Landscape Architecture, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Mar  2019, Pages 1-13; DOI: 10.31058/ 10.31058/

Research on Sustainable Development View Based on Huizhou Brick Carving

, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Mar  2019, Pages 1-13.

DOI: 10.31058/

Yufeng Zhou 1*

1 College of Art and Design, Anhui Business and Technology College, Hefei, Anhui

Received: 18 December 2018; Accepted: 15 January 2019; Published: 24 January 2019


Search for traditional culture and find the way for future development (“LOOK PAST FOR FUTURE”). In order to clarify the direction of future design, this paper conducted investigation in such four aspects as of harmony between nature and man, exhausting the meaning through images, simplicity and elegance in harmony and carving with great care by taking the Huizhou culture in traditional culture as the starting point, and taking the important material carrier of Huizhou culture — Huizhou brick carving as the breakthrough in the hope to find out the combination point of Huizhou brick carving and modern market, and open up a road to sustainable development of Huizhou brick carving.


Huizhou Brick Carving, Harmony between Nature and Man, Exhausting the Meaning through Images, Simplicity and Elegance in Harmony, Carving with Great Care

1. Introduction

With the rapid development of society, people are no longer just satisfied with a single fast-food culture; they need to have traditional deposits with connotation and sentiment to enhance their professional quality. Search for traditional culture and find the way to future development (“LOOK PAST FOR FUTURE”). In order to clarify the direction of future design, this paper takes the Huizhou culture in traditional culture as the starting point, and takes the important material carrier of Huizhou culture — Huizhou brick carving as the breakthrough in the hope to find a glimmer of morning light to illuminate the road of design behind by fanning out from point to area.

2. The Origin of Huizhou Brick Carving

Brick carving is a building component that is made with clay with higher iron content through processing and firing at low and medium temperature. Because of its exquisite workmanship and exquisite craftsmanship, it is also known as flower work, brick work, black work and gray work, etc. It has a broad and a narrow sense. The brick carving in broad sense includes all the brick and tile materials used for architectural decoration, also known as brick and tile work;the brick carving in narrow sense specifically refers to the pattern carving with blue bricks as the material, the brick carving before the kiln is fired is called pre-kiln carving, because of its soft material, it is called soft flower work. The brick carving after the kiln is fired is called post-kiln carving, because of its hard texture; it is also called hard flower work. The brick carving referred to herein refers to the brick carving in broad sense, that is, the brick and tile work [1].

The development of brick and tile work can be traced back to the dried hard mud mass in the late stage of the primitive society. This can be said as the prototype of bricks and pottery;by the Western Zhou Dynasty, the burning of bricks and tiles has begun to be used in the roof and base;During the Warring States period, blue bricks and city wall bricks were already the common components for building wall tops and roof tiles. During the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties, brick and tile work was developed to a very high level. The famous “Qin bricks and Han tiles” are specifically referred to the bricks and tiles fabricated in these periods. The bricks and tiles are also divided into functional ones and decorative ones according to their functions. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Buddhist architecture developed rapidly, and the related brick works were also mass-produced. The Song Dynasty was the peak period of Chinese civilization, and also the peak period and maturity period of the development of brick carving art. Brick carving works began to take root and sprout in the whole country, and Huizhou brick carving was born at this time.

Huizhou is an immigrant-oriented region with narrow landform and dense population, and people there attached special importance to reading and doing business. In the middle period of the Ming Dynasty, Huizhou has developed into a prosperous area with solid economic foundation and strong cultural atmosphere, and there have appeared many wealthy businessmen and learned scholars. According to the custom, people who have got their families rich have begun to build their own homes. However, limited to the shackles of government rituals, they can only bring the blue bricks and tiles into play, brick carving has become a breakthrough in building construction and is widely used in the places such as gatehouse, screen wall, top of the wall, the window hood, etc. as the finishing touch, indirectly promoted the development of Huizhou brick carving to the peak, and led numerous brick carving genres such as the Suzhou brick carving, Shanxi brick carving, Tianjin brick carving, Beijing brick carving and Gansu brick carving [2].

