It feels cool to be a dough figurine artisan

By Peng Yukai, Yuan Meng, Zhang Wenjie (People's Daily Online) 11:06, January 18, 2022

Walking into Lang Jiaziyu’s workshop in Beijing, one can see lively figurines and certificates of honor neatly placed on the workbench. However, one can never expect that this third-generation inheritor of the national-level intangible heritage of dough figurine making is a young man born after 1995.

Lang’s family has been making dough figurines for three generations now. Lang’s grandfather, Lang Shao’an, and his father, Lang Zhichun, are both known for their exquisite craftsmanship.

Lang Jiaziyu developed an affinity for the art at a young age, starting to learn the craft from his father when he was about four to five years old. Despite repeatedly practicing the same skills, the boy never felt bored, instead he gained quite a great deal of pleasure from the craft.

Lang Jiaziyu makes a dough figurine based on the cartoon character of LinaBell at his studio on Dec. 24, 2021. (People’s Daily Online/Peng Yukai)

Lang Zhichun once asked his son to make a dough figurine featuring a child when Lang Jiaziyu was 6 years old. It took the boy two and a half hours to finish the work, but in the end he was quite dissatisfied with the final result. When he was preparing to throw the work away, his father stopped him. “My father said the work was not bad and told me that I should keep it,” Lang Jiaziyu recalled.

Under the influence of his grandfather and father, Lang Jiaziyu developed a sense of responsibility to carry forward the art when he was young. When he was a second-grade student in primary school, Lang Jiaziyu and his classmates were encouraged by their teacher to make a sentence using the word “world-famous.” When Lang Jiaziyu spoke up to say excitedly that he wanted to make the dough figurine craft become world-famous, he didn’t expect that no one would react. Despite explaining what the craft was to his fellow classmates, no one showed any enthusiasm. “It felt really bad then, but now what I can recall is only the sense of responsibility I felt at that time,” said Lang Jiaziyu.

Lang Jiaziyu crafts the shape of his figurine in the image of LinaBell, a cartoon character, with various tools inside his studio. (People’s Daily Online/Peng Yukai)

In 2010, Lang Jiaziyu and his father were invited to take part in an activity to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Lang Jiaziyu made a dough figurine of the celestial being of longevity. Because of the exquisite work, Lang Jiaziyu became a member of the Beijing Folklore Society, the youngest member of the organization up until that point.

Lang Jiaziyu had previously considered dough figurines to be an old-fashioned craft, having also felt that the raw materials used for the craft formed a constraint on his creativity, stirring up doubts as to why he had chosen making dough figurines as a career from the outset. However, when Lang Jiaziyu visited an art exhibition as a university student, he was impressed by how one artisan there had made bread into various shapes, and then dried them to generate cracks on their outer surfaces to present a unique aesthetic form.

Photo taken on Dec. 24, 2021, shows the dough figurines of a series of historical celebrities made by Lang Jiaziyu. (People’s Daily Online/Peng Yukai)

“Then, I came to realize that instead of complaining about the raw materials, I should pay more attention to improving my skills so that I could turn the ‘disadvantages’ of the dough into something that I could make full use of to make my works more expressive,” Lang Jiaziyu said.

The young man has also turned to new media to promote the art of dough modeling. For Lang Jiaziyu, making dough figurines is a process of self-expression, and it gives him great pleasure to just be himself. “This is what I’m good at and attracted to, and I’m delighted to see a trend towards the revitalization of traditional Chinese culture nowadays,” said Lang Jiaziyu.

(Web editor: Peng Yukai, Liang Jun)


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