Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > East Asian Collections > 33. Chinese Paper Gods

33.  Chinese Paper Gods. Beijing, China, ca. 1931. Chinese paper, ink, and watercolor, (29.5 x 25.5 cm., 50.5 x 30 cm.) C. V. Starr East Asian Library

In 1931, while living in Beijing, China, Anne Swann Goodrich assembled a substantial collection of folk prints of a type now commonly referred to as "paper gods." After publishing a study about them in 1991, she donated the collection of over 200 prints to the C. V. Starr East Asian Library. The inexpensive prints were typically hung about the home or pasted on doors as protection against evil. Frequently they were burned and replaced, generally at the beginning of the new year or some other auspicious point of the calendar, as a symbolic send-off to heaven to mediate on behalf of the owner. These paper god prints are thin sheets of paper with the image of a god woodblock-printed on them. Some are mostly black and white with just a few splashes of color. An example of this can be seen here in a depiction of Sanjie Zhifu Shizhe, a messenger of the gods. He delivered charms and acted himself as a charm against evil spirits who cause disease, particularly during the fifth month. This period was considered to be malignant by the Chinese as a time when contagious diseases were likely to appear. Other prints are quite colorful, like the other example here, which is a depiction of Zhong Kui, considered one of the most effective protectors against evil spirits, expeller of demons, and protector against poisons. Although his picture is usually pasted on the door on the last day of the year, like Sanjie Zhifu Shizhe, he is particularly worshipped during the fifth month.

Gift of Anne S. Goodrich, 1991

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