A Brief Introduction of Huishan Clay Figurines
Also called Wuxi Clay Figurines in the past and alias nowadays Huishan Colored Sculpture, Wuxi Colored Sculpture or Huishan Colored Sculpture of Wuxi, the famous folk handicraft named after its place of birth in China’s eastern Jiangsu province is more known as Huishan Clay Figurines. Originated in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), this time-honored folk craft has a history of almost 400 years, with the Qing dynasty witnessing its heyday.
The making of clay figurines in Huishan developed into a professional from a sideline for farmers during slack seasons in the Qing dynasty while the first professional workshop might actually have appeared earlier in the end of Ming dynasty. Falling roughly into two categories, namely, “coarse figurines” referring to those made by mold, and “refined figurines” meaning those crafted purely by hand, Huishan clay figurines attach more importance to the prominence of theme over the life-like illustration of details.
Artist is preparing clay lumps.
Making the robe worn by the figurine.
Tools used in the colored painting.
Classic Pieces of Huishan Clay Figurines
The female artisans Yu Xianglian and Wang Nanxian are undoubtedly two heavyweights among all the crafters of clay figurines in Huishan. Both of them, as modern masters of arts and crafts invited by China National Academy of Arts as contributing creators, have crafted artworks that represent the highest artistic achievement by contemporary Huishan Clay Figurines.
Xu Xianglian was born in 1940 in a Wuxi-based family specializing in making clay figurines. She started to be attracted to clay figurines in childhood under the influence of his grandfather Jiang Jinkui.
Also born in Wuxi in a family known for making clay figurines in 1941, Wang Nanxian also began her life-long dedication to this art form when she was a little girl.
Eight Immortals. This piece illustrates a scene of the Eight Immortals (only six shown in the picture), popular characters in Chinese legends and folklores, crossing the East Sea on a giant magical gourd. It is one of the best of its kind with its ingenious shaping as well as bright, beautiful colors.
Jiang Taigong & Zhao Gongming. Zhao Gongming is a deity in Taoism believed to be the disciple of Zhang Tianshi, namely, Celestial Master Zhang, who ordered Zhao to ride a black tiger and guard the sacred altar Xuan Tan, hence the alias “Black Tiger Xuan Tan” for Zhao. Jiang Ziya was a historical figure who was deified after his death. He is worshiped as a guardian deity for the Chinese people who believe that “there is nothing to be afraid of as long as Jiang Taigong is here”.
Two Immortals of Harmony. Legend has it that the Two Immortals of Harmony, also known as the Two Saints of Harmony, are in charge of happy marriages of people on earth. The two characters in this piece are quite likable with big smiles on face, one holding a lotus blossom while the other with a round case, both of which are their signature magical belongings signifying “harmony” and “accord” based on the homonym of “lotus” and “harmony” as well as “box” and “accord” in the Chinese language.
Wedding. This piece displays a wedding scene between a young man named Xu Xian and a lady called Bai Suzhen who was actually transformed from a white snake spirit, both of whom are the protagonists in the household folklore and Peking Opera Legend of the White Snake.
Water Fight. Based on the household Peking Opera Legend of the White Snake, this piece illustrates a scene of Bai Suzhen fighting against the monk Fahai with the help of her maid Xiaoqing in order to save her husband Xuxian.
Bai Suzhen, attired in a white gown and holding a sword in hand, together with Xiaoqing in a blue dress who is carrying a sword on back and holding a magic flag in hand, both with frowning eyebrows and wide-open eyes, are preparing to beckon an outbreak of storm with magic to fight against the monk.
Water Fight by Yu Xianglian and Wang NanxianChina Intangible Heritage Industry Alliance
New Birth. This piece reproduces a scene in the classic Peking Opera Legend of the White Snake of the evil monk Fahai used magic to confine Bai Suzhen, whose new-born son was just one month old, to a gold pot which was later put under the Leifeng tower in case that Bai escaped.
Farewell to My Concubine is a well-known Peking Opera based on the story of Xiang Yu (232-202 BC), the prominent warlord in the end of the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC) and his concubine Consort Yu. While being besieged by the troops of Xiang Yu’s rival Liu Bang (256-195 BC), Consort Yu, in order to die alongside her lover, committed suicide when performing sword dance for Xiang Yu.
Drunken Concubine is also a famous Peking Opera adapted from the story of Yang Yuhuan (719-756 AD), the favorite concubine of Emperor Xuanzong (685-762 AD) of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).
Giving the Pearl Tower as Gift from The Pearl Tower. Adapted from the famous Wuxi Opera The Pearl Tower which tells a love story between Fang Qing and Chen Cui’e, this piece displays the most important scene, “giving the pearl tower as a gift”, in the opera with two beautifully-shaped and elegantly-hued characters, in which the female protagonist Chen Cui’e holding a parcel wrapped in a piece of blue cloth with floral patterns while the gentleman holding a red oil-paper umbrella, a typical raingear used in Jiangnan of China.
Ximen Qing. This piece portrays Ximen Qing, the cunning, greedy and lecherous protagonist in the ancient Chinese novel Jin Ping Mei, or The Golden Lotus.
In order to show the indecency and absurdity of this character in both shaping and coloring, the artisan applied to him a typical look of jesters, a white spot on the tip of nose, a green hat, a green jacket and red trousers.
Ximen Qing by Yu Xianglian and Wang NanxianChina Intangible Heritage Industry Alliance
Lions, a fierce beast of prey, have been seen as the symbol of power and the talisman of warding off all evil beings in the Chinese culture. Therefore, statues of lions have been favorable choices by both the royal and civilian families to guard the gates.
This piece shows a scene of a chubby toddler, sitting on the back of a large lion with an embroidered silk ball in hand, playing with the small lion in front of him. The combination of lions and embroidered silk balls signifies fortunes and happiness, while the group of big and small lions conveys wishes for “plenty of offspring”.
Round A Fu. Big A Fu, namely, adorable chubby babies, have been the most distinctive and representative variety of Huishan Clay Figurines. Legend has it that A Fu brings peace and fortune, and fends off fierce monsters as well as evil beings. That’s why clay figures of A Fu have been seen as mascots that enjoy high popularity among the Chinese people.
This pair of A Fu in the round shape applied the eye-catching contrast colors of red and blue, and meticulous and refined colored painting.
Wishing Coming True. This piece illustrates two adorable smiling babies, a little boy in a green hat and a cute girl with two chignons, eyes squinting and corners of lips curling up. The two, both seated and holding a half-qilin half-lion animal, constitute a scene of happiness and contentment.
The Taking of Tiger Mountain. Adapted from a play of the same name based on the household novel Tracks in The Snowy Forest by Qu Bo, the modern revolutionary opera The Taking of Tiger Mountain tells a story about how a small squad of Northeast China Democratic United Army led by Shao Jianbo defeating the gangs headed by Lord Hawk whose fortress atop the Tiger Mountain by the Yang Zirong infiltrating Hawk’s stronghold posing as a fellow bandit.
A Raid on White Tiger Rigement. The modern Peking Opera A Raid on White Tiger Regiment was adapted from the heroic experience of Yang Yucai, a vice platoon sergeant of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, in the Jincheng Battle of the Korean War. It was recognized as one of the eight revolutionary model operas during the Cultural Revolution.