Bricks carved with patterns in relief were used for decorative purposes on the exterior of old houses, mansions of officials, shrines, temples and landscape buildings. They are also found on entrance gates, windows and screen walls in houses which once belonged to big business and the landed gentry. "to bring honour to the owners and their ancestors".
Carvings on bricks may cover a wide range of subjects. Usually seen are human figures drawn from popular legends, dramas and folklore, most of them lifelike and spirited. Animals and plants are also favourite subjects, mostly those portending power and good luck or representing certain lofty qualities, for example, dragon, phoenix, plum, bamboo, crysanthemum and so on. Other carvings represent attempts to reproduce traditional paintings on bricks. Apart from the sculpted pictures, they are often complete with inscriptions and seal marks.
This particular art of sculpture was done on a kind of carefully polished blue brick. It was called fangzhuan (square brick) in the Ming Dynasty and Jinzhuan in the Qing Dynasty. This brick was fine in texture and most suitable for carving, but as it was also brittle, the work might be easily ruined by a slip of the carving tool.
The large numbers of brick carvings which we can still see today are impressive with their vivid figures, their composition in depths and on varying levels, giving a feeling of three dimensions and appealing with an impact not found in frescoes.