Dong Ho painting village in Bac Ninh, North Vietnam

Dong Ho Painting Village (Song Ho Commune, Thuan Thanh District, Bac Ninh Province) is located on the fond bank of Duong River, has been famous for folk pictures containing traditional cultural color for a long time.

Dong Ho pictures are made from a special type of paper named diep paper (diep paper is a kind of paper made of the bark of do tree and powders of seashells and glutinous rice). Due to the elements of seashell and glutinous rice, diep paper possesses an exotic sparkling hard background and is able to conserve the durability of colors. The colors of paint using in printing are refined from various kinds of natural materials that are easily found in Vietnam. For example, the red color is taken from red gravel in Thien Thai Mountain, while the black comes from charcoal of burned bamboo leaves. The other interesting point of Dong Ho pictures is that they are not drawn or embroidered, but printed with woodcuts.

The traditional themes of Dong Ho painting are good luck signs, historical figures, folk allegories, popular stories, and social commentaries. Elements of everyday life are well integrated into Đông Hồ paintings to express the thoughts and wishes of people. Dong Ho pictures are both funny, graceful and have deep meaning.     Following is the title of exemplary pictures: 12 signs of Chinese zodiac, corpulent pig with suckling piglets, hen surrounded by chickens, carp, Trieu Lady, Trung Lady, King Quang Trung, God Giong, Kieu story, Confucian scholar in form of a toad, Rat’s wedding, scene of jealousy, scene of wrestling, boy sitting on a buffalo and playing flute.

According to ancient books Dong Ho Painting Village has been present since the 16th century and developed over many centuries with 17 familíes living on picture making occupation. Villagers have handed down some poem sentences:

In Vietnamese:

“Hởi anh đi đường cái quan,

Dừng chân ngắm cảnh mà tan nỗi sầu.

Mua tờ tranh điệp tươi màu,

Mua đàn gà lợn thi nhau đẻ nhiều.”

In English:

“You are on the long road,

Stop to watch the sight to disappear sadness,

To buy the picture bright color,

To buy hen and pig flocks competing together bearing a lot.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, the occupation of making pictures was very bad because the economic situation in North Vietnam was so difficult and the consuming need was not as much as before. In 1967, Dong Ho Painting Village in Bac Ninh Province restored through gathering the artists and forming picture producing cooperative. Therefore, well-known Dong Ho pictures revived, many products were present in Japan, France, Germany, Singapore, and America. In 1990, Dong Ho painting cooperative dissolved, many families turned to grave goods-producing the job, only some households decide to conserve the traditional trade.

In March 2013, Dong Ho folk painting making occupation were recognized national Intangible cultural heritage and put into the list needing to be protected urgently. In spite of not flourishing as before, the value of Dong Ho painting remains an attraction especially.

Visiting Dong Ho Painting Village nowadays, you can see the 2 workshops of Nguyen Dang Che and Nguyen Huu Sam and their children, grandchildren. These are 2 the most veteran families of the painting village, they still keep the traditional job and hundreds of value woodcuts. This is an attractive cultural address of Bac Ninh tourist. Besides seeing pictures, it is interesting for you to print paintings yourselves.

Dong Ho Painting Village is one of the longest and the most famous traditional trade villages in North Vietnam. If you have a chance to travel to Bac Ninh Province, do not forget to visit this unique trade village. By the way, you can visit some the most famous trade villages in the province such as Phu Lang pottery village (belongs to Que Vo district), Phu Khe wood-carving village (Tu Son), Dai Bai bronze casting village (Gia Binh district).

Coming to Bac Ninh province, not only tourists see the manufacturing process, but they also learn how to make handicraft products by themselves. They may find the agricultural life of the local people interesting and this village a stunning place for relaxing and discovering. To exploit the strong point of cultural values and typical products of trade village, many tourism companies have released new tours containing famous historical heritages and trade villages visiting activities.

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