Local Guide,  Visual Arts

Sinh Village Painting – Insights into Vietnamese People’s Spiritual Lives

Hue – a romantic and peaceful city located on the banks of the Huong River is one of the most famous World Cultural Heritage Sites. When it comes to this city, people all think of Royal palaces or sacred temples and royal tombs, or maybe Hue Royal Court Music. Moreover, not many people know that this land is also famous for Sinh Village painting – one of the most interesting lines of Vietnamese folk art.

Introduction to Sinh Village Painting

Most of my friends who are interested in Vietnamese art have all become familiar with Dong Ho painting or Hang Trong painting. But, not many of them know about Sinh Village paintings. It’s might be because this kind of painting is only popular in the central of Vietnam or other stunning relics of that area draw all the attention of tourists. Even though they don’t huge popularity, Sinh Village painting still plays an important role in precious Vietnamese art culture and in the history of Hue, Vietnam, in particular.

Sinh Village painting was created at Lai An village, Phu Vang district, Thua Thien Hue province. Like others lines of traditional folk painting, this line is also made from woodblocks, paper and natural colors. However, these paintings are mostly dedicated to spiritual activities. In other words, Sinh Village paintings are not only important for Vietnamese folk art, but also for Vietnamese beliefs and religion.


Sinh Village Paintings (Source: Google)

Why Sing Village painting is one of the most common way for people to practice their belief? This is because the main purpose of these paintings are for worshiping. They tent to hung at the altar and burnt when a year ends. There are various collections of Sinh Village painting. The content of these collections depend on the artist and the local customs. According to some experts, Sinh Village painting has existed for 400 years. Throughout the history of Hue, Vietnam there has been thousands of collections created. Although the images on those paintings convey a deep religious concept, they also represent for the reality and the difficult life of farmers.  

To understand more about the spiritual value of Sinh Village paintings, you should have a look at some common topics of these paintings below

Common themes for paintings

Different from Dong Ho and Hang Trong paintings, Sinh Village paintings rarely demonstrate daily-life activities of people. Therefore, we have four popular topics used in these paintings for worshiping purpose.

  • Painting collections to worship ancestors: In the paintings of this collection, various characters or animals are demonstrated. The characters can be historical generals, gods, imaginary characters who have mysterious powers. The most common animals for this collection are white tiger and horse. People believe that these characters and animals can bring luck and peace to their life.
  • Painting collection for protecting women: As you can see, this collection is only dedicated to women. In the past, people believed that after marriage, women had to deal with various difficulties which were caused by spiritual forces. Therefore, people created this collection depicting Ba Bon – a protector of women because they hope that women will have a better life and they can overcome difficulties easily.


Ba Bon painting (Source: Google)

  • Set of paintings works as substitute for someone’s life: This set of paintings has an interesting function for Hue people. It appeared very soon in the history of Hue and it’s still popular now. Normally, people use these paintings in some special spiritual ceremonies in which people pray for luck, for peaceful life. When the ceremonies finish, they will burn those paintings and believe that all bad things are burnt, too. Therefore, their life will get better and all bad things are gone. This is a very unique custom of Vietnamese in the central.
  • Set of painting for curing sickness: People believe that the paintings of this set help to cure sickness in human and animals. They will use specific paintings in some special religious ceremonies. After that, they also burn those paintings for hoping that the illness is taken away. This idea is kind of the same as the purpose of the former set. The origin of these paintings comes from the tradition of expelling evil spirits in Asian culture.

Through these four main sets of Sinh Village paintings, you can see clearly the reasons why these paintings have a huge religious value among Hue people and Vietnamese in general. This belief lies deep inside every people in the central of Vietnam. Therefore, not only the elderly, but also young generation still believes in the spiritual function of these paintings.

Colors used in Sinh Village Paintings

The most important part of Sinh Village paintings is the theme. After the theme is identified, and the shape of characters or objects is formed, the craftsmen choose the suitable color scheme. Different from Hang Trong paintings which obey strictly the system of five-element colors, Sinh Village paintings are not too strict in color regulations. Up to now, these paintings from Sinh village have changed a lot in the combination of colors. Most of the paintings are no longer follow the combination of yin-yang, which is applied very successfully in other lines of Vietnamese folk paintings.

When creating a painting, the artist mostly focus on the figure which is enough to express the characteristics, content, spiritual elements of worshiping paintings. Therefore, colors are filled in after the print is done. And, the artist will color by hand. The way of painting is so simple and natural that even children can participate in this step.


Colors of Sinh Village paintings (Source: Google)

In addition, in some common topics such as characters, objects, plants, animals, etc. the artists can change the colors according to their inspiration, which don’t depend on common spiritual conventions. For instance, in the set of 12 zodiac signs paintings, animals are painted with simple colors. All are colored with a specific color of the same shade and tone. This might be because after the ceremonies, these paintings are all burnt. Therefore, the thing that people care about is the topic which helps to make sure the spiritual information. And, the sense of art is just the second thing. This is also an unwritten principle for the line of worshiping paintings in general. However, it also cause some limits in colors of Sing Village paintings in comparison to others.

According to some books about the history of Hue culture, the bright colors of paintings were extracted from vegetable. It was said that people who exploited materials for colors usually found some specific plants in the area to make colors. There are some plants require lots of efforts and techniques to extract the colors. For some plants, only leaves are used to extract colors because the leaves have dark color pigment.

Nowadays, people in Sinh village mostly use industrial colors which are quite dazzling and bright. It also makes the paintings are different from those in the past. The process making authentic colors for Sinh Village paintings is not too difficult. However, it’s only for research purpose and can’t be applied massively because of the high price.

How to create a Sinh Village painting

Sinh Village paintings have various sizes which depend on the size of the paper. When printing the large paintings, the craftsmen will put the woodblocks on the back. Then, they use a piece of dried coconut shell paint the printed board with black. After that, the paper is covered on top, then, the craftsmen will use a piece of loofah to rub the whole paper so that the color will be printed on the paper. For the smaller paintings, the paper is put down, then the woodblocks will be pressed down. All the black prints must be waited for drying before being colored.

The process of coloring paintings requires lots of time although there are not many details in a painting. There are five main colors in a Sing Village painting. These five colors correspond with five steps. This is because after painting one color, people have to for it to dry before applying another color. The two following steps are paper cutting and printing. So, to complete a painting, an artist has to follow 7 steps.

Along with the time and changes of society, many authentic characteristics of Sinh Village paintings are gradually being mixed and deformed. A lot of paintings and woodblocks are ruined or lost. And, it’s difficult for us to find the authentic paintings outside the museums. However, the combination of various cultures coming from different regions has created a new look for Sinh Village paintings as well as for the culture of Hue.


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