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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

6 folk arts of Tianjin

By Teng Mu

August 16

Paper, sugar, brick and clay, what do they have in common? They’re all used in Tianjin folk arts, still today.

Paper, sugar, brick and clay, what do they have in common? They’re all used in Tianjin folk arts, still today.

You probably already know a few things Tianjin is famous for without realizing them — among its most famous are Peking Opera and traditional Chinese stand-up. But the city, a half-hour train ride from Beijing, is also home to a number of lesser known folk arts that are no less impressive.

1. Sugar Figurines

A sugar figurine depicting mice [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
A sugar figurine depicting mice [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Sugar figurines, made by skillfully blowing hot, melted malt sugar into shapes, date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Figures include three-dimensional animals, plants and humans. Another type of sugar art makes what look to be large, delicate lollipops by pouring melted sugar on a flat surface before the sweet, sticky goodness cools. Sweet and intricate, sugar figurines have long been a favorite among Chinese children.

2. Colored Clay Figurines

An artist coloring a clay figurine of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. [Image Credit: xinhuanet.com]
An artist coloring a clay figurine of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. [Image Credit: xinhuanet.com]
Clay figurine painting reached its artistic peak in the hands of artist Zhang Mingshan . In Tainjin, Clay Figurine Zhang refers to Zhang, the collection of his works, and the style he founded. Zhang drew inspiration from all aspects of life and produced highly vivid, colored clay figurines that made him famous during the Qing Dynasty. Several generations of artists later, Zhang figurines are still widely beloved in Tianjin.

3. Paper Carving

Paper carving [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Paper carving [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Paper carving differs from Chinese paper cutting by utilizing carving knives instead of scissors. Every year as the Spring Festival approaches, handmade paper carvings become all the rage at the market. People hang them on walls or windows as decorations.

4. Yangliuqing New Year Paintings

Yangliuqing New Year Paintings [Image Credit:enorth.com.cn]
Yangliuqing (杨柳青) New Year Paintings [Image Credit:enorth.com.cn]
Yangliuqing New Year paintings, named after their place of origin in the suburbs of Tianjin, are made using a method of wooden print making. Alongside Taohuawu New Year paintings in Suzhou, they are the most famous type of New Year paintings. Using sharp lines and bright colors they convey the happy atmosphere of a Chinese New Year.

5. Kite Making

Beautiful kites made by Wei’s successor [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Beautiful kites made by Wei’s successor [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Kites made in Tianjin are known across China as Wei Kites because of famous
Tianjin kite artist Wei Yuantai. Wei developed a keen interest in making kites when he was young. He studied various birds and insects — their flying patterns, movements, and anatomies — and applied it to his craft. Wei Kites are also foldable. Wei’s grandson inherited the craft and continues making kites today.

6. Brick Carving

Tianjin brick carvings [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
Tianjin brick carvings [Image Credit: enorth.com.cn]
During the Daoguang period of the Qing Dynasty (1821–1850), Tianjin brick carving developed into an art in its own right, separate from architecture. Mountains, rivers,  animals and people are just some of the common motifs.

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