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China Folk Art - Dough Figure Sculpting

Updated on April 5, 2009

an ancient dying art form in the Middle Kingdom

One of China's oldest folk art forms is dough figure sculpting - the creation of small and highly-detailed figurines out of colored but edible dough made from wheat or rice flour. The ancient tradition of sculpting figures out of dough in China dates back as far as the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 A.D.). The practice has been passed on for thousands of years from generation to generation but it is in danger of being lost as fewer and fewer people learn how to create these intricate figures.


Dough Figurines

Check out the detail on the pearls and other items - hard to believe this was all done in dough!
Check out the detail on the pearls and other items - hard to believe this was all done in dough!

creating the dough for sculpting

The dough itself is created from a mixture of wheat flour, honey, lard, powdered sugar and other ingredients that allow the dough to be smooth and easy to shape while also allowing it to last for years without spoiling. Special care has to be taken in the preparation of the dough to ensure that the colors are correct and that the dough has a special lustre that adds beauty to the finished product.

Many different instruments are used for creating detail in the dough, ranging from fingers to toothpicks to sharp pointed metal objects. Some figurines are so finely detailed that they include eyelashes, teeth and fingernails.

Master Pan Dawen's artwork

Some of Master Pan Dawen's artwork.
Some of Master Pan Dawen's artwork.

You can learn dough figure sculpting in Beijing!

Although this ancient folk art seems to be dying out, there are practicioners that are trying to revive it by passing along their knowledge so that it can continue to survive for generations to come. The photos and video shown here were taken in the home of Dough Master Pan Dawen, who holds classes for Western tourists in his home. A class in dough figure sculpting lasts for around two hours, and can easily be added in to any Beijing tour itinerary while you are visiting China. Imagine taking a Great Wall tour to sections of the Wall near Beijing in the morning, then spending the afternoon drinking tea in Master Pan Dawen's home learning the ancient Chinese art of dough figure sculpting! You could even end your day by adding in a spectacular Acrobatics, Kung Fu or Peking Opera show that evening.

More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
More of Pan Dawen's home museum of dough art figurines.
Pan Dawen created this grape-eating mouse as a quick demonstration of his work.
Pan Dawen created this grape-eating mouse as a quick demonstration of his work.
One of Pan Dawen's many awards presented to him by the Chinese government.
One of Pan Dawen's many awards presented to him by the Chinese government.
Pan Dawen, master of the art of dough figure sculpting.
Pan Dawen, master of the art of dough figure sculpting.

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