Through the Seasons / Craft Traditions

Dough Sculptures, Beijing

“To create a sculpture of a historical figure, I research the background, personality, achievements, and ideas of this person. I try to imagine what I would feel if I were this person. Then I can find a way to sculpt him.” —Zhang Baolin, dough sculptor

A tradition dating back more than 2,000 years, dough sculpting is still popular at festivals today. Skilled artists—using their hands, scissors, small knives, and pointed sticks—can shape intricate sculptures in minutes. Using dough made from flour or glutinous rice, they create animals, geometric patterns, and human figures drawn from history, folktales, novels, and operas. Artists begin by blending different types of dough to create vibrant colors. They then pinch, twist, cut, carve, and mold the dough into different shapes and to add decorative patterns.


Zhang Baolin 张宝琳 has been creating dough models since the 1970s, when he apprenticed with the dough modeling master Lang Shaoan in Beijing. Using dough made from flour or glutinous rice, he can create models in as short as fifteen minutes, and more complex ones in an hour. He has traveled and demonstrated his art both nationally and internationally. He is recognized as a Beijing municipal-level representative bearer of intangible cultural heritage.

From the Festival

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Photo courtesy of Zhang Baolin

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A dough model made by Zhang Baolin of Lu Xing, a mythological figure also referred to as the “Star of Prosperity.” Photo by Sojin Kim, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution