Mud Men

The following is a brief summation about the mud man mystery from a Mr. Ping:

"Most mud figures are manufactured in South China, in Kwangtung Province, in the town of Shekwan, which lies in one of the many waterways within the delta of the Pearl River, an area which long has been a centre of numerous Chinese crafts, ranging from paper-cutting to the manufacture of New Year lanterns.

The manufacture of ceramics is an ancient industry in Kwangtung Province of China; indeed, many of its archaeological sites actually contain kilns dating between the Neolithic Age (4200-3500 BC) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1744). Late 7th- and 8th-century ceramists in northern China, working primarily at kilns at T'ung-ch'uan near Ch'ang-an and at Kung-hsien in Honan province, also developed "three-color" (san ts'ai) pottery wares and figurines that were slipped and covered with a low-fired lead glaze tinted with copper or ferrous oxide in green, yellow, brown, and sometimes blue; the bright colours were allowed to mix or run naturally over the robust contour of these vessels, which are among the finest in the history of Chinese pottery.

Some time between the Tang and Sung periods (960-1279), the town of Shekwan began to go commercial, undoubtedly the result of the opening of Canton to foreign traders. As time went on, enormous amounts of utilitarian pottery began to be produced: cooking utensils, dishes, and jars; and soon, to appease local demand, more decorative figures which later became known as Shekwan ware. It comes in a wide variety of glazes with many interesting
names: among these are: sour carambola (mottled purple-red), raindrops on the wall (blue with white drippings), and sea mouse (pale blue and shiny green).

Today, the Shiwan Artistic Ceramic Factory (est. in 1952) carries on the figurine production established in the Ming Dynasty. Hundreds of people are employed, of whom two thirds are women. Employees work 8 hours a day, making an average of about $60 a month, although sculptors make more. Production of the factory today is composed largely of figurines of people and animals, with some miniatures and tableware. More than 2 million pieces are made each year, of which 60 percent are exported, mostly to the rest of Asia. Because the clay is so plastic, many of these figures can be modelled in incredible detail; hence, different kinds of figures have different expressions with which we can identify them. A god or a general is usually dignified; the drunken Tang Dynasty poet Li Po is usually depicted lifting a glass to the moon. Arms and legs are usually modelled quite powerfully to give an impression of quiet strength -- you will notice these most particularly on the good-looking fishermen."