Chinese Clay Figurines



From the perspective of the making process of clay figurines, they can be divided into two.Figurines can be made by molding, like toys. These tend to be mass-produced in larger quantities.Figurines can also be made-by-hand, like the Huishan clay figurines. The latter are more detailed, and often portray characters from folk tales. Appealing colors like red, green, blue, and yellow are often applied to these figurines to make them more eye-catching and attract customers. Many folk artists sell the Huishan clay figurines in the trade fairs or during festival seasons, and have even made a living from it.




Zhang Mingshan was born in 1826 (the 6th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty). His father Zhang Wanquan made a living by kneading and selling clay toys. From the age of eight, Zhang Mingshan started to help his father in his work, and mastered the whole process of clay sculpture. When he was 12 or 13 years old, he outshone his father. While kneading sculptures, Zhang Mingshan only needed to talk with people face to face, and finished the work in one sitting. His clay figurines sold well on Gongnan and Gongbei Avenues.
The secret technique of “Clay Figurine Zhang” is rarely known. Clay figurines produced by Zhang family can survive ages with no dryness or crack, which can be attributed to the specially processed clay they used. The raw material is red clay one meter below the ancient river channel of western suburb of Tianjin. Such clay has strong stickiness and little sand content. Within the old compound of Zhang family, there are two ponds, one high and the other low. This kind of clay is put into the high pond, and is stirred into mud together with water. The mud is squeezed into the low pond via a hole with wire mesh connecting the bottom of the two ponds. The mud is then filtered, dried, and made into adobe.