Dough Sculptures

Written records on Chinese dough figurines date to the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), and some two thousand years later this art form is still popular. Skilled artists can shape intricate sculptures in minutes using their hands, scissors, small knives, and pointed sticks. Using dough made from flour or glutinous rice, they create animals, geometric patterns, and human figures drawn from history, folktales, novels, and operas. Artisans begin by blending different types of dough to create vibrant colors. They then pinch, twist, cut, carve, and mold the dough to create different shapes and to add decorative patterns. In this video from the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program China: Tradition and the Art of Living, artist Zhao Baolin (張寶琳) from Beijing explains his introduction to making dough figurines and their significance in the cultural heritage of China today.

Questions for Discussion

  • How did the art of creating dough figurines begin and evolve over time?
  • How are contemporary dough figurines related to tomb figures from the Tang dynasty (618–907)?
  • What is the relationship between dough figurines and the Qing Ming festival?