Cultural Treasures of China – Dough Figurines

There is no easy way to say ‘捏面 nie mian’ in English!  It literally means ‘pinch flour’ but in fact this folk-craft, which dates back to the Han dynasty, involves a lot more than just pinching!

The ‘clay’, actually dough, was traditionally made of glutinous rice and colourings made from different foods. The final product, beautiful though it was, could be eaten. Today, certain additives such as honey and paraffin might be added to improve the longevity of the final product, and they definitely can’t be eaten!

Many different techniques such as pinching, rolling, and cutting are used to make the figurines. The artist also uses a thin bamboo tool to dexterously place, cut, engrave, and shape the body parts of the figurine. 

Different figurines can be made, with cartoon characters being popular with children today. The most famous however is Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King! 

The Monkey King is one of the most famous figures in Chinese folklore, and appears in many stories, operas and modern TV shows, video games and advertisements. He is a central character in Journey to the West, a Ming-dynasty novel which tells of the legendary journey of a monk and his four companions (the Monkey King, a part-human-part-pig, a former demon and his horse) to collect Buddhist texts from Central Asia and India. He is extremely strong, can travel over 20,000km in one leap and is able to transform into many different creatures. He’s a skilled fighter and can do many spells! 

Nowadays, craftspeople skilled in nie mian are usually only seen at Temple Fairs at Chinese New Year. But if you would like to book a dough figurine class for your friends or colleagues, feel free to contact us and let us know how we can help! We provide workshops, presentations, team building activities and more for private groups, schools, embassies and companies. We look forward to seeing you soon!

The Cultural Treasures of China blog is dedicated to introducing the cultural heritage of China. Be sure to check back often for our latest posts and learn about all the most interesting and exciting aspects of Chinese culture! If you would like us to write about a particular topic you’re interested in, or had any questions about the article, please feel to contact us at We’d love to hear from you!

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– Cultural Keys

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    Cultural Keys helps you access, understand and enjoy life in China through traditional Chinese culture. Click here to read more about Cultural Keys and what we can do for you, your school, company or group to help you get more out of your time in China!

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