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霍建瀛 中国 北京 就读学校:北京十三中(原辅仁大学附中)、北京六十五中(原育英学校)、北京广播学院(中国传媒大学)新闻系。 职业:对外传媒记者。 工作:文字、摄影等。

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Folk Art: Clay Figurines (Part I) HUO JIANYING  

2008-07-29 09:29:04|  分类: 社会·杂谈 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Folk Art: Clay Figurines (Part I) HUO JIANYING

Folk Art: Clay Figurines (Part I)

By staff reporter HUO JIANYING

 

Clay Versions of Old Beijing(以下是“京味泥塑捏出老北京”的英文译文)

Folk art bears a strong regional imprint, and Beijing craftsmen are also accomplished in clay art. But Beijing’s folk art is very different from Huaiyang’s and Xunxian’s in terms of subject, artistic style and workmanship. In contrast to their provincial counterparts, Beijing’s clay figurines reflect urban lifestyles.

Beijing was the national capital for several feudal dynasties and the birthplace of Peking Opera. Local opera fans not only loved the theater, but also its related arts and crafts. According to old clay craftsmen, Peking Opera figurines were seen on vendors’ stalls at temple fairs in the late 19th century. At that time, a Manchu man whose surname was Gui lived in the capital. He loved poetry, painting and Peking Opera, and was particularly fascinated by actors’ painted faces.

As the Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchus, their members lived a privileged life and held official posts both high and low. Very often, the posts were only honorary, and their holders earned a salary without having to do anything. Gui was one of them. So he occupied himself with sculpting and painting Peking Opera masks. As his skills improved, his works became popular with his friends and relatives. Many people came to ask for his figurines, and he always happily consented.

After the 1911 Revolution toppled the Qing government, the privileged Manchus lost their source of income. It was then that Gui began selling his clay figurines, and his business did well. As supply did not meet demand, many others began learning this craft, and more clay craftsmen appeared, as well as a greater range of figurines.

Apart from Peking Opera masks and figurines, the rabbit is also a major subject of Beijing clay art. One folk tale recounts how a divine rabbit saved Beijing’s citizens from a plague, and how the locals have cherished clay rabbits as auspicious icons ever since. Beijing’s clay figurines often illustrate the folkways and lifestyles of old Beijing. One set that describes the spring festival temple fair includes scenes such as walking on stilts, parade floats and acrobatics.

“The mouse marries off his daughter” is an old Chinese tale, and is also a popular subject for clay craftsmen. The tale has different versions in different places; some say the bridegroom was a cat, and others, a mouse.

The cat version says that a mouse couple wanted to find a strong son-in-law. They first thought of the Sun, since all the devils and ghosts were afraid of it. The Sun told them the Cloud could eclipse it. They then came to the Cloud, who said the Wind could disperse it. So they turned to the Wind, who said the Wall could stop it. The Wall, they were told, was vulnerable to mice. The mouse couple was pleased to hear this, and thought that only cats were stronger than mice; so they finally decided to marry their daughter to a cat. The cat agreed. The mouse family sent over the bride with a magnificent ceremony, but the cat ate his bride on their wedding night.

In the Beijing version, the king of mice married his daughter to a mouse during the Spring Festival. According to folklore, Beijing citizens are advised to go to bed early and turn off the light on that day, so as not to disturb the wedding of the mice. They were also supposed to scatter some grain and candy in the corners of their houses as signs of congratulations. Otherwise, the mouse king would make trouble for them the whole year.

Though the protagonists of this clay suite are mice, they reflect the wedding customs of old Beijing. The set is usually composed of a procession of mice attendants, including a guard of honor in front, the bridal sedan chair carried by eight mice in the center, followed by the bride’s relatives and friends, with the final section depicting the wedding ceremony in the wedding chamber.

According to old craftsmen, the clay figurines of old Beijing were categorized into three grades according to their quality. Those of the third grade were inferior in workmanship and were sold by traveling vendors in hutongs. Those of the second grade were mediocre in quality and were sold at temple fairs and streetside stores. Exquisite ones made by master artists were sold as works of art to officials, aristocrats and literati.

It was said that Empress Dowager Cixi loved contemporary clay figurine artist Zhang’s works very much. Some of his works are still kept in the Hall of Happiness and Longevity – Cixi’s residence in the Summer Palace. They were presented as gifts to Cixi on her 70th birthday.

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