Ever since the early Qing Dynasty, Wuxi has been famous for its clay figurines. Several hundred years ago, many clay figurine shops were built near the Huishan Hill. We call these lovely clay handicrafts“Huishan Hill figurines”.According to a legend, in the spring and autumn period, a famous general and strategist Sunbing fled out of his enemy Pang Juan’s trap. He came to Wuxi and hid in Huishan Hill. There, he made a large number of clay soldiers as well as horses, and used magic power to make them alive. Finally, the general used his clay army defeating his enemy Pang Juan. So Sun Bing was said to be the ancestor of clay figurines.
Clay figurine of Huishan Hill started from the Ming Dynasty, which had more than 400 years history. Master craftsmen used the clay in the rice field around the Huishan Hill as the materials for making the figurines, and this clay is characterized by its excellent plasticity. Even 1000 years ago, a distinguished poetry Su Dongpo once came to Wuxi, he was surprised at the magic soil and wrote a poem to praise it. The most well-known clay figurine is Big Afu.(literally meaning “big fortune”)Afu is a sitting boy or girl with legs crossed. His or her head and body are joined together without a neck. The head accounts one third of the whole figure. The face is as round as a full moon, with an earring on each side of head. Ears are so big that they can reach the shoulders. Usually, A fu dons a colorful sleeveless jacket, with both arms uncovered, and wears a golden lock in front of chest. The whole image of A fu, characterized by hanging ears, a broad face and full body, colorful jacket, totally reflects people’s wishes for “good luck”.
The year 1884 was the Empress Dowager Cixi’s 50th birthday.The whole country was filled with joys and happiness.Yet officials and eunuchs in the Forbidden City had no time to enjoy it,because they were very busy with the preparation for the birthday ceremony. Actually, they had been driven crazy. People may ask why they were so hurried. It was just a birthday. Because in the history, the Empress was very serious about her birthday, she preferred holding a birthday ceremony in the Forbidden City annually. On that day, officials all over the whole empire must come to Beijing, but having your attention ,you were not allowed to come alone ,which meant you must give the Empress valuable birthday presents.However, many officials were unable to afford precious ones. Moreover, at that time, an emperor or empress’ 50th birthday as well as 60th 、70th 、80th was regarded as the most important birthday anniversary in his or her entire life. Even the common people who was at that age would take it seriously and celebrate with the whole family,not to mention the Empress.
Luckily, the officials in Wuxi finally found out a best present—the clay figurine of Huishan Hill. Here were reasons. First, big a fu was famous around the whole empire; second, it was a logo of Wuxi; third, it was a unique work of art from Wuxi. Officials invited top masters to make a large piece of clay figurine artwork named Immortality Peach Gathering. It was composed of 24 Chinese immortals that totally appeared in the legend. The top figure was the Queen mother of the West. She invited the rest to attend the Gathering for her birthday. We can see the old man’s bear, immortals’ smiling faces and body gestures, a boy trilled on a flute, and so on. The masters used their amazing techniques to make the clay figurines vividly and lively. In fact, the Queen’s face was made in imitation to the appearance of Empress Dowager Cixi which meant the Empress was as elegant as the immortal.