25-year-old devoted to spreading traditional dough sculpture art

By Zhu Shengnan| (chinadaily.com.cn)| Updated : 2022-04-13

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Dough sculpture, or colloquially known as dough figurine, is a traditional Chinese handicraft and an intangible cultural heritage item that used to be popular among children all over China. The dough figurine is made from a mixture of flour, glutinous rice flour, and various colors that is pinched into various figurines of people and animals.

Liu Zenghui, 25 years old, is a dough figurine artist in Qinghe town, Huimin county, Binzhou, Shandong province. In 2014, he started to learn how to make dough sculptures from Li Changgen, a famous Chinese master of Shandong-style dough figurines. He then went to Hunan province to learn the local figurine craftsmanship.


Liu makes dough figurines at his workshop. [Photo/Shandong Business Daily]

Liu has since acquired the knowledge on how to make the dough figurine art of several schools of North China and South China. He has since created his own style based on his knowledge of these various traditional styles, by adding elements of modern innovation.

His works mainly convey heroes of ancient China. Every part of the figurine, from their shape, hair, and muscles to the meridians and looks, is so vivid and eye-catching. In addition, Liu also combines this traditional art with modern elements to create dough figurines that are based on cartoon images and game characters.


Liu's dough sculpture artwork of Guan Yu, a hero in the East Han Dynasty (25-220) [Photo/Shandong Business Daily]

In Liu's view, it is not so complicated to make dough figurines. All he needs are a lump of dough and some ordinary tools, such as thread and toothpicks, a little knife, scissors, as well as a comb. Even a piece of very ordinary dough can be transformed into an exquisite piece of artwork through Liu's fingertips.

Watching Liu work is a visual delight. To make a dough figurine, he first pinches the colorful dough into a simple outline, and attaches it to a small stick. After rubbing, pinching, and pressing it several times, the rough shape of a figurine with facial features emerges. He then refines the figurine by using a knife, thread, and toothpicks to eventually create a lifelike and visually striking dough figurine.


Dough figurine works created by Liu [Photo/Shandong Business Daily]

Liu has conducted research and made innovations in the dough he uses to make his works waterproof, mildew-proof, and strong for permanent collections. The dough he uses is made of flour and glutinous rice flour, at a proportion of three to one, which are steamed in a pot, with honey and antiseptic added.

Compared with traditional dough figurines, modern dough sculptures are known for their sophistication, with more focus on their overall look, their stereoscopic 3D aesthetics, and their color coordination.


Dough figurine works created by Liu [Photo/Shandong Business Daily]

"One should be very careful to control the knife, because once there is a wrong cut, you need to start all over again. There is no chance for modification. All you need are concentration and ingenuity," Liu said.

As an inheritor of dough figurine, Liu has been invited to many schools to teach students how to make dough figurine and has received many awards for his artworks. He has also started his own workshop and training classes to teach more people the techniques of this art and promote the spread of this intangible cultural heritage item.