In the middle period of the Qing Dynasty, due to the influence of the grand environment, the brick carvings appeared to be complex and gorgeous, light and delicate, and more pursuing bustling, vehemence and stacking of layers. While we exclaim the exquisite carving work, we also have to sigh its pale subsequent vitality. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, brick carving gradually declined [3].

After the birth of New China, both the economy and culture developed rapidly, and the national self-confidence was unprecedentedly improved. Before the world, China needs to create its own unique image. Huizhou brick carving, which has developed for more than a thousand years and has a sense of history and culture, has begun to enter people’s field of vision — Huizhou brick carving is the earliest folk craft listed in the list of the first batch of national nonmaterial cultural heritages, and Huizhou brick carving inheritors have also received the world’s recognition;therefore, the research and inheritance of Huizhou brick carving once again is brought in front of people [4].

Through the investigation of the current brick carving market and factories, Huizhou brick carving is still mainly based on the production of antique building components, mainly gatehouse, door shelter, screen wall, wall top, window hood, latticed window, etc., there are no major innovations in terms of content and form, it is impossible to meet the aesthetic needs and functional requirements of people in the present period. Therefore, how to design and produce brick carvings that meets current market in combination with the needs of modern society based on the original brick carving production and process has become one of the urgent problems to be solved [5].

This paper takes Huizhou brick carvings as the research object, studies them from the aspects of the natural view of harmony between man and nature, the auspicious view of exhausting the meaning through image, the unity view of simplicity and elegance in harmony and the quality view of carving with great care, respectively, analyzes the elements why they still have strong vitality in modern times and get early preparation for devoting to the development of new products to promote the sustainable development of Huizhou culture.

3. The Natural View of Harmony Between Man and Nature

The heaven in the “harmony nature and man” refers to nature. Harmony between nature and man mean that man is a part of nature. Man should obey nature, rely on nature and act according to the laws of nature, and finally achieve the realm and state of harmony between man and nature [6].

In Huizhou brick carvings, the practice and ideas of relying on nature and using nature are reflected everywhere.

3.1. Selection and Processing of Natural Materials

Huizhou brick carving is an irreversible process. Once any problem such as cracking, breaking, splicing, and screen appears, it can only be abandoned as a whole, resulting in economic, time, and material losses. Therefore, great attention should be given to the selection and production process of brick carvings and no errors are allowed.

When selecting the raw materials for Huizhou brick carving, we need to carry out repeated investigations to determine the selected pug:too sticky soil is not conducive to knife cutting, and too much silt is not conducive to shaping.

When the brick carving is produced by the ancient method of production, multiple methods will be used to stimulate the nature of the mud:first carefully select the soil and remove the sand, then stir it with clear water to the paste, then drain the mud after the mud slurry is settled and dry it in shade, then take a cattle to repeatedly tread on the mud until the mud is trod into the one like the wheat gluten — no mud on the feet of the cattle and not stick to the feet. At this time, the mud is mature and can be made into blanks, is naturally dried in shade, and then fired the kiln. The finished bricks leaving the kiln should be fine in texture, contain less sand, moderate in hardness, then it is qualified — it is easy to cut and not easy to break. After the brick is formed, it is a blue-gray brick, which is then finely ground in water to become a smooth water-milled brick, by this step, the brick preparation is finished [7].

3.2. Soothing the Soul with the Help of Nature

At the end of the ridge of Huizhou dwellings, a roof beast like a dragon-headed fish is often installed, which has both decorative effect and the purpose of warding off evil and preventing fire.

Why can the dragon-headed fish avoid evil and prevent fire? It is said that this is because the dragon-headed fish is the ninth son of the dragon; it is a fish, when it jumps over the dragon gate, and it will become a dragon. In the process of jumping over the dragon gate, the dragon-headed fish failed to let its whole body pass through, causing its head to become a dragon, and its body is still a fish body. This is the half-dragon half-fish beast. Because the dragon-headed fish is a son of the dragon from the river, it is born with the psychological effect of warding off evil and preventing fire.

