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Dongba Painting (Naxi Nationality)

Dongba Painting (Naxi Nationality)

Dongba painting, which is popular throughout the Gucheng District of Lijiang City in Yunnan Province and Yulong, in the Naxi Autonomous Region, is of vital importance in the Dongba culture of Naxi. Much of it depicts folk gods and ghosts, legendary ancestors and animals that symbolize a harmonious relationship between people and nature.  The main forms are scripture painting, wooden plate painting, card painting and scroll painting.

Dongba scripture paintings, using both pictures and hieroglyphs, can be found in cover pictures, sutra title pages and other illustrations, as well as traditional Naxi scriptures which are written in pictographs. Dongba wooden plate paintings use a simple wooden plate, mainly for sacrificial ceremonies, and these are derived from the same source as the “figure wooden plates” of the ancient southwestern Qiang people during the Han dynasty period.

Some of the painting uses rugged handmade papers, for two main purposes.  One is ceremonial, mainly depicting gods and illustrating the scriptures, either used on altars, or worn on the priest’s head; the other category is for teaching, either by creating an anthology of paintings, or to provide textbooks for students illustrating techniques and guidelines. The anthologies cover many categories of paintings, almost a system in themselves.

Dongba scroll paintings are often drawn on linen or coarse cloth with blue edging. Again, the main subject matter relates to Naxi gods and religious beliefs. Traditionally scroll paintings reference the techniques and cultural aspects of the Zang and Han Dynasties, reflecting elements of Buddhism and Taoism, especially the characteristics of Tangka art, and other influences traceable to the Zang, Yuan and Ming Dynasties. The scroll painting known as “Shenlu Tu” (translated as Sacred Road) is a masterpiece of Dongba art, tens of metres long. There are more than 360 figures and animated figures depicting the Naxi people’s eternal life consciousness and moral principles.  

Dongba painting, sometimes called a ‘living fossil’, has a history of absorbing and adapting elements from other cultures. Today there is a thriving modern school of Dongba art as well as major efforts to preserve the old traditions.