Legends tell us that the Creator created all things on earth from mud. In much the same way, the people of all ethnic groups in Yunnan have created lively folk art from natural things: stone, bamboo, paper and mud.
The Dongba clay’s cultures of the Naxi ethnic group, and the Dongba paintings and characters, are some of the superb folk arts of Yunnan. The clay figures and paintings, created by folk artists and originally used in sacrificial ceremonies, are actually unique art forms. The clay sculptures include earthenware cats which are used for driving away evil spirits, and the five hundred arhats in the Qiongzhu Temple in Kunming. Popular handicrafts include Jianshui pottery, the black and white pottery of Xishuangbanna, Lijiang red pottery and brown clay teapots.
Jianshui pottery includes many unusual tea sets, wine goblets, dinner plates and bowls, and tourist souvenirs. This stone ware is extremely strong, yet delicately-made,and makes excellent wind chimes. It has been praised as having unique properties. The Dai and Wa ethnic groups in Xishuangbanna still use traditional pottery – making methods, and their pottery ware is simple and tough.
People in bamboo growing areas favor bamboo sculptures. The handicrafts of the Dai, Achang, and Naxi minority people, use bamboo splints as frames and create fascinating paper-cutting and paper folding products. Widely used in sacrificial ceremonies and folk festivals are colored lanterns, sacrificial utensils, funerary objects, colorful props for dancing during the festivals and decorations for the homes. The most commonly seen in daily use are bamboo and wooden handicrafts, including wardrobes, tables and chairs, lunch -boxes, baskets and bamboo hats. The most popular items are painted woven bamboo boxes, painted woven bamboo tables and the bamboo hats worn by the Dai people, the Dulong people’ s back baskets, the Yi people’s painted cooking utensils, the Tibetans’ wooden bowls, the bamboo wine goblets of the Lisu people and the Han people’s smoking tubes.
You will be amazed when you see the many wooden sculptures in the mountain villages and on the plains. The totem poles of the Wa ethnic group depict man and animal combined as one. The soul burying poles used by the Jingpo minority for funerals are extraordinary with their bright colors. They serve both as decoration and as a signpost to guide the s ouls on their return. The wooden sculptures in Jianchuan, however, a famous center for wooden carvings, are the best known. The carvings by the Bai ethnic minority include images of gods and buddhist shrines, door and window decorations ,and show the skill of the craftsmen.Decorations on many famous buildings in Yunnan were created by the Bai Minority craftsmen.
Stone painting and carving dates back to Yuanmou Man, 1.7 million years ago. Today, many minority people in Yunnan still value stone very highly. They paint images on cliffs, fashion stone utensils, Guozhuang stone, Mani stone and so on. Stone sculptures in Yunnan include grottoes, inscriptions on cliffs, carvings, stone sculptures for family house decorations or on tombs. Well-known grottoes include the Shibao Mountain grottoes in Jianchuan and the Fahua Temple grottoes in Anning. Cliff sculptures can be seen on Tianwang cliffs in Jinning’s Niulian village, and the Jianhua Mountain cliffs in Jianchuan. Stone inscriptions vary greatly in style, some are in temples (such as the Buddhist scriptures carved on stones in the Dizang Temple in Kunming ), some stand alone (such as the Nanzhao stone carvings in Weishan County ), and some are personal and family memorial tablets often demonstrating typical folk traditions.
Traditional painting in Yunnan originates from the decorations on utensils and cliff and cave paintings of several thousand years ago. The cliff paintings, including those at Cangyuan, depict primitive life and beliefs, and are of high cultural, historical and artistic value. The ethnic minorities art include folk paintings and religious paintings. Most are brush paintings, but some are printed. Famous paintings are the Dongba religious paintings on wooden plates, card and cloth; the paintings used for funeral ceremonies of the Naxi ethnic group; the Dai Buddhist paintings on streamers; and the “Tangka” paintings of the Tibetans. Master-pieces include “The History of the Zhongxing State” produced during the Nanzhao Kingdom period (at the same time as the Tang Dynasty 618-907); “Zhang Shengwen Buddhist Portraits” of the Dali Kingdom period (Song Dynasty 960-1279); the murals in the Mingqing Temple in Lijiang, the murals in the Tibetan Buddhist temple in Diqing, and the Guangyin Temple murals dating back to the Qing Dynasty in Cangyuan.