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內畫 Neihua
(Hengshui neihua, Beijing snuff bottle neihua, Guangdong neihua, Lu-style neihua)

視頻 Video:

所屬名錄: 第一批國家級名錄

編號: VII-15

申報地區或單位: 河北省衡水市,北京市西城區,廣東省汕頭市,山東省淄博市張店區

Inscribed list: National List, First Batch

Inventory no.: VII-15

Nominating unit(s): Hebei Province, Hengshui City; Beijing Municipality, Xicheng District; Guangdong Province, Shantou City; Shandong Province, Zibo City, Zhangdian District










Neihua (literally “Inner painting” or “inside painted”) is a technical and delicate art that has existed since the Mid-Qing Dynasty. Neihua is most commonly done on snuff bottles of glass, crystal or amber. The artist will first scrub the inside of the snuff bottle with a mixture of silicon carbide and water in a process called Chuantang串膛—this creates a rough surface that makes it easier to draw on. For the actual painting process, the artist will use a tiny and crooked bamboo brush, inserted through the narrow bottle mouth, to paint inside the bottle. Since the images are drawn inside, the artist needs to develop the skill of painting backwards.  Common themes of neihua are historical figures, myths, landscapes, flowers and birds, and Chinese calligraphy.  


The origins of neihua is unclear. One story says that an idle officer in a temple, who was addicted to taking snuff but didn’t have enough money, used a stick to scratch out the last of the remaining snuff in the bottle. The stick created scratch marks that appeared as beautiful patterns on the bottle. A monk saw it and was inspired to paint inside the bottle using a tiny hook and ink. Another story, stated in A New Look at Snuff Bottle Neihua in China (《中國內畫鼻煙壺新貌》) written by Leung Che-hang (梁知行), was that in during the reign of Jiaqing (嘉慶), a young Lingnan painter named Gan Huan-wen (甘桓文) or Gan Huan (甘桓) scrubbed the inside of a snuff bottle by shaking a small steel ball with quartz powder mixed with water, and painted on the blasted, paper-like inner walls of the bottle. The earliest existing snuff bottle that can be dated (due to an inscription) is claimed to be one collected in Princeton University Art Museum is Gan’s work, made in autumn in 1816 (the 21st year of the Jiaqing reign period). The snuff bottle by Gan displays mature technique, indicating that the invention of neihua was developed before the time of Jiaqing. It has also been proposed that Chinese inner painting was inspired by Western glass painting which was also drawn backwards, and was brought to China by preachers from Europe in the 17th century.


There are four major schools of neihua: Jing (京, meaning Beijing), Lu (魯, meaning Shandong), Ji (冀, meaning Hebei), and Yue (粵, meaning Guangdong). The Jing style is the oldest school, and is characterized by the aesthetics of ancient literati, emphasizing noble and cultured conceptions with poems, calligraphy and painting, using strict and strong brushwork. The master of flower-and-bird paintings, Zhou le-yuan (周樂元), and masters of figure painting Ma Shao-xuan (馬少宣) and Ye Zhong-san (葉仲三) from the Late-Qing period are representatives of the Jing style. The Lu style is characterized by a carefree quality, and likely subject matters are heroic and local themes, for example One Hundred Horses (百駿), and characters from Water Margin (水滸傳).  A defining characteristic is the technique of painting with original glaze onto a porcelain snuff bottle and then firing the glaze.  Bi Jiu-rong (畢九榮) , who returned to Shandong in 1890 after learning neihua in Beijing, is the founder and the most symbolic painter of the Lu style. The Ji style is younger but is very influential, as Hengshui neihua is regarded as representative of modern neihua. The Ji school introduced to neihua advanced skills of classical Chinese painting such as cracking (皴) and dyeing (染), and integrates some techniques of western oil painting in rich colours to sharpen the images. The Ji school artists are masters in figure painting, especially the motifs of “Children at play” (a motif that alludes to the family line and posterity), and “100 children” (often associated with weddings).  The youngest Yue style, formed after the Cultural Revolution, has marked differences from the other schools in their decorative style, and their use of glamorous coloring and golden patterns.  


Unlike many folk intangible cultural heritages, there is an established market and monetary value for neihua, and they are also recognized for their artistic value. However, because collections of snuff bottle can be of monetary value, this can overshadow their value to traditional Chinese culture. Mechanized mass production has also harmed the livelihood of traditional neihua artists, because the longer time and higher labor costs of painting by hand can make them less competitive.  Facing these risks, inheritors of the art have found some solutions to protect the industry as well as the traditional techniques. New varieties and designs of neihua, such as neihua perfume bottles and lighters, have attracted attention from consumers, especially the newer generation. Moreover, branding helps to not only boost the image of hand-drawn neihua in the market, but also to promote its culture in a recognizable way. For example, Hengshui neihua can be considered a brand that is effective in promoting the Ji style of neihua. To inherit and pass on the tradition and to sustain the industry, a system of technical training for the next generation is essential. Xisan Art Academy of Neihua has been set up by Wang Xi-san, the legitimate inheritor of Ji-style inner painting in Hengshui, to pass on this invaluable artistic technique.

A short video on neihua snuff bottles, including a brief process of drawing neihua as well as an interview of one of the painters Yang Zhigang talking about his story of learning and inheriting inner painting, produced by China Daily Multimedia in 2010.


Guangdong neihua inheritor, Lai Yining.

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