Chinese clay figurine art - Tianjin Clay Figurine Zhang

Updated: 18 Jan 2011
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Clay figurine is one of antiquated folk arts in China. The clay is taken as raw material and manually kneaded into a figurine and the sculptures are mainly the characters and animals. This kind of art can date back to the Neolithic Period. The time of pottery pig and sheep unearthed in Hemudu ancient cultural relic of Zhejiang Province is about six thousand to seven thousand years ago; the time of antique pottery, clay pig and clay sheep head unearthed in Peiligang ancient cultural relic of Xinzheng, Henan Province is about seven thousand years ago. However it was until the Ming and Qing dynasties that the clay figurine had been substantially produced and became one of the main artworks in the mass's cultural life.
The art of clay figurine is divided into two branches in China: Wuxi Huishan Clay Figurine and Tianjin "Clay Figurine Zhang". The Huishan Clay Figurine which stems from the western suburb of Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province begun in the Southern Dynasty and flourished in the Ming Dynasty and had a history of over one thousand years. The most famous character of "Big A'fu" is rich and brisk, deep and concise in sculpture, bright and ardent in color, full of a rich native tinge. Tianjin "Clay Figurine Zhang" was initiated in Daoguang Period of the Qing Dynasty and had a history of 180 years. Zhang Mingshan (1826-1906) was the initiator of "Clay Figurine Zhang". It is said that he could complete a lifelike clay figurine with vivid facial expression in a minute while sitting and talking to others. Xu Beihong, the famous contemporary Chinese painter, applauded him as a great folk sculptor in China.
In 1992, the representative works "Big A'fu" of Huishan clay figurine was designated as the tourism mascot at that year by the State Tourism Bureau; at a Chinese modern art gallery in Ashiya, Japan, a special display room was built for the painted sculptures of Tianjin "Clay Figurine Zhang". The art of clay figurine has already walked out of the national gate and become an envoy for the communication between the Chinese and foreign cultures and been gradually accepted and cherished by more and more nations and people.
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