In fact, there is another saying that the dragon symbolizes the imperial power and can only be used for the royal family. It cannot be used in the ordinary people’s family. Therefore, on the ordinary people’s roof ridge, only a dragon-head fish can be installed, which not only plays the role of warding off evil and preventing fire of the dragon-headed fish, but also can be exempted from prosecution of offence of rules by the government. At the same time, the dragon-headed fish jumping over dragon gate also represents a good expectation that the people hope to change their own destiny [8]. To some extent, the use of the dragon-headed fish to ward off evil and prevent fire is only a kind of psychological suggestion of consciousness; it cannot really play a substantive role. However, this kind of ideology that conforms to nature and relies on supernatural power to carry out planning and layout still has the significance of existence.

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Figure 1. Dragon-headed fish at the ridge (snapped by the author herself).

3.3. Depicting Nature and Transcending Nature

The subject choice of Huizhou brick carvings is wide, not only the house buildings, character stories, flower plants, ferocious animals, sun and moon and stars in nature, but also various phenomena in the natural world such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning. It can be said that the world of brick carving is a world of nature.

As shown in Figure 2 , the brick carving work — Welcoming Pine, depicts an image that is derived from natural scenery but transcends natural scenery and is reprocessing of natural scenery:at the top of the misty Yellow Mountain, a welcoming pine tree stands upright, and several cranes that represent longevity fly or dance in a tranquil and peaceful scene. There are many similar patterns in Huizhou brick carvings that are not large in size, but are rich in content, and depict natural scenes.

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Figure 2. Brick carving work of Huizhou Zhuoyitang — Welcoming pine (snapped by the author herself).

4. Auspicious View of Exhausting the Meaning through Images

“Commentary on the I Ching • Commentary on the Appended Phrases — Part 1” says that “the sage exhausts the meaning through image, that is to say, when the sage sees an external image, he can think of its inner meanings, and the combination of picture and meaning will surely play a multiplier role. The auspicious culture hidden in the Huizhou brick carvings is such a situation. By the outer appearance of them, they are just ordinary patterns and story scenes, however, if we can deeply understand the hidden meanings behind these patterns, we will understand the thoughts and ideal life states the owners want to express. From this perspective, the auspicious view is a picture about reproduction of the ideal, which can be reflected in all aspects of secular life. The brick carvings are the depiction and creation of Duofu (more blessing), Duolu (more emoluments), Duoshou (more longevity) and Duozi (more children). Some people will also add superstitious outerwear to this concept of praying for auspiciousness, but it is undeniable that it is such an illusory outerwear that gives us a peaceful heart and happy feeling, and makes us more understand the direction for fighting in the future [9].

4.1. More Blessing And More Good Luck

Duofu (more blessing) represents all good lucks and good fortunes. In brick carvings, it is mainly embodied in the following patterns such as the character (blessing), fish (a homophonic sound of Yu (excess)) pattern, phoenix teasing peony, bat (a homophonic sound of Bianfu (full of blessing), magpie on the tip of a branch of the plum (of which the character plum is a homophonic sound of eyebrow), peace and happiness (a pattern composed of a bottle, a quail, an Ruyi (a symbol of good luck), etc.), peace and safety year after year (composed of double rice spikes, a bottle, a quail), fisherman, woodcutter, ploughman and reader (a metaphor of happy work), etc [10].

Fisherman, woodcutter, ploughman and reader (scholar) are the most typical four kinds of professional life in the farming society, showing people’s yearning and psychological sustenance for the leisurely pastoral life and the peaceful realm of life. Figure 3 shows the partial scene of the picture of fisherman, woodcutter, ploughman and reader (scholar):several woodcutters after a busy day are on the way home with firewood on shoulder. On the way, they met their familiar friends, and couldn’t help stop talking about ordinary daily life. It is a warm and peaceful picture of hard work.

