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The Clay Fertility Figures of Henan

 

On any given day of the week, working days as well as holidays, you will find the people of Nanyang and Zhoukou in Henan Province creating rustic-looking yet colourful clay toys. Children, who like to play with them, call them "Nini Gou" (clay puppy) since most of these moulded figures are in the shape of a dog or other small animal. Some of them also have small over holes and can be used as whistles.

Not all the clay moulded figures are toys for children, however:some are made as sacrificial offerings to be taken to the Taihaoling Mausoleum dedicated to Fuxi in Huaiyuang to solicit blessings or tender thanks to Fuxi for favours received. Chinese people believe that Fuxi was the progenitor of the human race, and legend has it that after the marriage of Fuxi and Nuwa, Nuwa began to mould human beings out of clay, and ever since mankind has continued to multiplu. It is based on this legend that moulding clay figures is practised to this day.

These figures often feature conspicuous reproductive organs and some are portrayed in the actual act of conjugation. One can also find sets of twins and half-human, half-animal figures. Such creations are expressions of the artists' hopes for abundant progeny and livestock.

As Fuxi is regarded as the deity in charge of birth, it is said that if those wishing to have a child take home a clay figure which has been previously enshrined at the Fuxi Mausoleum, their wish will be granted. After they have a child, they are expected to mould or buy a new clay figure and take it to the mausoleum as a way of fulfilling their duty and expressing thanks. This custom is known as "Shuan Wawa" (Tethering a Child).

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