They may be made of dough, but the figurines now on display in Chengdu are not for eating! All the items or skills shown are listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage — whether at provincial, national, or international level.
Time-honored skills are getting a modern twist. Traditionally fashioned in the form of animals or figures from legend, the dough figurines at this booth are modeled on real people.
After several minutes of kneading and sculpting, hey presto! A dough miniature is complete!
“In winter, when farmland is idle, we made these dough figurines to sell at the market. In the past, kids had few toys, so this was popular,” said Zhang Dingcheng, dough figurine inheritor.
Dough figurines use glutinous rice flour as the main material, though the flour is colored before being worked.
Zhang Dingcheng learned this craft from his father since childhood and after heading to Beijing at seventeen years old, earned the moniker “Dough Figurine Zhang” because his sculptures modeled on real people were so lifelike.
“You have to have the ability to seize the expression in the customers’ eyes at one glance,” Zhang said.
“Nowadays, you can take a photo anytime. But to have your image made into a dough figurine and it looks exactly like you is a very treasured experience; it’s the experience of a lifetime,” said customer Zeng.
Now, Zhang is keen to return to the city of his childhood.
“I’ve been based in Beijing to do this craft. But now I want to promote it in my hometown. My wish is that tourists coming to Chengdu all know there is a “Figurine Zhang”, and want to bring one of their own home,” Zhang said.
There is in Chengdu now all manner of intangible cultural treasure on offer, along with leading exponents of the various crafts. Visitors to southwest China’s Sichuan province can still catch them until Sept 20.