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Figure 3. Brick carving artwork of Zhuoyitang — woodcutters in the picture of fisherman, woodcutter, ploughman and reader (snapped by the author herself).

4.2. More Emolument and More Money

Lu also often means official salary and emolument that means hoping richness and more gold. In the brick carvings, it is also commonly used with the deer (a homophonic sound of Lu) or Liu Hai teasing golden toad, meaning much wealth. According to legend, Liu Hai was an ordinary boy in the Jin Dynasty. He worked diligently and kindly. Later he got a golden toad with the help of his noble. This is a three-legged golden toad, which can constantly spit out the treasure, if a person gets it, it means that he has countless treasure. After Liu Hai became a rich man, he did not forget his folks; he was good at charity, so he turned into a god of wealth and handed out wealth to the world, so this story is also called Liu Hai Handing Out Money ( Figure 4 ). In this story, Liu Hai symbolizes the home of ordinary people, people hope that they will work hard and be kind to others like Liu Hai, and then the god will reward him with endless money without worry about his livelihood any longer. Therefore, the ordinary people often place a brick carving artwork like the artwork Liu Hai Teasing Golden Toad, hoping that he can have more and more wealth.

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Figure 4. The work of Yu Xiaokai, Huizhou-Liu Hai Teasing Golden Toad (snapped by the author).

4.3. More Longevity and Happiness

Most people hope that after a hard life, they can have a happy and healthy life in their later years:rich family, filial children, and lively grandchildren. In the brick carving works, there are many works that bless longevity, such as “Guo Ziyi offering birthday felicitations”, “The immortal sending out peach”, “The deer and crane meet in spring”, “Eight immortals congratulating birthday” and so on.

Figure 5 is the brick carving work “Guo Ziyi offering birthday felicitations”, which depicts the scene of Guo Ziyi and his wife setting up a birthday banquet at home when he was 70 years old: Guo Ziyi, who is retired, has high contribution, but his master (emperor) does not suspect him;has many houses and fields and does not worry about livelihood;children have established their own families, become high-ranking officials and high government pay;the filial sons and sons-in-low bring gifts to him to congratulate his birthday;the number of grandchildren grows, hence there is no lack of successors;... In this happy scene, Guo Ziyi and his wife could not help smiling. This is the birthday picture of Guo Ziyi, and it is the ideal life state of the ordinary people [11].

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Figure 5. Brick carving work of Huizhou Zhuoyitang-Picture of Guo Ziyi’s birthday congratulation (snapped by the author).

4.4. More Children and More Prosperity

In the age when everything relies on manpower, people represent labor and combat power, and labor and combat power are the guarantee of family thriving and prosperity. Therefore, people at this time have extraordinary ardent hopes for their future generations. Science and technology develops to today, although the number of wishes to future generations is not as many as before, the wishes for quality of the achievements of future generations are even more than before [12].

There are a lot of works in the brick carvings about the reproduction of the descendants, such as “Pomegranate revealing one hundred sons”, "Kylin Sending Sons”, “Picture of Hundred Children” and so on. Pictured in Figure 6 is the “Picture of Hundred Children”, there are about more than one hundred children in the picture, all of them are lively and lovely, clever and sensible, representing the prosperous descendants and family hope. It is generally used as the general scene for the screen wall and the gatehouse, meaning the good wishes of the owner to want many children and grandchildren.

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Figure 6. Brick carving work of Huizhou Zhuoyitang - Picture of hundred children (snapped by the author).

