Saving the date

Updated 2018-12-26 09:03:00

In 2009, Wang Guanliang and her colleagues-editors at the Forbidden City Publishing House in Beijing-attended a lecture on publications from the 1930s.

Perhaps the one that impressed them the most was the Palace Museum's calendar of 1937, the last one published since the Forbidden City started making such calendars in 1932.

After getting the opportunity to borrow the calendar from the museum's library and examine it further, they proposed to resume publishing the annual calendar.

"Because time was limited-and to pay homage to older-generation experts-we decided to reproduce the 1937 edition, keeping the design and all the photos of the historical relics in it," Wang says.

"But, in addition to updating the information for the dates, we also made some changes to the cover, such as using red cloth stamped with golden characters."

As electronic devices became commonplace, calendars mainly became perfunctory gifts given to business partners or benefits for employees, especially those in State-run companies and governmental bodies.

Since 2010, the once-outdated calendar has returned to the market with creative designs that combine traditional forms with contemporary buyers' demands.

As a result, the print run of the palace's 2010 calendar was a cautious 18,000 copies. But they sold out.

In the five years following that initial foray, Wang and her colleagues started to get a little more creative with the formats. Since 2012, for instance, all the photos have been printed in full color.

More importantly, that year, they started using the zodiac animal of the year as the theme.

For example, 2013 was the Year of the Snake, but there were few relics pertaining to snakes in the Palace Museum. However, ancient literati believed snakes live comfortably in lush greenery in the hot and wet fourth lunar month that's often referred to as "the month of the snake".

So, they thought outside the box.

The theme focused on literati's dreams about the poetry of life in nature. The Palace Museum's calendar that year presented grass, trees, mountains and rivers represented in ancient paintings, bric-a-brac and other wares.

Wang and her colleagues' innovative approach to the traditional calendar-the fine design, fresh, rich and interesting information about ancient China, and exquisite printing and binding-won the Palace Museum's Calendar an increasing number of readers.

The sales climbed from 18,000 copies for the 2010 edition to 80,000 for 2013's.

At the end of October 2013, the Central Committee of Discipline Inspection released a notice, banning State-owned enterprises and governments from using government funds to buy calendars or New Year postcards. It struck a heavy blow to the dying industry.

But it also brought opportunities.

Better-designed calendars with diverse themes have started appearing in the market since 2014. The most successful ones creatively combine tradition with modern tastes.

In February 2015, Chang Mengran an editor of the WeChat account of One Way Street Bookstore, thought of a way to update the daily electronic magazine during the Spring Festival. She picked a quote from a classical literary work, nonfiction book, movie or song every day and presented it in the traditional format of the huangli, or the royal almanac in ancient times.

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