Clay Figurines

The history of clay figurines in China is more than one thousand years old. The artisans who create the figurines draw inspiration from characters in classical literature, stage dramas, folktales, and scenes from everyday life. Made from the purest clay, with low concentrations of sediment, the figurines are shaped and carved by hand or with simple tools. Once molded into their final shapes, the figurines are placed by a fire or air-dried. The two main types of clay figurines come from Tianjin (China’s third largest municipality, about seventy-five miles southeast of Beijing) and from Huishan (in Jiangsu Province, about eighty-five miles west of Shanghai). The Tianjin clay figurines are made with a reddish and sticky clay. Huishan clay figurines are made from a smooth black clay. The best-known Huishan figurines have round bodies and pronounced faces, and are called da a fu, which means “great good fortune.”

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you notice about the clay figurines in the video? What characters do they depict? Which style do you like best and why?
  • Why do you think clay figurines are appealing? Why would artisans make them, and why would people buy them at festivals?
  • What is intangible cultural heritage? In your opinion, should clay figurines be classified as intangible cultural heritage?