Dong Ho paintings reveal Vietnamese unique folk culture

In the old days, Dong Ho paintings were used as decorations at every home in the northern delta during the Lunar New Year festival (Tet). Hanging a Dong Ho painting in the home at the beginning of a new year was believed to bring happiness and prosperity for the family. The folk paintings have become part of Vietnamese life through generations and are now used in the modern arts, including painting, sculpture, fashion and pottery.

Conserving the beautiful folk painting

Recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage, Dong Ho painting or Dong Ho folk woodcut painting is a genre of Vietnamese folk painting, stemming from Dong Ho village, Song Ho commune, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh province in the 17th century.

Dong Ho painting is special because it is printed by hand entirely from woodblocks. Each painting has one woodblock for the outline and several others for printing a color. The number of the woodcuts corresponds to the number of colors a painting has. The colors of paint are processed from natural materials Vietnam. The woodblocks are engraved by hand and can be kept for many years.

Dong Ho paintings are printed on do paper made from do tree bark and covered with a layer of scallop shell powder mixed with sticky rice paste. The scallop seashell gives a sparkling white background while the rice paste makes the paper more supple and able to keep colors for a long time. To print a painting, the woodblock is applied with paint and pressed on a sheet of paper. The process is repeated for each color and the finished picture is the result of joining different colors in a certain order.

The process of engraving a woodblock. Photo: Cong Dat/VNP

The colors used for printing Dong Ho paintings are made from natural materials. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

To create the painting “Prosperity” which portrays a boy holding a duck, Dong Ho artisans
have to use five woodblocks to print the different colors. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

Creating a painting with many details requires a lot of woodblocks. Photo: Cong Dat

An artisan finalizes a painting with his hand drawing after it is printed. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

Sun drying the paintings in the front yard of a Dong Ho artisan’s home. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

“Eminence”, “Corpulent Pig with Suckling Piglets”, and “Returning Home to Pay Gratitude
to Ancestors After Achieving Academic Honor” are typical Dong Ho paintings. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

The woodcut of the painting “Boy Sitting on a Buffalo and Playing the Flute”. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

Dong Ho Painting Center

Dong Ho painting workshops

Artisan Nguyen Dang Che
Tel: (84) 223 865 308

Artisan Nguyen Dang Tam
Tel: (84) 913 009 433

Artisan Nguyen Thi Oanh
Tel: (84) 362 181 135

Artisan Nguyen Huu Qua
Tel: (84) 946 204 698

Dong Ho painting showrooms in Ho Chi Minh City


No. 612/1 Vo Van Kiet street, Cau Kho ward, district 1

No. 1648 Vo Van Kiet street, ward 16, district 8. Tel: (84) 937 307 988


Dong Ho paintings feature the life of northern delta inhabitants. The themes cover everything, from familiar livestock such as buffaloes, pigs and chickens, to daily activities, historical figures, cultural values, folk allegories and social commentaries. Typical Dong Ho paintings include Vinh Hoa and Phu Quy (Eminence and Prosperity), Corpulent Pig with Piglets, Hen Surrounded by Chickens, Rat’s Wedding, Scene of Jealousy, Scene of Wrestling, Scene of Catching Coconuts, Saint Giong, Ngo Quyen, and Trung Ladies.

In 1945, Dong Ho village had 17 families making Dong Ho paintings. Now, only two families of artisans Nguyen Huu Sam and Nguyen Dang Che still do the craft. The two families have conserved over 1,000 woodblocks and restored 500 ancient woodcuts.

“We were born and grew up with Dong Ho paintings as the pride of our family. When he was alive, my father used to sit silently for hours looking at hundreds of dust-covered woodblocks. He was determined that we must keep our family’s craft which is the cultural beauty of our home village,” said Nguyen Huu Qua, son of late artisan Nguyen Huu Sam.

Nguyen Huu Qua’s family has preserved and kept more than 500 woodblocks left by their ancestors. From these ancient woodcuts, the artisans create their new versions which are closer to contemporary life.

Dong Ho paintings in modern times

In recent years, Dong Ho paintings have regained popularity due to a rising demand from foreign tourists. This has largely encouraged artisans like Qua to revive and develop the craft.

Dong Ho paintings of Nguyen Huu Sam and his children were introduced at an exhibition in the US where 500 paintings were sold.

The family of Nguyen Dang Che, another artisan in Dong Ho village, has received many orders to export the folk paintings to the US and Japan.

Many foreign visitors choose Dong Ho paintings as souvenirs from Vietnam. Photo: VNP

Artisan Nguyen Thi Oanh shows students how to make a Dong Ho painting. Photo: VNP

Patterns of Dong Ho paintings have inspired many ao dai designers. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

Artisan Vu Thi Nguyet Anh from Bao Loc, Lam Dong,
has created the Dong Ho painting “Rat’s Wedding” using butterfly specimens. Photo: VNP

Artisans from Dai Bai village in Bac Ninh have created
a bronze painting of “Scene of Catching Coconuts”, a famous Dong Ho painting. Photo: VNP

Decorative objects created with Dong Ho painting patterns. Photo: VNP

Nguyen Dang Tam, a member of Nguyen Dang family, said that at times his workshop produced 1,000 paintings a day to meet the needs of customers. Artisans of the Nguyen Dang family all received the golden hand cup for the cause of conserving Dong Ho paintings granted by the Vietnam Association of Craft Villages.

Dong Ho paintings feature five themes: Worship, historical figures, wishes, daily life and popular stories.

In Song Ho, there is a center for Dong Ho painting conservation located inside the workshop of Nguyen Dang Che’s family. The center has a showroom displaying thousands of Dong Ho paintings and a workshop where artisans show visitors how the paintings are made.

In Ho Chi Minh City, An Binh Education Company has collaborated with international schools in Vietnam to organize tours for students to experience the creation of Dong Ho paintings. The company has established a website to introduce the folk painting to foreign tourists at

“We have renewed Dong Ho paintings from the design of boxes containing the paintings to leaflets in Vietnamese and English introducing the paintings, including the materials, process and meaning of each painting, to help foreign visitors understand the folk culture of Vietnam,” said Thu Hang, director of An Binh Education Company.

Story: Bich Van – Photos: Cong Dat & Files