, which she believed would be an appealing topic for young people. Under traditional Chinese astronomy, the celestial sphere is divided into asterisms (or constellations). The Chinese asterisms are generally smaller than the constellations of the Hellenistic tradition. In October 2016, Lin visited Yuhuang Temple, in Jincheng (a city in North China's Shanxi Province), where she saw the colored sculptures of 28 figures, which represented China's 28 mansions (the 28 mansions, divided into four groups, which are Chinese asterisms). Those sculptures were made during Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. 

"Most young people are familiar with the 12 constellations of the Hellenistic tradition. They like to discuss constellations when they chat. But they seldom talk about China's 28 mansions, which are also related to character traits and people's relationships," Lin says. She hopes the newly composed series will arouse people's interest in the history and culture related to Chinese asterisms.

When Lin was in university, she drew a lot of industrial designs, which depicted clearly the structures of various products, and which showed people how to use those products. Lin adopted similar methods of drawing and painting when she created the works related to traditional Chinese culture. "I hope spectators get the information I want to tell them through my paintings. For example, when I created a series about traditional Chinese snacks, I compared — in one painting — the differences of baked wheat buns stuffed with donkey meat made in Baoding and Hejian (both cities in Hebei Province). Or in the painting of Daxue, I depicted the ingredients needed for making preserved meat."

Lin says she reaches as far as she can to help people better understand the charm of traditional Chinese culture. 


(Executive Editor: SHANE YEE, Women of China English Monthly January 2017 Issue)

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