5. The Unity View of Simplicity and Elegance

In “The Analects of Confucius • Yong Ye”, Confucius once said that “If his temperament is too straightforward, he will be rude. If his etiquette is too respectful, he will be false and superficial. Appropriate temperament and etiquette will be what mature people should look like.” “Etiquette” here refers to the appearance or form, and “Temperament” refers to the content or function, if there is more “etiquette” when etiquette and temperament are used together, there will be a suspicion of flashiness without substance. If “temperament” is more, it is inevitable to give people an image of rudeness and insipidness, so the form and function need to be unified appropriately, in order to achieve a gentle and harmonious style, giving people a sense of harmony and comfort [13]. Huizhou brick carving is a highly decorative art, but its use in architecture more exists as a functional component, such as gate shelter, screen wall, wall top, window hood and latticed window, etc. Their patterns, fabrication process and the means of expression are also comprehensively designed around the purpose of use of the building. Therefore, the brick carvings can be said to be simple and elegant in harmony, a unity of functions and forms.

5.1. The Finishing Touch of Gatehouse

Huizhou people think that the gatehouse is the face of the whole house, which represents the social status and influence of the master, so he attaches great importance to it. They prefer to be simple inside but be extravagant outside, and are willing to use a large amount of funds for the construction of the gatehouse, so there is a saying of “expensive gatehouse and cheap house”. It is the gatehouse that can become key point and main feature of the Huizhou building [14].

According to the production method and scale, the gatehouse is mainly divided into the gatehouse with hanging flowers and door shelter with flying bricks. According to the number of columns, it can also be divided into the ordinary double-column gatehouse and the four-column three-bay five-phoenix gatehouse ( Figure 7 shows gatehouse with hanging flowers, door shelter with flying bricks and five-phoenix gatehouse).

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Figure 7. Yixian Huiyun Brick Carving Co., Ltd. Bao Zhiqiang’s works – Gatehouse.

At the upper part of the gatehouse is an overhanging eave building, which can block the rain and becomes a key point;the middle part of the door shelter is made of bricks against the wall to protect the integrity of the wall;the lower part of the good gatehouse is supported by two or four vertical columns, which can support the gatehouse and reinforce the door opening;the part right above the door opening is the architrave, which is the core and focus of the whole brick carving, especially the engraved content of the architrave scene, which directly expresses the owner’s hopes and expectations for his family. In addition to the general scenery, the various components of the gatehouse have brick carvings, expressing the owner’s wishes from all aspects. Different individuals have different wishes. Therefore, every family has a gatehouse, but the gatehouse of every family is different from others.

5.2. Screen Wall Obscuring The Line of Sight

The screen wall is mainly used to block the wind and block the line of sight, so it is located directly opposite the gate. The outer screen wall, which blocks line of sight outside the gate, is located outside the gate;the inner screen wall that obscures the line of sight of the gate of inner hall in the skylight is located on the wall opposite to the hall. The shape of the screen wall is generally the shape of the Chinese character “”, and some are fabricated into the shape of herring bone. The main body of the gatehouse is generally made of bricks, including three parts:base, body and top:the top is an overhanging eave building, similar to the overhanging eave;the middle body is the core content of the screen wall, which is generally decorated with various auspicious brick carving patterns according to the owner’s pursuit, such as “The deer and crane meet in spring”, “Five bats (blessing) holding peaches (longevity)”, “Rich peony”, some of the middle bodies are also engraved with auspicious characters directly such as “blessing” and “longevity, which is the core part of the screen wall, forming a counterpart view with the opposite door. The lower part is the foundation base of the screen wall, which supports the screen wall and the place at bottom of the base close to the ground are often based on stone. Between the three parts, various brick carvings such as shoe-shaped gold ingots and vertical columns and so on will be decorated to enhance the visual enjoyability of the screen wall [15].

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Figure 8. Yixian Huiyun Brick Carving Co., Ltd. Bao Zhiqiang’s works - screen wall.

5.3. Wall Top of The Drainage Retaining Structure

Brick carvings are also often used on the wall top of a building to remove water and protect walls. The common wall-top brick carvings include drip tiles, golden flower plates, and heads of civil official and military officer, etc. Brick carvings are also used on houses, such as the dragon-headed fish and the Tengu on the ridge, which have the function of closing the ridges;there are also drip tiles for drainage, tiger head tablets, patterned eave tiles, etc., to facilitate drainage of rainwater off the roof [16].

