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Huaiyang County (simplified Chinese: 淮阳县) is a county in the prefecture-level city of Zhoukou in Henan province, People's Republic of China. During the Spring and Autumn Period the capital of the state of Chen was located there.
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Known as the cradle of Chinese civilization, Henan is a region rich in traditions that span centuries, from the colourful woodblock paintings to the primitive looking Huaiyang Clay dogs.
All across Henan, in different cities and town, craftsmen in little workshops keep alive traditions in art that was once practiced in the ancient dynasties. One is the woodblock painting. It is one of the oldest forms of folk art in China, and the best and most distinct creations comes from Henan, or more precisely, the town of Zhuxian near Kaifeng.
The colourful woodblock paintings are especially popular during the annual Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese Lunar New Year, with the distinctive decorative paintings based on themes of plentiful, gracing many homes across China. As the creations are also available at other times of the year, it’s worth taking some time to spend a day in Kaifeng, which is some 70km from Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, and is an easy train, bus or car ride away.
To get a quick look at Kaifeng’s traditional art, stop by Millennium Park that’s often filled with various vendors. Take time as well to explore the streets on foot and you’ll most likely be rewarded with a shop or two offering the elegant and colourful woodblock paintings called Muban Nianhua in Chinese, that make great mementoes.
Huaiyang Clay Dog
Another interesting item to collect is the Huaiyang Clay Dog from the region of Nanyang.
The creation of man, according to ancient Chinese legend came after the first human Fu Xi, who was born around the Yellow River that flows through Henan province, married Nu Wa. Together, they created their children who were moulded of clay and brought to life with their divine powers.
Today, the moulding of clay continues around Nanyang and Zhoukou, but not of children. Instead, children are often found playing with the dogs and other animal figures made of clay and finished with brightly coloured designs.
Also known as the Ling Dog and Nini Gou (clay puppy) to the young, the rustic-looking yet colourful clay figures are sometimes also created with holes in them to be used as whistles.
While the Huaiyang clay figures with their unusual, almost primitive looks and rough finish make popular souvenirs with the bright designs against a generally black finish, they are in fact very important not just as a form of folk art but also worship.
Tai Hao Mausoleum
Referred sometimes as the Taihao Ling the clay figures take on a greater significance when found in homes or temples, especially the Tai Hao Mausoleum known among the Chinese as the first tomb in the world as well as the birthplace of the dragon, an important cultural creature.
The Huaiyang clay figures are important as offerings at the Tai Hao Mausoleum dedicated to Fu Tai Hao or Fuxi known as the first of the ‘Three Emperors”. Located in Huaiyuang which is in Zhoukou city, families usually visit the Mausoleum also known as the Tong Tian Temple to solicit blessings or offer thanks to Fuxi who is revered as the deity of birth.
According to tradition, couples hoping for a child have to place in their home, a clay figure that had been previously enshrined at the Fuxi Mausoleum. Once their wish is granted, they have to mould or buy a new clay figure that will be placed in the mausoleum as a way of thanks, and for another family to one day fulfill their hopes. This custom is known as Shuan Wawa has also kept alive the tradition which has passed from one generation to another, of hand-crafting clay figures.
Zi Sun Yao and Dragon Lake
A visit to the Fuxi Mausoleum need not always be for those hoping to grow their families. The grounds in Huaiyang County, house a number of Ming dynasty buildings and the must-see Zi Sun Yao (kiln of descendants). Don’t be put off by the looks.
According to local belief, the stone was in use six thousand years ago and was important in sealing marriages between different tribes before evolving into the modern tradition of offering a promise of healthy, smart descendants. So whether single or a couple, look for the grey stone and put your hand into the hole.
Complete the day trip by visiting the sprawling Dragon Lake that’s adjacent to the temple. It’s been designated as a national AAAA level scenic spot with many cypress and pine trees, a number of which are art pieces having been turned into tree sculptures similar to Japanese Bonsai but on a larger scale.
Travel to the area isn’t too difficult. It’s just a few hours on the expressway from Zhengzhou, Kaifeng or Luoyang in Henan. Alternatively, catch a train to Zhoukou and from there, hop on the six-minute shuttle to the Tai Hao mausoleum.