My Chinese Mudmen




Death brought to Life  –
here lies
the ambiguity

Wrought by ancient toil
hands in the dirt
my Men of Clay
contemplative figures
moulded figurines
idle idols
progenitors of
Gormley’s Field
still still
after all these years

The thoughts
of uncounted
peasant potters
death to life
life to death
the artisan’s role
a messy resurrection
now paraded
amongst my books
in my own milieu
a lesson
for my assimilation

Dead as the earth is dead
alive as the wet oriental soil
of their conception
the kiln heat
of their birth

Chilling sentiment
glazed eyes recalling
the potter’s hands
remembering the gnarled
and knotted tension
in their birth

The hope of yesterday
the stillness of today
The meaning of tomorrow



For many centuries Chinese artisans have created clay figurines to accompany their miniature bonsai gardens and aquaria. Such miniature landscape creations were known as Pen’Jing.  These artefacts were individually created by hand from local clays and fired with a low temperature lead glaze, usually in green, blue or yellow.  Faces, hands and feet were often left unglazed, allowing the natural colour of the mud to show.  Such small-scale figurines were generally termed Mudmen.  They were made in many village farming communities when,  following the rice harvest, and the onset of the dry season, locals turned to the production of figures using the local clay. They were often of standing or seated fishermen, mystics, musicians, occasionally women, sages and old wise men, holding books, axes, flutes, scrolls, pots, fish and other objects in common use often of some mystical importance.

Over subsequent years such objects became of importance, particularly following the European fashion of seeking out oriental pottery and sculptural artefacts.  The genuinely old and individually hand-made mudmen figurines are nowadays highly sought after and fetch high market prices.  In more recent years however, modern versions of these mudmen figurines, which most, if not all, of those in my photographs are, have been mass produced and are not of any great value.