Li Siyao, an inheritor of the intangible cultural heritage of dough sculpture, makes a dough sculpture in the ancient town of Qingcheng, Yuzhong county of Lanzhou, northwest China’s Gansu Province. (Photo/Wei Tao)
Li’s family has been engaged in dough sculpture for three generations and has a workshop in the ancient town of Qingcheng, Yuzhong county of Lanzhou, the provincial capital. The family’s dough sculptures enjoy a high reputation in the locality and are known as “three-dimensional paintings and silent opera.” Thanks to the influence of her family, she has been obsessed with this handicraft from a young age.
The making of dough sculptures starts with making the dough using flour, glutinous rice flour and glycerinum. Then, the dough is moulded into different shapes such as flowers, birds, fishes, or insects, either by hand or with the use of particular tools. It is an ancient folk art that can be traced back to the days of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD).
As local tourism thrives, dough sculptures have become popular souvenirs, which reflect local culture, or people’s pursuit of a better life. “Dough sculptures used to appear in ritual ceremonies in ancient China, but today, they are starting to become collectibles and toys,” said the artist, adding that the content of the artworks has also changed.