Figure 9. Typical residences and gardens in Huizhou (snapped by the author).

5.4. Latticed Windows Introducing The Landscape

The latticed window is generally called the flower wall top and the flower window. It is used in rows for people to enjoy the outdoor scenery through the wall. Therefore, its height is mostly within range of the line of sight. People can easily enjoy the scenery outside the wall whether standing or sitting. There are many brick carving patterns for latticed windows. Commonly there are “Chinese flowering crabapple in four seasons”, “magpie on the tip of a branch of the plum”, “Everything (a homophonic sound of Chinese character “persimmon”) coming off satisfactorily”, “Plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemums, etc. ( Figure 10 shows the latticed windows showing the meaning of Everything coming off satisfactorily” and “Fragrant orchid”) [17].

Figure 10. Brick carving works of Huizhou Zhuoyitang - latticed window (snapped by the author).

6. Quality View of Careful Carving

Huizhou brick carving is famous for its complex and exquisite story scenes carved on thin bricks. This is closely related to the background that the Huizhou merchants like Confucianism though they are merchants, high craftsmanship level and delicate and rigorous process.

6.1. Background of Huizhou Merchants who like Confucianism

In Huizhou region, there are crowded people in small area; they have to form the business atmosphere of “push a child to go out into the world when he is 13 and 14 years old”. The Huizhou merchants after they become rich have invested money in the education of their children, which promoted the mutual help of businessmen and officials. Under the benign interaction of the Huizhou merchants who like Confucianism, the cultural quality and wealth of the Huizhou merchants increased sharply. This is the economic and cultural foundation for the rapid development of Huizhou brick carvings [18].

6.2. Skillful craftsmanship

On the basis of the development and expansion of the Huizhou merchants, the systems of various artisans in Huizhou region were also established, forming a “Huizhou Clique” composed of five kinds of artisans:bricklayer, carpenter, blacksmith, stoneman and potter. Blacksmiths and potters provide materials for building houses, and bricklayers, carpenters and stonemen cooperate with each other and are responsible for concrete construction. The close cooperation of these five kinds of artisans urges the brick carving artisans to have more room to play, and makes the level of brick carving skill improved rapidly. The level of skillful craftsmanship is the main guarantee for the quality of brick carving [19].

6.3. Fine and Rigorous Process

Each process step of Huizhou brick carving production has strict fabrication requirements:first, the preparation stage - selection of materials, it requires the use of special wet ground blue bricks with fine texture and less sand content;then enters the first procedure “making sun-dried mud brick”, it is generally done by the old experienced craftsman himself, who chips out the depth of the manuscript and the image of the object;the second procedure “refining”, that is, the detailed elaboration and fine carving of the brick carving content;The third procedure is “embelishing”, namely, touchup, arrangement and making tenons, which is mainly about the detailed processing and installation preparation of the brick carving. The job division and process requirements of these fine and rigorous procedures are an objective system guarantee for the quality of brick carvings [20].

7. Conclusions

Huizhou brick carving is a valuable cultural heritage developed on the basis of Huizhou culture. It contains rich cultural deposits and artistic connotation, which deserves further study and research. More than that, we should also find out the connection between Huizhou brick carving and modern market on the basis of learning, combine the current craftsmanship and aesthetic needs to create new brick carving forms and new brick carvings and make our own contribution for inheriting the Huizhou culture and serving local industries [21].

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.


Project:the 2017 Education and Scientific Research Planning Project of the Vocational and Adult Education Society of Anhui Province - Research on “1+N” School-Enterprise Collaborative Education Teaching Model for the Discipline of Environment and Art Design in Higher Vocational Schools;(No.:azhjzh17051).


© 2017 by the authors. Licensee International Technology and Science Press Limited. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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