Culture | Provincial ICH in Zhengzhou—Brick Carving

The brick carving is a technique to emboss patterns like people, mountains, rivers and flowers on grey bricks. It is an important art form in carving of ancient architectures in China. Most carved bricks are used as building components or decorations of gates, screen walls and walls in pagodas, tombs, houses and other buildings. In general, carved bricks are also carving handicrafts made of grey bricks. By virtue of the strict requirements on processes including materials selection, moulding and firing, grey bricks are solid and fine and become quality materials for carving. In terms of art, carved bricks are suitable for appreciation. In terms of subject, carved bricks mainly show auspicious and pleasant subjects such as Auspicious Dragon and Phoenix, Two Immortals of Harmony, Liu Hai Fishes the Golden Toad, Auspicious Beginning of a New Year, The Birthday Banquet of Guo Ziyi, Kylin Brings Children, Lions Play a Silk Ball, pine and cypress, orchid, bamboo, camellia, chrysanthemum, lotus and carp. In terms of carving technique, the techniques of carving bricks include intaglio carving, bas-relief carving, high relief carving, three-dimensional carving, hollow carving and large-scale intaglio carving.

The art of brick carving was originated from portrait bricks during the Qin and Han dynasties. Since its appearance, brick carving has been playing an important role in pragmatic use. The brick carving in Zhengzhou was developed from eaves tiles, hollow bricks and portrait bricks during the Han dynasty. Integrating practical and ornamental functions, the folk brick carving is characterized by simple image and thick style instead of the exquisite and delicate one, thus keeping them solid enough to withstand natural erosion. Featuring bricks suitable for carving, the brick carving is applied in architectural carving more commonly than stone carving, which has special requirements on the selection of stones. The processes of brick carving include production of adobe bricks, firing of bricks and carving of bricks, and the techniques of carving can be classified as plane relief carving, semicircular relief carving, alto-relievo carving and hollow carving. The more loose brick than stone enables to carve beautiful and exquisite lines.

The brick carving in Zhengzhou is embossed on the adobe brick made of mud from the Yellow River in local areas. Then the carved adobe brick is dried and fired in the kiln. In the past, classical carved bricks were used to decorate the arch, wall-based arch, windows along four corridors, lintel above small doors and hollow windows in classical gardens. The brick carving made of mud from the Yellow River produces large-scale carved bricks themed various figures and vivid stories. The brick carving work in Zhengzhou mainly consists of carved bricks made of golden sand from the Yellow River by Wang Ling and carved bricks made of mud from the Yellow River by Zhang Cunshi.
The brick carving work of Wang Ling is made with deposited sand in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River through sediment, filtration, adobe making, carving, polish, burnish and firing in temperature-controlled kiln. There is no pigment added into these bricks. The techniques and processes of the brick carving are different from that in other areas, thus enriching the artware content. It also highlights story and composition, among which the latter one stresses the sense of three-dimension of nearby view, medium view and distant view. The nearby figures are exquisitely carved with background space left, making these figures lifelike. By integrating with traditional patterns, brick carving works boast various forms and rich contents. They are represented by bricks showing four classic novels of Chinese literature including the Dream of the Red Chamber, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and Water Margin, as well as decoration bricks with auspicious patterns. With different patterns and colors after firing, carved bricks are valuable in both aesthetics and pragmatism.

As for carved bricks made of mud from the Yellow River by Zhang Cunshi, these large artworks are mainly inspired by classic novels of Chinese literature. Unlike carved bricks in other areas, these carved bricks are made of deposited sand-free mud from the Yellow River through dozens of processes such as drying, elutriation, filtration, sediment, dehydration, adobe making, theme selection, conception, draft design, final design, rough carving, exquisite carving, drying in the shade, baking and firing. Focusing on story and composition, they are carved through a variety of techniques to create lifelike figures. The brick carving works made of mud include Worshiping Tathagata in the West, Fighting against the Lion Monster, Jia Yuanchun’s Visit to Her Parents, Lin Daiyu Buries Fallen Flowers, Jia Xichun Is Painting, Three Heroes Fight with Lv Bu and Zhuge Liang Argue with Scholars.
In 2007, the brick carving was listed as one of the first batch of intangible cultural heritages in Zhengzhou.

Copyright by Zhengzhou Municipal Tourism Administration